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Best Way To Create a "Mad Libs" Professional Document?

mullymully Registered User regular
edited May 2009 in Help / Advice Forum
So, here's the thing:

We are redesigning our company's Survey Report document. This is a document that presents all of the information from the Engineering site survey in a clear and concise manner. There are also photos included. It has a title page, a table of contents. Each page has a header and footer. Each report is approximately 30 pages long.

Do I need help creating that? No. No I do not.

Here is the part I need help with:

My boss, ideally, would like for this shiny new document to have some kind of input form. What we envision is a section where the Engineer can type in next to a field that says "Address", and in the document, everywhere that the 3-line address needs to be will populate with what has been typed. Header, of every page, title page, title page of recommendations.

We want this to work for every part of the document, under every heading. So under "construction", they can type out a full 500 word paragraph, and it will populate underneath the "construction" title, properly formatted, proper font, size, and whatever else. The option to upload a photo to appear in the document under each heading should also be available.

I have been thinking about how to do this. I know that if it comes down to it, I will just get them to email me all of that and I'll just put it in myself, but obviously that is the worst-case-scenario. In Word, I notice there are "OLForms". Are those fairly simply to create? I remember being 16 and making a "mad libs" story in HTML/Java (or something). Is this a job for those sorts of things?

I am looking for the easiest way to do this.

I am fully open to purchasing a program, if you can suggest any that might help with this.

TL;DR: I need less-than-tech-savvy people be able to fill out a form and have that populate a document that they should not be able to touch directly because they will ruin it. (Honestly.) This is a professional report and needs consistency.

Ideally I would like the process to end in a PDF document. That is the gooooooooooooal.

And thank you for any help -- I don't even know what to put into Google to search for ideas/ways, but I'll keep trying that as well.

mully on

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    Peter PwnPeter Pwn Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    1. Make Word Doc
    2. Make Access Database.
    3. Build a VB Input form.
    4. Mail merge items from the databse into word doc.
    5. Save as PDF.

    I am pretty sure this would work if you could find someone to do the Databse/Vb for you.

    Peter Pwn on
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    EggyToastEggyToast Jersey CityRegistered User regular
    edited May 2009
    I have to fill out ISSN forms to send to the Library of Congress that's just a big PDF with editable areas. Pretty common, like tax forms too.

    Do you want the end product to be a PDF that is then filled out, or do you want it to be a document that is editable that then becomes a PDF? The latter requires that everyone has a PDF printer driver on their computer (free, easy to use), the former requires you to make an editable PDF.

    edit: the last link was actually not that good. Here's a google search to get you on the right track.

    EggyToast on
    || Flickr — || PSN: EggyToast
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    mullymully Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    The end product should be the PDF that is not-editable at all, all the information should be input by that point.

    Making an editable PDF was also something I was considering, but is there a way to make headers and footers in a pdf that will repeat throughout the document? Can you do the same things in a pdf that you can in a document?

    See the other thing is that sometimes a paragraph might be enough for a section like "Sprinkler System", but sometimes it might take a page and a half. It might also need a table. These are all things I need to account for.

    I'm waiting for I.T. to get a PDF converter to me, and hopefully it'll be the same one I.T. has which gives the ability to edit PDFs and add areas and all that. That's also a viable choice, but not exactly what my boss wants.

    In my mind, I think I just want a program of some kind that will have me highlight all of the fields that should be editable within a document, have that hidden, and just spit out a PDF when the person editing the information presses "finished" or whatever. I wonder if something like that exists.

    I will try google-searching with your googling advice. To google I go-gle!

    mully on
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    EggyToastEggyToast Jersey CityRegistered User regular
    edited May 2009
    The advantage of an editable PDF is that it keeps the overall size down, much like a paper copy. A PDF is really just essentially an electronic "print" of a page, so anything you can do in anything can be a PDF.

    But since you have other requirements, like tables, lists, and so on, that means you'd want to stick with Word. Unless you want to change the requirements so that people can't get all fancy with their input (it depends on how strict you want to be with your form).

    An easy way to keep it "form-like" would be to make a simple webpage with text boxes or pulldowns where needed, and then when the form is submitted it simply takes the input and makes a printer-friendly page, which can then be printed to PDF (using a PDF plugin). That gives people more space, but doesn't allow for fancy input like lists, tables.

    Word will, of course, let you do this quite simply, although I'm not sure if Word lets you "lock" areas of text so that they're uneditable.

    On a Mac this is trivial since PDF functionality is built into the OS. On Windows, PDF functionality is handled through 3rd party apps or plugins/drivers exclusively, as far as I'm aware. I mean, you COULD create fancy documens in Adobe InDesign and then output those directly to PDF, since Adobe builds that functionality in, but that would be insane overkill for the type of thing you're trying to do.

    I assume this form would be filled out by individuals at their workstations? What sort of limitations are there on those workstations? Could people be off-site and need to fill on the form? Is it only internal, or will it be used by clients and non-employees, as well?

    You may need to clarify what your boss really needs this for, or what he envisions its usage to be. What he's asking for isn't really difficult, but there's a couple ways to do it and the best way really depends on how people are going to fill it out.

    EggyToast on
    || Flickr — || PSN: EggyToast
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    mullymully Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    It would be filled out at their workstations or on laptops. We have a huge amount of restrictions here, computer-wise, but I'm sure we'd be able to get allowances where-needed to make this work. It's only internal, no one else would ever need to touch it. The PDF would be saved/printed out and distributed for processing, but that's a step that is unimportant at this point.

    What I am understanding is that he doesn't want an Engineer to go into the document, and have to backspace a bunch of crap, re-write things, mess with the formatting because he's accidentally ruined something (or hit 'right align' or something like that) and fuss with it for 30 minutes because he doesn't understand how he's messed it up.

    He wants something the Engineer opens, and there are headings, and fields besides those headings. Name: (( SCROOGE MCDUCK )) okay cool, next. Name of insured: ((ABC BATTERIES INC)) Address of ((Insured: 123 MEMORY LANE)). Once he presses "done" at the bottom of ALL the fields he needs to fill out, the "program" pushes that info into the document (formatted, correct fonts/sizes etc) and spits out a document for him. (PDF can come after, I guess, since I'm guessing they'll likely want to go through and re-read it and whatnot).

    This is what he wants. Editable fields within word or a pdf were what I was tihnking. Or, y'know, I could just create a form, and tell them it takes 1 day for the computer to process, then have that form secretly email me so I can drop everything in and make it tidy/formatted.

    mully on
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    LegionnairedLegionnaired Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    mully wrote: »
    It would be filled out at their workstations or on laptops. We have a huge amount of restrictions here, computer-wise, but I'm sure we'd be able to get allowances where-needed to make this work. It's only internal, no one else would ever need to touch it. The PDF would be saved/printed out and distributed for processing, but that's a step that is unimportant at this point.

    What I am understanding is that he doesn't want an Engineer to go into the document, and have to backspace a bunch of crap, re-write things, mess with the formatting because he's accidentally ruined something (or hit 'right align' or something like that) and fuss with it for 30 minutes because he doesn't understand how he's messed it up.

    He wants something the Engineer opens, and there are headings, and fields besides those headings. Name: (( SCROOGE MCDUCK )) okay cool, next. Name of insured: ((ABC BATTERIES INC)) Address of ((Insured: 123 MEMORY LANE)). Once he presses "done" at the bottom of ALL the fields he needs to fill out, the "program" pushes that info into the document (formatted, correct fonts/sizes etc) and spits out a document for him. (PDF can come after, I guess, since I'm guessing they'll likely want to go through and re-read it and whatnot).

    This is what he wants. Editable fields within word or a pdf were what I was tihnking. Or, y'know, I could just create a form, and tell them it takes 1 day for the computer to process, then have that form secretly email me so I can drop everything in and make it tidy/formatted.

    This looks like exactly what you want (support.microsoft.com)

    Basically, insert a bunch of forms to a header page, keeping note of the bookmarks, then wherever you want to insert the text insert a field with 'REF <bookmark name>' Go tools -> Protect Document, for forms, save as a template.

    When the engie opens the template they can edit the forms, hit 'update field' and then be off to the races

    Legionnaired on
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    mullymully Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    legionnaired -- whoa. i am going to play with that tonight. thank you so much!

    still looking for all options, though this link is super effective as far as i can tell at the moment

    mully on
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    DiogeeDiogee Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    This sounds like something that could be done rather easily with a mail merge using excel.

    Do you know how to do mail merges? If not I can go in more detail, but basically you just create an excel doc and have all the variable information you want to input in that document. For example you would have a column called <<Address>> and then the next column over they would type in the address, and then below that <<NameOfInsured>> and next to that you have that information. Then, in the actual word doc, you just insert the mail merge titles wherever you want that variable data to show up and when you merge the excel doc with the word doc, it will all be done.

    edit - (clarify) so anywhere in the document where you have <<Address>> it will automatically insert the address from the excel doc. You can use <<Address>> anywhere and as many times as you want.

    Any time you want to change the information in the word doc, all you do is open up the excel doc and edit the appropriate columns with new info. Pretty stupid-proof. I use this for making print labels all the time but it would work on a document-level application as well.

    Diogee on
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    mullymully Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    that sounds good too! and no i dont know how to do mail merges. but i suppose i should learn!

    how does it input it, though? so if i have the address, and it has several places to input it to the document, and say all of those places have "grab from A:20" or whatever.. does it just take the font/formatting/size etc of that direction?

    man i totally want to play with that now.

    GOD YOU GUYS. YOU WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO MAKE THIS FUN!

    mully on
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    LaOsLaOs SaskatoonRegistered User regular
    edited May 2009
    mully wrote: »
    that sounds good too! and no i dont know how to do mail merges. but i suppose i should learn!

    how does it input it, though? so if i have the address, and it has several places to input it to the document, and say all of those places have "grab from A:20" or whatever.. does it just take the font/formatting/size etc of that direction?

    man i totally want to play with that now.

    GOD YOU GUYS. YOU WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO MAKE THIS FUN!

    Each Row in your Excel file would be a new record. If you were printing a bunch of letters to 10 people, you would have 10 rows with information for each person in the columns of that row. It sounds like your Excel sheet might only have one Row, because you're really only making one document.

    So, you've got one Row in Excel with different Columns with titles. The second Row is where the actual data-entry is made, where you'd have the engineers type the Address, Insurance, etc.

    In the Word document, you'd type up the report and make it look exactly as you'd want it to look. Anywhere the Address needed to show up, you'd insert the Merge Field <<Address>>. What this does is tell Word to look in the Excel document, find the Address column, and insert whatever data was entered in the cell below that heading.

    When you're making the Word document, you can force whatever formatting you'd like onto the Merge Field data. In fact, when you're working in the Word document, you can toggle views to actually see a preview of what the actual data looks like from the Merge Field. This helps you ensure the data being pulled in looks and acts correctly.

    Feel free to post any more questions :P

    LaOs on
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    DiogeeDiogee Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    LaOs wrote: »
    mully wrote: »
    that sounds good too! and no i dont know how to do mail merges. but i suppose i should learn!

    how does it input it, though? so if i have the address, and it has several places to input it to the document, and say all of those places have "grab from A:20" or whatever.. does it just take the font/formatting/size etc of that direction?

    man i totally want to play with that now.

    GOD YOU GUYS. YOU WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO MAKE THIS FUN!

    Each Row in your Excel file would be a new record. If you were printing a bunch of letters to 10 people, you would have 10 rows with information for each person in the columns of that row. It sounds like your Excel sheet might only have one Row, because you're really only making one document.

    So, you've got one Row in Excel with different Columns with titles. The second Row is where the actual data-entry is made, where you'd have the engineers type the Address, Insurance, etc.

    In the Word document, you'd type up the report and make it look exactly as you'd want it to look. Anywhere the Address needed to show up, you'd insert the Merge Field <<Address>>. What this does is tell Word to look in the Excel document, find the Address column, and insert whatever data was entered in the cell below that heading.

    When you're making the Word document, you can force whatever formatting you'd like onto the Merge Field data. In fact, when you're working in the Word document, you can toggle views to actually see a preview of what the actual data looks like from the Merge Field. This helps you ensure the data being pulled in looks and acts correctly.

    Feel free to post any more questions :P

    Yea, sorry, i got my rows and columns mixed up, but this is how you do a mail merge.

    Diogee on
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    mullymully Registered User regular
    edited May 2009
    What is the character limit for a cell in excel?

    (trying to think of what would happen if they hit the limit.)

    Also, if they pasted a picture into a cell ... would THAT carry over?

    mully on
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    LaOsLaOs SaskatoonRegistered User regular
    edited May 2009
    mully wrote: »
    What is the character limit for a cell in excel?

    (trying to think of what would happen if they hit the limit.)

    Also, if they pasted a picture into a cell ... would THAT carry over?

    What version of Excel will they be using? In 2007, the character limit for a cell is 32,767 characters. In fact, it looks like that's the entry limit in all the recent versions of Excel, but there's a display limit of 1,024 characters in earlier versions (that might not come into effect with a merge). I haven't dealt with the limits very much.

    As for images, I do not think they get pulled over in a merge like this. You would, I guess, have to manually copy the image from the entry in the Excel sheet to the Word document.

    LaOs on
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