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Storing Document Details

The Windows file system keeps track of details about each file: its size, when it was created, and when you last modified it, for example. Windows enables you to store extra details about Office file types; these properties include the author's name, a title and a subject for the file, and comments or keywords that you can use to search for documents later. A Custom properties sheet lets you track more than two dozen built-in categories or add your own.

Maintaining file properties takes a fair amount of up-front work, but it can have a profound pay-off, especially in a networked office where many users share documents.

  • When you use the Advanced File Search task pane, you can search for any property of any Office file. If you've trained an entire department to enter details about a client, project, or product line in the Properties dialog box (or if you've automated this process with macros), it's trivially easy to locate all the files associated with that activity.

  • In Windows Explorer's Details view, you can add columns for many Office file properties. For instance, in a folder filled with Word documents, right-click any column heading to display a list of available columns, and then click Title and Author to add those fields to the display.

  • All file properties are available to macros that you create by using Visual Basic for Applications. As a result, you can create simple but effective document-management routines that are limited only by your imagination. For example, you can create AutoNew macros that prompt users for key information every time they create a new document based on a particular Word template. You can then use that information to file or route the document when the user saves it.

    For more ideas and techniques using VBA, see Chapter 43, "Building Custom Applications with VBA."

To view and edit the properties of a file currently open in an Office program, choose File, Properties. The dialog box that appears resembles the one in Figure 3.5.

The Properties dialog box for an Office file includes the five tabs described in Table 3.1.

Figure 3.5 The Properties dialog box displays summary information about Office file types.

Table 3.1 Office File Properties

Properties

Description

General

Basic information from the Windows file system: name, location, size, and so on.

Summary

Information about the current file and its author, including fields for company name, category, and keywords. The Comments field is particularly useful when you use Outlook's file management capabilities because the text appears beneath each filename when you turn on AutoPreview.

Statistics

Details about the size and structure of the file, such as the number of words in a document or the number of slides in a presentation; also displays revision statistics and total editing time. This tab is not visible when inspecting file properties from within Windows Explorer; instead, the information is displayed on the Summary tab. This information is frequently incorrect, especially when you inspect it from within an Explorer window. Professional writers and students who rely on these statistics should always inspect them from within the document itself to guarantee that the information is up-to-date.

Contents

The parts of the file: the outline of a Word document, based on heading styles; worksheet titles in an Excel workbook; or slide titles in a PowerPoint presentation. This tab is not visible when inspecting file properties from within Windows Explorer.

Custom

Twenty-seven built-in fields that you can choose from, including Client, Document Number, and Date Completed. Alternatively, you can add a field of your own. Custom fields can contain text, dates, numbers, or Yes/No information; they can also be linked to Word bookmarks, named Excel ranges, or PowerPoint text selections.


NOTE

You can inspect most Office file properties by right-clicking a filename in Windows Explorer and choosing Properties from the shortcut menu. Information in this dialog box is arranged differently from what you see within an Office program, and many properties are not available when the file is open for editing. For data files located on a disk formatted with the NTFS file system, you'll see an additional tab that contains security settings.

For simple projects, you might choose to ignore file properties; in these cases, a descriptive filename can tell you everything you need to know about the file. For more complicated documents, however, adding file details—including keywords and categories—can help you or a co-worker quickly find a group of related data files, even months or years after you last worked with them. Use the Comments box to add freeform notes about a given file.

To enter additional details about an Office file, you must open the Properties dialog box before you save the file. If you use this feature regularly, you can configure Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to display the File Properties dialog box every time you save a file.

To learn more about the common features found within the Office applications, see "Configuring Common Office Features."

Default Document Properties

By default, Office applications save only a few document properties when you save a file. Properties saved vary by application:

  • Windows stores standard file details, including the name, size, and date and time the file was modified.

  • All Office applications add your name and your organization's name (or whatever name you specify on the User Information tab of the Options dialog box for that program) in the Author and Company fields, respectively.

  • Word and PowerPoint fill in the Title field as well, using the first few words of a Word document or the title of a PowerPoint presentation.

NOTE

In Word documents in particular, this capability can lead to embarrassing consequences if you're not careful. By default, if you fail to enter document properties, Word picks up the opening line of your document and plops it in the Title field—up to the first paragraph mark or 126 characters, whichever comes first. For example, if you begin composing an angry memo and save it, your initial angry words might survive in the Title field, even if you tone down your rhetoric considerably in the final version. That fact alone is an excellent reason to configure Word to pop up the Properties dialog box whenever you save a new document.

If you want to add categories, keywords, or comments to any Office file, do so on the Summary tab.

Using Custom Properties to Organize Files

In an office where a large number of people create and share files, custom file properties can make it easier for workgroups to share files. In a legal office, for example, you might use the Client, Status, and Recorded Date fields to track the progress of Word documents. Members of a team producing budget worksheets might use the Checked By and Forward To fields as part of a document management system. Use the Office applications' Search task panes to find files whose properties match a particular set of criteria. Figure 3.6 shows a Word document that includes several custom properties.

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 Record additional file properties on the Custom tab; later, use the Find tool in Office common dialog boxes to search for files that match these criteria.

To enter custom criteria for any Office file, follow these steps:

  1. Open the file and choose File, Properties.

  2. Click the Custom tab to display the dialog box shown previously in Figure 3.6.

  3. Choose a field from the Name list. To create a new field, type its name here.

  4. Choose one of the available data types from the Type drop-down list.

  5. Type the data for the selected field in the Value text box.

  6. CAUTION

    If you specify Number or Date as the data type for a custom field, you must enter the value in a matching format. If you enter dates in a nonstandard format or you include text in a field that should contain only numbers, Office enters the value as text.

  7. Click Add. The new entry appears in the Properties list at the bottom of the dialog box.

  8. Repeat steps 3–6 for any additional custom fields. To remove an item from the Properties list, select its entry and click Delete. Click OK to close the dialog box and return to the program window.

The Link to Content check box is grayed out and unavailable unless you're working with a Word document that contains bookmarks, an Excel workbook that contains named ranges, or a PowerPoint presentation containing linked text. In any of those cases, you can enter a custom field name, select the Link to Content check box, and then choose the bookmark or named range. In a PowerPoint presentation, you must select the text you want to link to a custom field before opening the Properties dialog box.

Using Windows Explorer to View File Properties

To view any Office file's properties without opening the file itself, open a Windows Explorer window, right-click the file's icon, and then choose Properties. In most Windows versions, you can edit most file properties for Word documents, Excel workbooks, Publisher publications, and PowerPoint presentations directly from an Explorer window. Regardless of which Windows version you use, only the most basic summary information is available when you view the properties of an Access database from an Explorer window.

In Windows XP, you can see some Office file properties, such as the author's name, in the info pane along the left side of a Windows Explorer window, as shown in Figure 3.7. You can also see a thumbnail of the file itself in this region, but only if you selected the Save Preview Picture check box on the Summary tab of the Properties dialog box. By default, this check box is cleared for Word documents and Excel workbooks and is selected for PowerPoint presentations.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 In Windows XP, you can view some information drawn from an Office file's properties from within Windows Explorer. The thumbnail preview is available only if you check an option when saving the file.

To save a preview of an Excel workbook, you must check this box when you first save the file; see "No Preview in Common Dialog Boxes" in the "Troubleshooting" section at the end of this chapter for more details.

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