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What’s the difference between a Word document and a Word template?

Word documents and Word templates are not one and the same thing, even though they may appear to be. And yes, you can use a Word document in place of a template. But this isn’t the best idea. So read on to find out the difference between a Word template and a Word document. And what the pitfalls are when you use a Word document as a substitute template.

What is a Word template?

A Word template includes only the styles, layout, formatting and content needed for all documents created from that template. So, for example, a Report template would contain:

  • Your business branding;
  • A cover page, with fields to add title and report details;
  • A table of contents, and a table of figures (where relevant);
  • Text that’s required in every report document, e.g. a company profile.

Templates can also include building blocks or drop-in elements. Building blocks are elements or grouped elements that are inserted with the click of a button. So they make it easier and quicker for users to format a document. An example building block is a cover page with an alternative layout.

As you can see, a Word template is essentially a blueprint. It’s the base from which you create Word documents.

How the settings in your Word template are preserved

When you create a document from a template, you open a read-only copy of the template. That is, not the original document. This works best when templates are saved in a personal or workgroup templates folder.

But you can save a template anywhere within your file system. And then open a copy of the template by double-clicking the file in File Explorer. This, however, isn’t ideal because it makes it easier to modify and/or overwrite your template. And you’ll likely do this unknowingly.

Note: if you do decide to save your templates using the second option, be sure to keep a back up copy of all your templates. That way, you can revert to the original document should any mishaps occur!

What is a Word document?

Word documents are the documents you use everyday in your business. They’re always created from a template – either from Word’s Normal template, or from a customised template document. So every Word document has a template attached to it.

Word documents adopt styles, formatting, layouts and content from the attached template. They also have access to building blocks saved within the template (if any exist).

Even though Word documents look identical to templates, they’re not. So you should never use them as a substitute template. That is, copying a document to create a new document. And then changing the content as required.

Pitfalls of using a Word document in place of a Word template

I’ve written previously about why it’s a good idea to use Word templates.

Here’s what you run the risk of when you create a new document by copying and modifying an existing document:

  • It takes longer to format your document. That’s because you’re not working from a well-structured and comprehensive template. And one that includes building blocks to make your job easier;
  • Set styles, formatting and layouts can change and/or become diluted as you create more and more documents;
  • Content from the original document that should be deleted or updated (e.g. a client’s name) is overlooked. This reflects poorly on your business.

How to tell the difference between the two formats

The quickest way to tell the difference between a Word template and a Word document is by the file’s Properties via File Explorer. Here’s how:

  • Open File Explorer;
  • Locate the relevant file;
  • Right click the file and select Properties.

The Type of file section (on the General tab) shows the file type and extension.

Properties dialogue box, opened via File Explorer. ‘Type of file’ shows file format and extension – Word document (.docx).

How to decide if a template is required for your business document

So you now know the difference between a Word document and a Word template.

The next step is to decide which of your business documents should be set up as templates. Consider the following to help you decide:

  • Is it a document you use regularly within your business?
  • Does the document contain a structure and/or content that always remains the same?
  • Will having a well-designed template for the document help reinforce your professionalism? And in so doing, make a good impression on your current and prospective clients?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, be sure to contact us today (if you haven’t already) to talk to us about creating Word templates for your business. We’d love to help!

Or you can find out more about our Word template service here.