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Designing and Using Custom Forms in Microsoft Outlook 2013

Using forms effectively

Each of the forms in Outlook 2013 serves the same purpose—to present information in a specific format. Outlook 2013 forms provide access to all Outlook 2013 items (messages, notes, meetings, tasks, journal entries, and so on) and enable you to create custom forms using any of the available fields. By creating custom forms that align with your workflow, you can ease the communication of information as well as the transfer of data important to your business.

In creating custom forms, you begin by selecting a default form that most closely resembles the form and function that you want for your new forms. You can then choose to add or delete fields on the default page and/or create additional pages containing fields to display or gather further information. Here are some pointers about using forms:

  • Know when not to create forms Outlook 2013 form creation can give you the ability to customize email messages, meeting requests, and other Outlook 2013 items, but if existing forms provide the functionality you need, it is easier and more effective to use the existing forms. When you consider creating a new form, start by asking, “Is the functionality I need already present in an existing form?” Consider that in addition to the time needed to create a custom form, there are distribution logistics (how you get the form to all who would need it), as well as training needed to enable people to effectively use the new form.

  • Keep forms simple but comprehensive Once you have decided that a new form is necessary, evaluate the information that you need the form to display, transmit, or gather, and then limit the form information to the minimum data required to fulfill your operational or organizational needs. You can create a custom form with multiple pages containing an exhaustive array of fields, yet the complexity of using such a form could easily outweigh any hoped-for benefits. Keep in mind that each custom form that you create is intended to facilitate the communication of information. The easier it is for people to use the custom form to exchange information, the more likely it is that people will use the form, and thus the more value it will have for your organization.

    Consider a custom form created to enhance customer relationship management by including 15 fields of concise contact information, key project assessment, and a project status summary versus a custom form that includes 5 pages containing 200 fields of exhaustive contact information, step-by-step project notes, milestones and timelines, equipment reserved, travel time, technical assessments, customer evaluation, and so on. The first option with 15 fields is much more likely to be used. When you actually have a need to gather 200 fields’ worth of information, you’ll want to consider subdividing the data into related sets and then creating separate forms for each set. (Or in this case, use an existing solution like Microsoft Dynamics CRM.)

  • Use user-defined fields to store information not included by default in Outlook Although Outlook 2013 contains fields for the data it uses in contacts, email, meeting requests, tasks, and so on, there are invariably additional pieces of information that your organization could benefit by having included that are not part of the Outlook 2013 default field set. Consider additions to the meeting form that could be useful when you’re scheduling meetings with coworkers. For example, to identify who will be leading the meeting, you could add a Presenter field to the custom meeting request form. Likewise, you might consider adding Food Preferences and Food Allergies fields to a custom appointment form for those appointments with clients or staff that involve dining out or food being brought into the event.

    You might want to add information in your contact list that isn’t shared, but that assists you in working with others or relating to their personal interests. You could, for example, create a custom contact form to enable you to track the specialized knowledge or favorite sports of each of the people in your contact list. Then, for example, when you want to find a coworker who just happens to know how IPv6 actually works, you can search on “IPv6” and display the names of every person in your contact list who is fluent in IPv6. (Searching for user-defined fields requires you to select the Query Builder and then add your custom form and fields to the query criteria.)