Creating a personalized form letter
December 7, 2007 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Help me create custom documents out of pre-written paragraphs in Word.

I am a professor and I teach the same class 3 times a year. I am trying to work on making my life more efficient. One of the tasks I am trying to do is to stockpile comments for student's final projects. Students tend to make similar mistakes and do similar things well. So I have written a number of comments that I can use based on what they have done in the paper.

What I need to figure out is an easy way to select certain comments and output a new document containing only those. Obviously, I can cut and paste, but I thought it would be really cool if I could somehow just click on the ones that apply to a specific paper and then have it spit out a new document with only those comments that I could email to the group.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. The only thought I have had is that I could put the comments into an Excel file and then do a mail merge, but the problem with that is that a mail merge is designed to use the same fields each time. What I want is to be able to customize which fields get expressed each time.
posted by bove to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: when i worked on a helpdesk that handled email responses, we saved various common text as email signatures and would apply them to contruct most of the message. You could easily do that and copy the unsent email into a word processor.

Alternatively, Lifehacker has an app called Texter that saves "bundles" of text you can dump into a word processor which would do what you need. I've never tried Texter.
posted by jrishel at 10:50 AM on December 7, 2007

If I remember correctly, this clipboard utility lets you have a floating "palette" of text snippets that you can quickly drag-and-drop into any program. That's the way I'd be inclined to do it.

You could probably also create a Word macro to do something like this but it would most likely require far more effort than it would be worth.
posted by XMLicious at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2007

Best answer: Use the autocorrect feature to insert wording of a certain content when you type a unique code like zzxx = "Your efforts are great but if you find you need to express this thought more than once" ... like that.

You can create a custom dictionary that contains these boilerplate text blocks.

Then make a review template with a series of locations where this text would "land".

Cheater sheet on the monitor and there you go. You can alwasy insert special wording into the inserted text blocks.

How do you think lawyers make contracts? They lft and re-use good words already spell checked and proof read for clarity.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:52 AM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are great suggestions. I am going to check out Texter, and also try the autocorrect option. Both look very promising. Thanks so much.
posted by bove at 12:08 PM on December 7, 2007

Put the comments in an Excel spreadsheet, then mail merge them into a pre-constructed template in Word.

If you use Word 2002 and newer, there is a "mail merge recipients" function on the mail merge toolbar where you can select only the rows in your Excel sheet that apply to a particular student's paper. Checkmark the ones you need for that student and hit "merge", and you then generate a personalized document with a specific set of comments.

That way you could create categories of comments (structure, content, references, for example) in the Excel spreadsheet, which would make it easy to sort and organize them. It requires some setup first, but I use a similar system to generate form letters at work, it's saved me a bunch of time and is really easy to use.
posted by gemmy at 4:14 PM on December 7, 2007

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