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The Office Letter
Blink Section - Product Reviews

From Volume 6, Number 30
(January 22, 2007)

Review: DataPrompter 2007

There is only one Office add-in that I rely on every single day: DataPrompter (, $149 single-user license, $89 upgrade; 10-user licenses and volume discounts available). Whether creating standard documents from boilerplate text blocks or assembling the weekly Office Letter newsletter from a "fill-in-the-blank" interface, nothing helps me turn skeletons (with markers where the pieces go) into finished documents faster than DataPrompter.

With Word 2007's radically new interface and new XML-based file formats, however, I've been postponing an upgrade until DataPrompter was Office 2007-compliant. That time has arrived.

DataPrompter lets you automate your documents by defining "DataFields" - the bits of data you want to insert into your Word documents. You then launch DataPrompter, which presents you with an organized list of DataFields, along with text boxes or checkboxes for entering data for the DataFields. DataPrompter takes your entries and inserts the data in your document.

For example, I created a skeleton document for The Office Letter. The first DataField I created was a date field, which I use for the newsletter's issue date. I defined a field for the first article's title, inserted that field into the document (I placed it in the table of contents section, within the body of the newsletter, and in the section of the Word document I use as the basis for the RSS feed). Next, I defined a field to hold the description of this article (and placed this DataField in the RSS section of the skeleton document). Finally, I defined a DataField to hold the article text itself. I repeated this step for each of five articles in an issue.

With this "skeleton" document safely saved, I use it as the base for each week's Office Letter. I open it and start DataPrompter, which presents me with a pop-up screen (see Figure 1) that asks me for the date, the three fields for the first article, the three fields for the second article, and so on. When I'm done, I have the full issue created, and I haven't had to touch the original. This helps me ensure that while assembling the issue I don't accidentally delete anything from the skeleton (dashed lines, the copyright notice, and so on).

Figure 1 - Click to enlarge

Having all the data fields organized by article helps me assemble the newsletter logically; DataPrompter remembers where all the pieces go. Furthermore, by using the DataPrompter screen, I never forget to fill in data. Adding, changing, and removing DataFields themselves (or their location within a document) is easy.

Because the DataFields are grouped by article, I can enter the information one article at a time rather than hunting for fields to replace from the top of the document to the bottom (the inefficient approach I used to use before DataPrompter). DataPrompter lets me fill in all the information for an article with just a few keystrokes. Best of all, I don't need to do everything at once. I can return to the document and fill in additional fields (or make corrections to existing entries) later.

For form letters, I can use DataPrompter's "conditional" option that defines a DataField's value based on the value of another DataField. For example, I can create a "Yes/No" field, then define a second field to insert different text depending on whether the addressee is a Premium Edition subscriber ("yes") or a Standard Edition subscriber ("no").

You define the field type for each DataField -- numeric, date, etc. -- and specify any limitations (such as the maximum number of characters you can enter), and DataPrompter creates the pop-up form that asks you for each of the fields on your form. You can import any or all of the DataFields from one document to another, and you can rearrange the order of the field prompts.

Assembling Boilerplate Text

There's another side to DataPrompter -- using this feature you can combine repetitive chunks of text that you define, which is ideal for longer documents that use boilerplate text. The boilerplate chunks you define need not be static; you can define a portion of text from a document on your hard drive which is picked up whenever you use DataPrompter. If that boilerplate is updated in the source document, DataPrompter will pick up the latest version for your current document. This mode is particularly useful for assembling lengthy forms (such as contracts).

New in this version is the ability to set the number of copies of a boilerplate item to zero (to temporarily exclude the boilerplate from the assembled document, for example).

Also new in DataPrompter 2007 is an integrated spell-check function; fill in your form and click the Spelling option and DataPrompter will find your typos. Rounding out the list of new features: the ability to get a list of the DataFields or their current values.

Working with Word 2007

Word 2007 sports an "Add-in" tab to the Ribbon interface. It's there that DataPrompter installs a group with its commands. Word 2007's radically different interface makes working with add-ins a decidedly less productive affair, but fortunately you can right-click anywhere in your document and access DataPrompter commands rather than having to switch to the Add-in tab. Alternatively, you can use DataPrompter's shortcut keys (assuming you're the sort of user who can remember them).

If you use Word to assemble documents from boilerplate blocks of text, or if a fill-in-the-blanks interface would help you insert key words throughout a document, DataPrompter is easy to learn, easy to use, and a true time saver. We highly recommend it.

-- James E. Powell

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