Working with message templates

Working with message templates can be a great way to save some time composing emails or answering repeated requests. Outlook offers several methods to work with message templates to be more productive in any situation. This guide discusses the various methods and offers some tips to get you started with.


AutoText

AutoText in Outlook 2003 and previous (see Quick Parts for Outlook 2007 and later) is the main feature to create and insert blocks of text.

How to create?
AutoText requires you to have Word set as your email editor to function. To do so choose Tools…-> Options…-> tab Message Format

When you start a new message, you'll find the command under; Insert-> AutoText
Here you'll may already find some default defined entries such as a Salutation, a Reference Line and Signature (which doesn't hold a relation to the signature as defined in Outlook though).

To create one of you own, simply type your standard text in an email first. After this, select it and press ALT+F3 or choose;
Insert-> AutoText-> New…

AutoText even supports formatting such as color, fonts, etc… and fields (Insert-> Fields…). This will allow you for instance to create templates which holds a reference to and highlights the current date or to mention a date which is x days into the future (e.g. to notify that the issue will be closed after that date when no reply is received) without the need to update this field manually.

How to use my templates?
You can use the Insert-> AutoText menu to insert AutoText entries. There are also two methods for easy access to AutoText entries;

  • The AutoText toolbar
    View-> Toolbars-> AutoText
  • Have it integrate with AutoComplete suggestions (enabled by default).
    This works by just typing the first letters of the name of the AutoText entry. You'll then get a popup to allow you to directly insert it.

Where is it stored?
AutoText entries are stored in the Normal.dot file.

AutoText suggestion
The AutoText suggestion feature.

Quick Parts

Quick Parts in Outlook 2007 and later (see AutoText for Outlook 20003 and previous) is the main feature to create and insert blocks of text.

How to create?
Quick Parts work in much the same way as AutoText in previous versions of a Outlook/Word combination.

When you start a new message you'll find the command under; tab Insert-> Quick Parts

To create one of your own, simply type your standard text in an email first. After this, select it and press ALT+F3 or choose;
Insert-> Quick Parts-> Save Selections to Quick Part Gallery…

Quick Parts also support formatting such as color, fonts, etc… and fields (Insert-> Fields…). This will allow you for instance to create templates which holds a reference to and highlights the current date or to mention a date which is x days into the future (e.g. to notify that the issue will be closed after that date when no reply is received) without the need to update this field manually.

To update a Quick Part later, you'll have to insert it in a message first. Then make your changes to the Quick Part and save it with the same name.

How to use my templates?
To insert a Quick Part, you select the Insert tab and click on the Quick Parts button. This will open a gallery with previews of Quick Parts to choose from.

Sadly the implementation of Quick Parts in Outlook isn't as complete as the implementation is for Word as it is not possible to assign keyboard shortcuts to a specific Quick Part. This takes some "quickness" away. To at least save you a click for selecting the Insert tab first, you can add the Quick Parts Gallery to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) by right clicking it and choose Add to Quick Access Toolbar.

Another method to insert a Quick Part is to type their name (or at least the part until it gets unique when compared to the names of your other Quick Parts) and press F3.

To gain access to the Building Blocks Organizer, you'll have to add it to the QAT as well or right click any Quick Part from the list and choose "Organize and Delete…". This last option only works when the message format is set to HTML and not when it is set to Plain Text. For more details see this post.

Where is it stored?
Quick Part entries are stored in the NormalEmail.dotm file.

Create new Quick Part
Enough organizing options to sort and find back your Quick Parts later.

Insert as Text

Insert as Text is an option which will allow you to directly insert the contents from another text based document into an email without needing to open that document first and copy and paste the text manually from the document into the email.

How to create?
As this is file based, all you have to do is create a file with the contents of your template. Quite a few text based document formats are supported such as txt, htm, html, rtf, doc and docx. This will allow you to also contain formatting such as color, fonts, etc… in your templates. Because of the HTML support it will also allow you to inject HTML directly into the message body which can be handy for newsletter templates for example.

How to use my templates?
This feature works almost the same as inserting an attachment;
Click on the paperclip icon while composing a message and browse to a text based document. Instead of directly clicking on the Insert button, click on the little down arrow on the Insert button and choose Insert as Text.

As the Insert as Text option is based on attaching a file, by default it will open to your My Documents folder. To quickly jump to the location where you store your templates, you can add the location to your Explorer Favorites or My Places Bar (which is available to you depends on your version of Windows and Outlook).

Where is it stored?
You can store the files anywhere you like. For instance, if you keep your documents on the D:\ drive you could locate them in a logic sub folder such as;
D:\My Documents\Outlook\Templates

The Insert as Text option is a great solution if you need to share your blocks of texts. The text-files can be stored on a network share (and additionally sorted in sub folders) so they can be accessible by everyone in your team and updates to them will reflect to everyone else this way.

Insert as Text
Directly inject some text or HTML code into your message via Insert as Text

Oft-files and Drafts

Oft-files are unsent Outlook messages that are saved outside of Outlook.
Drafts are unsent Outlook messages that are saved inside of Outlook.

How to create?
When basically the entire message is part of your message template, then using oft-files or drafts are a good way to go. You compose the message once in Outlook and then press the Save button so it will be stored in your default Drafts folder in Outlook. To save it outside of Outlook, you can use the Save As… function to save it as an oft-file.

You can also predefine the subject, or any of the Address Fields. If you have multiple accounts configured, you can even predefine the sending account as well without the need for any programming.

How to use my templates?
When opening a draft from within Outlook, Outlook considers it to be a continuation of the original message. This means that the message will be removed from your Drafts folder after sending it. Therefore, you should either press the Forward button after selecting a draft or make a copy of the draft first before opening it.

Oft-files can easily be opened by double clicking it from the location where you stored it. For easy access to the template you can also create a shortcut to it in the Shortcuts Navigation or via customized toolbars (see section: Link to External Programs, files or web pages).

Where is it stored?
By default, drafts are stored in your Drafts folder. You can of course choose to create a separate Templates folder within Outlook where you can store your template drafts. If you have many, you could even organize them into subfolders or assign them categories.

For oft-files it is basically the same story as where you can save the Insert as Text templates. However, when selecting *.oft as the Save As type, Outlook will default to the Templates folder.

Save As oft-file
If you are using Outlook 2003 or previous and have Word set as the email editor, this option won't be available to you.
In order to create oft-files in Outlook 2003 or previous, you'll have to set Outlook as the email editor.

Rules

Rules are designed to automate applying actions to messages upon arrival. As they can also be run manually and reply to messages, it can also be used to repy to messages in bulk.

How to create?
The rule that you'll need to create for this method will require the following criteria;

  • reply using a specific template (when not using Exchange or when the message template is stored locally)
  • have server reply using a specific template (available only when using an Exchange server)

You can of course set additional actions and criteria but it is not needed for this method. Make sure that after creating the rule, you disable it.

If you always want to reply directly to that message automatically then you'll have to set some additional exceptions to prevent an endless mail loop. An example for such a rule can be found here.

How to use my templates?
It is best to first collect the messages that you want to reply to in bulk in a single folder (this can be done automatically via a separate rule). This will allow you to use the rule more easily. For instance, a lot of people emailed you with feedback and you want to thank them all at once and want to inform them about the main feedback that you got and what you are going to do with it.

You can now manually execute this rule against the selected folder to send the standard message to all the people who have replied to you with feedback;

  1. Open the Rules and Alerts dialog;
    • Outlook 2007 and previous
      Tools-> Rules and Alerts…
    • Outlook 2010
      tab Home-> button Rules-> Manage Rules and Alerts…
  2. Press the button "Run Rules Now".
  3. Select the created template rule and make sure all other rules are disabled.
  4. Use the Browse… button to set the folder to the folder where you stored all the feedback messages in.
  5. Press the button Run Now.

Where is it stored?
The rule itself is stored within your mailbox.
When you created the rule with "have server reply with a specific template" then the template is also stored in your mailbox as a hidden message.
When you created the rule with "reply using a specific template" then the template is an oft-file which you are free to place anywhere that is most convenient to you.

Run Rules Now
Reply to all messages in a single folder at once.

AutoCorrect

While AutoCorrect is not directly designed to insert template text, it does allow you to quickly insert template text via a specific keyword or acronym.

How to create?
The way to create an AutoCorrect entry depends heavily on your version of Outlook and (for Outlook 2003 and previous) if you are using Word or Outlook as your email editor. Also, if you are using Outlook 2003 or previous and are using Outlook as the email editor, there is no formatting support and the length of the template is restricted to 256 characters.

Just like creating an AutoText or a Quick Part entry, you start with typing your template text first within a message. This may even contain formatting. After you have finished typing, select your text and open the AutoCorrect dialog;

  • Outlook 2003 and previous with Word set as your email editor
    Tools-> AutoCorrect Options…
  • Outlook 2007
    Office Logo-> button Editor Options…-> section Proofing-> button AutoCorrect Options…
  • Outlook 2010
    File-> section Options-> section Mail-> button Spelling and AutoCorrect…-> section Proofing-> button AutoCorrect Options…

Your template text will automatically be copied into the replacement text field.
Type your keyword and make sure you select the "Formatting text" option to maintain formatting and/or to support entries larger than 256 characters.

If you are using Outlook 2003 or previous and have set Word as your email editor you can create your AutoCorrect entries while composing via;
Tools-> Spelling…-> button Options-> button AutoCorrect Options…
Here, type your keyword and the text that it should be replaced with. As mentioned before, there will be no support for formatting and entries may not be longer than 256 characters.

How to use my templates?
Using the templates is as easy as typing your keyword that you configured in AutoCorrect options. As soon as you hit the Spacebar or Enter key after inserting your keyword, AutoCorrect will automatically replace it with your template text.

Where is it stored?
For Outlook 2003 and previous, formatted AutoCorrect entries are stored within your Normal.dot file.
For Outlook 2007 and 2010, formatted AutoCorrect entries are stored within your NormalEmail.dotm file.
Non formatted AutoCorrect entries are stored within a file called MSO####.acl where #### is replaced with the language ID number for the file.

AutoCorrect with formatting support
Save your AutoCorrect templates with formatting if needed.

Signatures

Signatures are designed to insert a predefined text block at the end of your email. In some cases these can also be used to insert text templates.

In general it is not recommended to use signatures to insert text templates unless they really are signatures. This is because when using Word as your email editor or when using Outlook 2007 or later, you are not actually inserting a signature but you are actually switching the signature; when you select a different signature while composing, the default signature is removed and replaced by the one that you have selected.

However, when you are using Outlook 2003 or previous and for some reason cannot (or don't want to) use Word as your email editor, the AutoText feature will not be available to you. In this situation you can also opt to use the Signature feature to insert text blocks as with Outlook set as the e-mail editor, every time when you select a signature, the text will be appended to the email and will not replace the original signature.

How to create?
Signatures can be created via;

  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    Tools-> Options-> tab Mail Format-> button Signatures…
  • Outlook 2010
    File-> section Options-> section-> Mail-> button Signatures…

For more about creating signatures see this more specific Signatures guide.

How to use my templates?
To select/add your signature use;

  • Outlook 2003 and previous with Outlook as the email editor
    Insert-> Signature
    The most recently used signatures will be shown directly. To show additional signatures you can press the More… button to bring up the selection dialog.
    The signature will be inserted at the current location of your cursor in your email.
  • Outlook 2003 and previous with Word as the email editor
    Expand the Options… button on the E-mail toolbar and select Signatures…
    In the dialog that pops up, select the signature that you want to insert.
    As the signature will be swapped, you must have a default signature configured for this to work. See this Signatures guide for more details.
  • Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010
    On the Insert section of the Message tab press the Signature button.
    The signature will be swapped, but unlike Outlook 2003, it does not require you to have a default signature for this to work.

Where is it stored?
Signatures are stored in 3 file formats (.txt, .htm and .rtf) in the Signatures folder. For easy access to this folder, hold the CTRL (Control) button on your keyboard while pressing the Signatures… button in the Options dialog mentioned above. This will directly open the folder in Explorer.

Insert signature with Outlook 2003 and Word set as the email editor
Selecting a signature with Outlook 2003 and Word set as the email editor.

Stationery

The stationey feature of Outlook is used to determine your design when composing a new email.

How to create?
Stationery files are HTML based. Instead of only defining a layout, a background and a header in your HTML template, you can also decide to only include text. When you now would use that Stationery, that text is automatically loaded into your message body.

How to use my templates?
Stationery files first need to be stored in your Stationery folder (see below). Once you've done that, you can select them in the following way;

  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    Actions-> New Mail Using-> More Stationery…
  • Outlook 2010
    New Items-> E-mail Message Using-> More Stationery…

Where is it stored?
Stationery is stored in htm format in your Stationery folder. For easy access to this folder, hold the CTRL (Control) button on your keyboard while pressing the Stationery and Fonts… button in the Options dialog mentioned above. This will directly open the folder in Explorer.

Select Stationery
Start a new message based on Stationery with default text.

Custom Foms

A “form” is basically the design and the function of the fields when you open or create a new Outlook items such as a message, appointment or contact. You can design these yourself as well.

How to create?
You can design these layouts yourself as well via the Form Editor in Outlook. Using them is a bit more complicated as the other methods mentioned in this guide as it (often) requires additional programming but it if you get passed that it can be one of the most powerfull solutions as well.

To start the design of a new message template you can use Tools-> Forms-> Design a Form…

If you are interested in designing and programming your own forms OutlookCode.com is a great place to start.

Microsoft also offers a whole list of custom forms which you use directly or customize into your own solution. While they may be old (most were created in the Outlook 97/98 period), most of them still work as they were intended way back then. A very popular form for example for example is the While you were out form or Vacation Request form.Other forms can be found here.

How to use my templates?
Selecting a custom form can be done via;

  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    File-> New-> Chooose Form…
  • Outlook 2010
    New Items-> More Items-> Choose Form…

Where is it stored?
Custom forms can be saved as oft-files via the Save As… option and then you are free to choose a location which is most convenient to you. The location defaults to your Templates folder.
Custom forms can also be published within a specific folder in Outlook. In that case they are stored as a hidden message within your mailbox.

  • Outlook 2003 and previous
    Tools-> Forms-> Publish Form As…
  • Outlook 2007 and later
    button Publish-> Publish Form As…

Custom Form - While you were out
The While You Were Out form might be old but is still usefull.

Add-ins

Below is a list of 3rd party template tools which you can use in addition to the existing template features or as a replacement of it. I won’t discuss their start to finish processes but will highlight their unique features.

Email Templates by Agave Software Inc

  • Special button to directly initiate a reply with specific template text.
  • Support for variables to resolve properties of the message you are replying to or from your contact information.
  • Support for prompts to quickly insert some unique values into the template text.
    For instance, include a username and password in an introduction email without needing to look up their insertion points within the email.
  • Supports public and private templates which can be stored in your own mailbox or Public Folders.
  • Discount code: RSPA-WKGG

Quick Templates by MAPILab

  • Quickly insert a specific template via a pre-defined Hotkey (up to 26).
  • Supports font formatting.
  • Generate templates from text selections.
  • Easily accessible on the main Message tab in the Ribbon (Outlook 2007) or via a separate toolbar (Outlook 2003 and previous).
  • Discount code 4PM76A8

Quick Text Hotkeys by Sperry Software

  • Quickly insert a specific template via a pre-defined Hotkey (not just via letters but also via the function keys and with combinations of CTRL, SHIFT and/or ALT).
  • Support for date and time variables in different display formats.
  • Also can be used when creating contacts, appointments, tasks, notes and journal items.
  • Easily backup and restore your created templates to share your templates or to restore them after a reformat or installation on a new computer.
  • Discount code BH93RF24

Bells & Whistles for Outlook by DS Development

  • Full formatting support for templates, including images.
  • Categorize your templates and/or quickly insert a specific template via a pre-defined Hotkey (up to 21).
  • A template can also automatically readdress (add or remove recipients) the emails or change the subject.
  • Automatically insert a greeting when replying to messages (also supports retrieving information from contact information such as nicknames).
  • Include or quote the names of the original attachments.
  • Many more additional features such as adding notes to messages, automatically zip outgoing attachments, empty subject alert, forgotten attachment alert, reply to all alert, always reply in Plain Text or HTML, automatically mail merge when addressing mails via the Bcc field and still even more…

For more templates add-ins see the Templates section of our add-in database.