In early versions of Microsoft Outlook, I would abuse the Signature feature to hold boilerplate text snippets that I frequently used. These were like mini templates. Now, there is an easier and improved method that uses Outlook Quick Parts. This functionality allows you to reuse text and images just about anywhere in Outlook except notes.
What are Outlook Quick Parts
Microsoft defines Quick Parts as a gallery of “building blocks”. Building blocks started in Office 2007 and allow you to reuse document elements. This functionality replaces the Word AutoText feature from previous versions, but is more versatile.
These Quick Parts elements can be either text snippets or images. The text can even include formatting. These building blocks are saved to the default email template file called NormalEmail.dotm.
Uses for Quick Parts
For a moment, consider the email you send. How often do you include the same bits and pieces? In my case, I have several email accounts that separate personal and professional correspondence. Some snippets I routinely use include:
- Urban legend advisory
- Review policy
Email items you routinely send might include:
- Return policy
- Cancellation policy
- Multiple signatures
- Answers to frequently asked questions
How to Create a Quick Part
The steps for creating a Quick Part building block are the same for Email, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks. Technically, it doesn’t matter where in Outlook you create the item. The saved quick part can be inserted into just about any Outlook item. Since you’re more apt to use email, I’ll use it for the instructions.
- Open Microsft Outlook (not outlook.com)
- From the Home tab, click New Email.
- In the text area of the message, type the content you’d like to use as your boilerplate.
- Apply any formatting to your text.
- Highlight the information you want in the Quick Part.
- Click the Insert tab on the ribbon
- Click Quick Parts from the Text group.
- Select Save Selection to Quick Part gallery…
- In the Create New Building Block dialog provide a Name.
- Add other info such as a Category and a Description.
- Click OK.
Tip: Pay attention to the Name: field. You want to choose a good descriptive name you can leverage.
Reusing Quick Parts
There are two ways to insert these reusable elements in Outlook. The conventional way is to click Insert, Quick Parts, and then click the desired building block from the preview list. Call me lazy, but that’s too much work for me. I prefer to use the method similar to how AutoText worked in Word.
If you name your building blocks efficiently, you can type the first four letters of the building block name. For example, I type “invi” and press Enter and my parking map appears. This works since I don’t have any other entries that start with “invi”. This procedure saves you from using the Quick Part menu and selecting from the gallery.
Another nice feature is you can use Quick Parts in many areas of Outlook. You’re not restricted to using email. For example, I can use the same building block called “parking” in an Outlook meeting request or Task. The only place I’ve found where I can’t use them is Outlook Notes.
Since these building blocks are saved to your template, you could distribute them to others on a network. I’ve not tried this, but Allen Wyatt has more info on this subject.
The Importance of Organization
If you plan to create many boilerplate entries in Quick Parts, I would create a hierarchy first. For example, if you do product support, think about ways you can structure and name the text snippets. Perhaps, you want to create categories for main areas.
Also, keep in mind how Outlook sorts the Quick Parts preview list. It first sorts by Category and then by Name. This structure makes it easier when viewing the snippet previews.
Another factor to consider is the building block name. If you have many text blocks try to use a naming convention that is easy for you to remember. For example, if many of the emails you get concern forms, try to create a structure around their names or number. As example,
- wrf = water rebate form
- pvf = planning variance form
- css= customer satisfaction survey
- f262 = account application form
Although using the word “form” at the beginning of the building block name might be a good convention, it does have a downfall. For example, if you used “form-water-rebate” and “form-planning-variance”, Outlook would want you to type at least “form-“ before a unique entry was found. Fortunately, you can rename building blocks by right-clicking a building block and choosing either Edit Properties… or Organize and Delete… from the menu.
Once you have your naming convention down when you need to insert a specific snippet, type the first part of the block name and Outlook should show a hint as a tooltip. Your boilerplate text can also include hyperlinks if you need to direct users to a website or network drive.
I wish it was easier to share Quick Parts among the different Office applications. For example, I wish I could save a quick Part called “disclaimer” and have it as a shared item available for use in Outlook, Excel or PowerPoint.
Even with these limitations, I am pleased with Outlook Quick Parts. It does allow you to reuse text snippets and images with ease. I think it will also make the Outlook purists happy to know I’m not abusing the signature feature anymore.