Paragraph formatting, new lines and bullet lists in Word Rich Text Content Controls

Every since who knows when, Microsoft Word has had Form Fields that allow you to create a fill-in form using Word. Trouble is, unless you protect the document, people rarely end up placing the text in the correct box – or they might delete the field altogether.

So you protect the document. Now spell checking doesn’t work, the arrow keys don’t work right, it is difficult to select text, no formatting, and… well it’s just plain bad.

As of Word 2007 and Word 2010, there is a better solution called Content Controls – accessed from the Developer tab. The Rich Text content countrol allows for formatted text without messing up the surrounding document, and (if you do it right) supports spell checking. The trick is to use grouping instead of document protection. (Create your document, select everything, and group it from the developer tab. The document cannot be edited, except for the content controls)

This is great, but we ran into a mystifying problem with the Rich Text content control – in our existing document, it was not creating new lines when you pressed the return / enter key. You could hold shift-enter to get a new line, but then you could not create bulleted lists. We tried creating a new word document and adding a rich text control, and it worked fine – it seemed to be a problem with our existing document.

The solution: The rich text control does not allow sub-paragraphs when it is not the only thing in a paragraph. Place the content control in it’s own paragraph in the word document, and it will allow bulleted lists, new paragraphs, formatting, etc.