Printing Placeholders and Answers

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated August 5, 2023)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


David is using hidden text to produce student tests (hidden text not printed) and teacher answer sheets (hidden text printed). He has a need, however, to print a placeholder, such as a series of underlines, on the student test and the answer on the teacher's sheet. For instance "Stop when you see a _________ light" would be on the test printout, but "Stop when you see a RED light" would be on the answer sheet printout. Hidden text doesn't seem to handle this need, so David wonders if there is a better way.

Actually, there are several ways this can be approached. Hidden text cannot be used in the way that David envisions, but there are other ways to tackle the problem.

First, you could modify how you use the hidden text. Simply set your question like this:

Stop when you see a ___RED___ light

The only thing to be formatted as hidden text would be the word "RED." When your printout has hidden text included, then you've printed an answer sheet. When your printout has hidden text excluded, then the two underline segments join together because "RED" doesn't print, and you have a student test. There is the added benefit that when you print the answer sheet, the underlines draw the eye to where the answer is located.

Another approach is to creatively use styles. Create a single character style which I'll call (for example) "Answer." Set up the style so that it is underlined and, perhaps, something like bold or bold red. Then create your questions, like this:

Stop when you see a RED light

Select the word "RED" and apply the Answer style to that selection. The answer should now appear formatted exactly as you specified in the style. When you are done, what you then have is the teacher's answer sheet. When you want to print a student test, just modify the Answer style so it uses white font color. When you then print the test, you end up with the answers being white-on-white, which means invisible. However, the underline in the style (which is colored independently of the font color) still prints, so you have placeholders for the student answers.

If you decide to go this route, you can avoid giving your students clues about the length of the correct answer by simply padding the answer with spaces, both before and after. Assuming they are also formatted using the Answer style, you end up with a longer space for the student to write their answer.

A third potential approach is to use mail merge to create both the student test and the answer sheet. Use an Excel worksheet as your data source, and in one column put underscores of whatever length you desire for the student answer space. In the next column put the actual answers to each question. When you set up the merge document, use the conditional merge field structures (or even the Ask field) to determine whether the underlines or the answer should be printed.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13431) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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