Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 introduced a new feature that in my experience has been quite underutilized. It’s called Outlook Quick Parts, and it can improve efficiency for some users. Quick Parts are customizable, reusable content snippets for Office users. In previous versions, a similar feature was called AutoText. These “building blocks,” as Microsoft also calls them, may be signatures, logos, text content, and more.

So why not just insert the image or content when needed instead using the Quick Part? There are only a couple of reasons, and they may not apply to your situation. First, the Quick Part image or content is now part of Outlook. It’s stored in a template. You no longer have to search outside of Outlook for it. Second, the image or content can be saved and distributed as a template for Outlook. I will discuss this in a future Outlook Tips & Techniques article.

Quick Parts can benefit users for both personal and professional communication, or can help distinguish business emails from personal ones. They are created by users and stored locally within a Quick Parts gallery, which uses the template file NormalEmail.dotm by default. You can save Quick Parts to any other loaded template file instead, if you choose.

Creating a Quick Part in Outlook 2007

Creating a Quick Part is just a matter of highlighting the content you wish to reuse and saving it to the Quick Parts gallery. This is done through the Outlook email form. Create a new message in Outlook (or a reply or forward) and generate the content in the message body. You can type original text or cut and paste from another source. To form a Quick Part, you can also insert images, Smart Art, charts, hyperlinks, and just about any object that can reside in a message body. Highlight the components for the Quick Part, click the Insert tab on the Outlook Ribbon, and then click Quick Parts. (Figure 1 shows some highlighted text in the message body and the Quick Parts option selected. There are several Quick Parts already stored there for use.) At the bottom of the Quick Parts option, click Save Selection to Quick Parts Gallery. The option won’t be available if nothing is highlighted in the message body. This opens the Create New Building Block dialog box shown in Figure 2.

There are several options in the Create New Building Block dialog box. These options allow the user to effectively identify and reuse the content. In the first field you assign a name to the Quick Part. Outlook will assume the first few words of the text if you don’t enter your own. The Gallery field can be used to sort the Quick Parts by type, but we do have categories for that and the options in the Gallery drop-down list seem more practical for Word users or email marketers. They include preset galleries of Bibliographies, Cover Pages, Headers, Footers, Watermarks, and many more. I typically use Quick Parts or the Custom Quick Parts galleries from the drop-down list.

The next field is Category, however, this does not mirror Categories elsewhere in Outlook. These are categories specifically for Quick Part organization within a Gallery. (In Figure 1, you can see the Categories Answers, Backup, and Logos in the box on the right.)

The Description field is self-explanatory and is shown when you mouse over a Quick Part in the drop-down list.

The Save In option allows you to choose which loaded template you want to store the Quick Part in. The NormalEmail.dotm template is the standard template for Outlook 2007 email composition. When you open the new email window, the message body uses the NormalEmail.dotm template. If other templates are loaded, then you have the option of saving the Quick Part to them. Finally, there are three options for presenting the Quick Part when it’s selected for an email message: Insert content only, Insert content in its own paragraph, and Insert content in its own page. I almost always use Insert content only; however, I have some quoted content that I saved as Insert content in its own paragraph. When selecting this Quick Part, it places the text in its own paragraph, of course. It will even do this if your cursor resides in the middle of an existing paragraph in your email. It will split that paragraph with the Quick Part. Click the OK button at the bottom to save your Quick Part. It will now display in the Insert, Quick Parts drop-down list in a new email message.

Using Outlook 2007 Quick Parts

Applying a Quick Part to an email message is as simple as selecting Insert, Quick Parts and clicking the one you want to add. The content will appear in the message body at the cursor location. The Insert ribbon options are not available unless the cursor resides somewhere in the message body.

In the past, I had a few methods for reusing boilerplate content. When answering questions in peer forums, I kept text for common answers in separate .txt files in a folder in Windows. When a response called for one of those answers, I would open the text file in Notepad and copy and paste the content to an email reply message (or newsgroup post). I would then make any adjustments for the specific question and send. More recently, since Office 2007, I’ve engaged OneNote to save that content. Now, I store some of these basic replies in a template as a Quick Part and can call them from the Insert, Quick Parts tab in a new email message.

Did you know that you can save a picture as a Quick Part? Back in Outlook 2000, I saved a signature with a scanned image of my actual written signature. You can do this as a Quick Part saved with such an image. Within a new email message, select Insert Picture and locate the image to save as a Quick Part. With the image still selected or highlighted in the message, select Insert, Quick Parts to save it to the Gallery. At the end of a personal message, you can select Insert, Quick Parts and choose the signature image Quick Part. That’s what I have done in Figure 3.