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One tech challenge that many professionals face is working with computers to do automatically what a secretary or clerk might have done in decades past. A doctor or lawyer, construction manager or Realtor, has mastered the elements of his or her specialty -- and usually that specialty is not computers. While hiring an IT person to set up a complex office computer network may make sense for these professionals, going to that kind of expense to make paperwork more efficient usually doesn't.


Using the MS Office Suite, particularly Microsoft Word, is convenient for many tasks, but figuring out how to fill in forms is time-consuming and frustrating to do manually. That said, MS Word automation takes programming skills and attention that busy experts in non-computer fields just don't have.


Add to this is the fact that forms of all kinds need to be filled out perfectly or the filer can face legal and financial consequences. Recently, incorrectly filled-out ethics forms got nearly half a city department in hot water, and California reported that the lawyer for a man filing for divorce made a mistake when he filled out the man’s forms, resulting in the man still legally being married when he hit the state lottery -- and having to share his winnings with the person he thought was his ex-wife.


Given the difficulty and importance of seeing forms filled out correctly, perhaps no one would blame a doctor's office or small law firm for going back to using typewriters and carbon paper. Fortunately, there are computer "plug-ins" created by companies focused on streamlining how forms can be automated for Microsoft Word on PCs as well as the Mac platform.


These programs ask the user to answer questions and then designate which information goes into which field in the document. That is all the end user has to do, whether he or she is a doctor, an accountant, or a bricklayer, and the program takes care of the rest. At that point, the end user can review, email, edit, print, or do whatever else needs to be done with that client’s form.


In a time when videos, Web applications, and more can be included in a document, it may come as a relief that something as simple yet important as producing a reliably filled-out form has been made possible as well.