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Free templates give your Office files a fresh look

Downloadable business forms, letters, calendars, and presentations save time and trouble.

At a report-planning meeting last week I volunteered to add a timeline to a Word document that would ultimately become a PDF file. I could've used Word or Excel to create a horizontal timeline with about a dozen events, each denoted by a text box big enough to accommodate five or six words.

Instead, I went to Microsoft'sOffice templates site and downloaded one of the free service's many timelines for Word. Enter "timeline" (or the term of your choice) in the site's search box to retrieve links to a couple dozen time-related diagrams available for download.

Simply create, reposition, and resize as many text boxes as the timeline requires, and then overwrite the template's text. Makes any changes you want to the format, background colors, and other aspects of the template, save the file with a unique name, and the project's done.

Microsoft Office Online timeline templates
Find free Office templates of every description at Microsoft Office Online. Microsoft

If you have created an Office template you would like to share with the world, use Microsoft's template-submission tool, which requires an Office Online login (a Hotmail or other Passport account will work). The template has to be less than 2MB in size and meet other restrictions. The submission tool scans the file and attempts to categorize it, but you can pick the category and describe your template. Accept Microsoft's terms of use, and then click the Upload button.

Other free and commercial Office templates
HP offers a great selection of Office templates for small businesses. Some of the site's Powerpoint templates are particularly eye-catching.

For a wider selection of business templates, check out OfficeReady Professional, a $70 collection of templates for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (30-day free trial). The templates can be used to create e-mail and print newsletters, flyers, brochures, stationery, and reports. Sales and marketing plans, invoices, and other business forms are well represented in the package.

Tomorrow: delay sending messages in Microsoft Outlook.