File Properties in Microsoft Word Docs – All Kinds of Dish

This post was written by John White on Tue, 28 Feb 2012 16:45:57 +0000
Posted Under: keywords,publishing content,revisions,titles

Microsoft Office file properties are juicy bits of metadata. Content marketing managers do well to poke around in these file properties.

The coolest thing about listening to records
The coolest thing about listening to records was the music. The second-coolest thing was the liner notes.

Who wrote this tune? Who played bass? When did they record it? How long is it? Where was it recorded? Who’s on backup vocals? Who designed the cover?

Wrapped around the content was a layer of information that described the music and revealed bits of a story behind it.

Many years later, I came to understand this information for what it was: metadata. Data about data.

File properties

Every file you send and receive today contains metadata, a little story behind the content. In some files, it’s as simple as:

  • filename
  • size
  • date and time last saved

Those metadata don’t tell much you of a story. But most files containing real content – MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and PDF files – can reveal a lot more.

Maybe it’s that I don’t spend enough time perusing record liner notes any more, but I am constitutionally incapable of reviewing an MS Office file or PDF without first poking around in its file properties (or document properties). I just enjoy looking for the story behind the file.

Microsoft Office file properties

Have a look at the dialog box below that contains the metadata in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. I usually go straight to the Summary tab, which contains the most metadata.

First, I should mention that merely locating this dialog box is becoming more difficult. Until Office 2003, a simple Alt-F, I sufficed to pop it open in Windows. Since Office 2007, the key combination is Alt-F, I, Q, S, down-arrow. They’re not making it any easier. (If you know what it is in Office for Mac, please let us know in the comments.)

File properties dialog, Microsoft Office

File properties dialog, Microsoft Office

Title: This field is self-explanatory, but it doesn’t depend on the file name. Usually, the app scoops up the first few words or the document, or any text you’ve formatted with the Title style. You can also make up your own title and place it in this field yourself. There’s probably some way to search on Title in Office, Windows or MacOS.

What’s interesting, though, is the metadata that might be left over from the last time the file was saved. Suppose your company is Macy’s, and Cosmodemonic has sent you a pricing proposal, and the Title field reads “Special Pricing – Gimbels”. So, you’ve just gotten the bit of dish about whom else Cosmodemonic is talking to. Busted!

Author: This field does self-populate, but not very consistently. It’s usually the most interesting bit of metadata to me because it contains the name, as burned into Microsoft Office during installation, of the original author of the file.

Unfortunately, a lot of enterprises burn a boilerplate author name – “Gargoyle Industries Employee” or “Breathlessly Ecstatic Dell Customer” – into Office, so the default entry tells you nothing useful.

However, the Author field can surprise you, too. Like when you get a late revision of a paper you wrote, and somebody else has replaced your name with his/her name in this field. Busted!

Company: Again, this field is populated with data burned in during the installation of Office. Of course, it’s possible to overwrite it, but not everybody knows that. So the next time you receive a legal document like a contract or a non-disclosure agreement from a business partner, have a look at the Company field and find out which law firm they swiped it from. Busted!

Keywords: But enough of the cloak and dagger. The Keywords field contains metadata of some potential business importance, especially when you populate it with the keywords that you want search engines to find.

I’m not sure that the search engines pick up these keywords if you simply hang your Word, Excel or PowerPoint file out on the Web, because these formats are binary. But if you save your Office file as a PDF or – heaven help you – HTML file, and then publish the file where the search engines can find it, you’ll see that the keywords you enter to this field are preserved for the search engines to index.

Comments: This is an excellent place to store comments about the file’s history. Excellent, except that nobody would ever think to look for important information buried all the way down here. Most people pump the file name with version numbers, revision dates and initials of reviewers, all of which should really go here. Again, metadata in this field is probably searchable in Windows or Office.

Statistics tab: Click over to the Statistics tab of this dialog box for one other bit of metadata, which is Last saved by (or Last modified by). This is not always the same as the author, especially if the file has been out for review. So, if Mr. Big sends you back “his” revisions and tells you how carefully he pored over your most recent draft, and you see that the file was Last modified by an intern, you can privately assume that perhaps Mr. Big is exaggerating his involvement in your draft.

Custom tab: Finally, on the Custom tab you can create and set your own variables and properties and use them for document automation and update-fields. When you send the file as an attachment in Outlook, several bits of metadata (e.g., _EmailSubject, _AuthorEmail, _PreviousAdHocReviewCycleID) land here automatically.

 


Had enough sleuthing for one post? Next time, I’ll walk through the document properties in PDFs. There’s plenty of dish there as well, if you know how to place it.

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Sign up for his Content Buffet Newsletter and get the free eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

photo credit: Epiclectic

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