Instant Database: 'Input Form' Masks
What is an 'Input Form' Mask?
An 'Input Form' Mask is simply a data entry form.
•A data entry form is an device by which an operator tells the program how to replace document variables with personal information.
•Every document assembly program requires a data entry form of one kind or another.
•The input form discussed in this Manual up until this point is the form created when you press Alt-D to display the Instant Database screen. When you press Scan, Pathagoras populates the IDB screen with the variables in the underlying document. If, however, you want a pre-designed form, with the variables occurring in a pre-set order, with (optional) hints and tips and validations, you can design your own. And that would be a 'Mask.'
What distinguishes Pathagoras' data entry form from those of its competitors is the ease by which Pathagoras can generate them and by which you can use them.
•With almost every other program, the data entry form must be pre-constructed by the system administrator and 'locked down' before it can be used. Without the pre-constructed form, the document cannot be personalized. In some cases, the document cannot even be created without first completing the intake form. Not so with Pathagoras.
•Pathagoras data entry is fluid and flexible. All is done from within Word without remote tables, meta-data, fields and code. The Mask we propose here is based on what likely is an already familiar Instant Database screen.
•A Mask is an optional approach. If you have not created a Mask, the system (including personalizing the assembled document) will still work without a hitch. (You know that because you have probably already personalized dozens of documents without a mask, using the basic features of the Instant Database.)
Why create an 'Input Form' Mask?
•Primarily, you need a Mask to tell Pathagoras what personal information is to replace the document variables.
Without a tool for the end user to tell the program what values should be substituted for each document variable, it would be quite difficult to 'personalize' the document for the ultimate client or customer. (The computer operator could perform a manual 'search and replace' operation for each variable, but this is not a satisfactory solution.)
This explanation is only partly satisfactory because Pathagoras is unique among all programs in that a data collection form can be easily created simply by pressing Alt-D and then clicking the Scan button. So you don't 'need' a Mask to tell Pathagoras what personal information is to replace the document variables. But you should consider introducing them into your maturing system nevertheless. Read on.
•Masks allow you better data input control.
With a 'standard' scan, Pathagoras displays the variables in the order in which they appear in the document, top to bottom. Often, that order is not the most logical order for inputting personal data into a worksheet.
With a Mask, you can organize the variables in a logical order, perhaps one that mimics your client or customer intake sheets, standard purchase orders, etc. That way you can insure that data entry will occur in an organized, logical fashion for users who aren't familiar with Pathagoras.
•Masks allow you to provide completion tips, examples and pre-assigned values for the operator.
Masks can also help make the IDB process more user-friendly for the end-user by providing completion tips and examples.
•Masks allow data input independent of document assembly.
Masks are useful when the office protocol is to complete the personal data before building the document. Without a Mask, you must have an underlying document to scan for variables. Maybe you want someone to record values independently of scanning or completing a form. This is precisely what Masks allow. Instead of scanning a document for variables, just click on a Mask you have created. Complete the values, save and move on. When another person in the office creates a new document for the client, the information needed to replace variables with values is 'at your fingertips' ready.
•Masks make it easy to Pathagorize existing or new documents.
Call up a Mask while you are 'Pathagorizing.' Then you can either
o'drag and drop' a variable directly from the Mask into the document you are editing, or
ocreate a Drop Down List of the Mask's variables and point and click any variable into the document you are editing.
•If you call data in from external data sources (Excel, TimeMatters, etc), Masks allow you to control the order and scope of the values called in.
oMost external databases contain values that are far in excess of the variables needed for daily document assembly.
oMasks allow you to call in and work with just the values your wish.
oUsing the concatenate functions you can build document variables (e.g., [Client Name] from bits and pieces of the values found in the external database.
You likely will need several Masks for a complete document assembly system. The variables that are needed to complete, let's say, a 'Will' are significantly different from the variables needed to draft a ‘Contract’ or a 'Purchase Order.’ It is perfectly fine (indeed, it is a 'best practice’) to have a variety of masks, one for each genre of document or office practice (estate planning, contracts, litigation, bids and RFPs, etc).