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ThumbnailI read somewhere that Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist, was the guy who invented index cards three centuries ago. That way he could pigeonhole vast amounts of data during his studies.

We might not need it for organizing heavy duty scientific information but index cards are one of the best ways to organize information of any sort. Be it kindergarten or the next corporate meeting, the simple ways to use these 3″x5″ (or any convenient size) cards, is limited only by creativity. By the way, if you come across the term “˜flash cards‘”¦it’s just a type of index card.

Check out a GTD with Index card photoset on Flickr. Leo Babauta’s post on Web Worker Daily is a nice read if you can’t come up with your own ways to use index cards.

So without further ado let me push on and jot down how we can create index cards (or flash cards) from scratch with Microsoft Word 2007 – minus the cost of paper and print, it is the cheapest way.

MS Word is close at hand. All we need are the right measurements and the right kind of paper to print our index cards on. I will leave that particular choice to you as I start with the three ways ““

Making an index card in Microsoft Word from scratch

    1. Open a blank MS Word document. Go to the Page Layout tab on the ribbon.
    2. On the Page Setup panel click on Size and scroll down the paper sizes given. If you get a size close to your desired number select that. If not then click on More Paper Sizes“¦and go to the Page Setup box which opens up. On the tab marked Paper select Custom from the Paper Size dropdown and enter your figures for width and height. Click OK to set the dimensions.


    1. The Word document is now setup with your custom dimensions. Flip the orientation between Portrait and Landscape if you wish (Page Layout – Orientation).


    1. Your first blank index card is ready. Now you can fill it with any information you desire. From clipart to charts or just normal text – format the look as you would do for a normal word document.
    2. Press enter or do a page break to open the second page or the index card with the same dimensions. Create as many index cards as you wish.
    3. Save your custom index card dimensions as a template for one click reuse later. Preferably save it as a .dot (Word 97- 2003) file for compatibility with older systems.
    4. You can do a Manual Duplex in the Print configuration box to print on both sides of the index card. A bit to save the environment.


Making an index card with Word’s inbuilt label standards

    1. Open a blank MS Word document. Go to the Mailings tab on the ribbon.
    2. On the Envelopes and Labels panel, click on Labels. In the Envelopes and Labels settings choose the Labels tab. Click on Options.


    1. The Options box lists a huge number of Label Vendors and their Product Numbers. These pre-configured label templates can be used to create index cards easily. The Label Information on the right gives the dimensions and the page size required.


    1. From the dropdown, choose Microsoft or a vendor like Avery US Letter. Scroll down to an Index card dimension (Avery Number 5388) – it will give me three 3″x5″ cards on an 8.5″x11″ sheet. This is an Avery standard for the index card type chosen (I got the number from the Avery website). Select OK.
    2. Like any printing job, we have to check that our label dimensions and page margins are not larger than the actual paper size. Click on Details to get a preview of the dimensions.


    1. Like any other document you can feed your own numbers for a custom size. Select New Label in the Label Options box and enter the size. The custom label will be added to the list.
    2. Select New Document. The Word document shows the three index cards marked out by dashed border lines. All we have to do is to insert the content, print it and cut it out into three. Click on New Document again to get the next sheet.


Making an index card with downloaded templates


Download Flash Card templates from Microsoft’s online gallery. These come optimized for a variety of office supply vendors like Avery. Click on the Office Button – New ““ scroll down to More Categories under Microsoft Office Online section. Search out Flash Cards. The gallery displays quite a few. You can download and edit them for your personal needs.

From learning yourself to teaching others, from cataloguing information to getting things done (GTD), index cards are uncomplicated tools. Its power though starts with the effort to make it. Thankfully, MS Word makes it as simple as tic-tac-toe.

Do you buy or do you make? What use do you put them to (I use them as an exercise tracker!)? Does it stand the test of time? Let us know.

Image Credit :Serdal

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  1. Arm
    December 11, 2009 at 12:49 am

    Thank you very much, you just made studying for my psychology finals a thousand times easier :]

  2. elk_5
    October 1, 2009 at 4:06 am

    ok - sorry to jump the gun - it worked - many thanks...

  3. elk_5
    October 1, 2009 at 4:05 am

    hi, i tried this - but can get only 1 label in the new document and not three as shown in the picture.

    please help,


  4. Zachary
    July 25, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I wish this tutorial had came out earlier - it would have come in very handy for an earlier project. Well, thanks; I've been looking for instructions on how to do this.

    • Saikat
      July 26, 2009 at 3:24 am

      Better late than never, I say :)

  5. dan
    July 24, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Can you do a tutorial for OpenOffice users?