How to create a smart tag for Office:
Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint

Add-in Express™
for Microsoft® Office and .net

Add-in Express Home > Add-in Express for Office and .NET > Online Guide > Programming Office smart tags

Creating smart tags

Add-in Express for Office and .net allows you to create smart tags for Microsoft Excel, Word, Outlook (with Word as a default e-mail editor) and PowerPoint in Office 2002 and higher. The smart tag project below is written in VB.NET and works for Word 2002 - 2021/365. It demonstrates how you create a smart tag handling a list of fixed words and providing the words with a sample action.

A bit of theory

Smart Tags were introduced in Word 2002 and Excel 2002. Then they added PowerPoint 2003 to the list of smart tag host applications.

In Office 2010 Microsoft declared smart tags deprecated. Although you can still use the related APIs in projects for Excel, Word, PowerPoint 2010 and above, these applications do not automatically recognize terms, and recognized terms are no longer underlined. Users must trigger recognition and view custom actions associated with text by right-clicking the text and clicking the Additional Actions on the context menu.

Below is what was said about the Smart Tag technology in earlier days:

This technology provides Office users with more interactivity for the content of their Office documents. A smart tag is an element of text in an Office document having custom actions associated with it. Smart tags allow recognizing such text using either a dictionary-based or a custom-processing approach. An example of such text might be an email address you type into a Word document or an Excel workbook. When smart tag recognizes the email address, it allows the user to choose one of the actions associated with the text. For email addresses, possible actions are to look up additional contact information or send a new email message to that contact.

Per-user smart tags

A smart tag is a per-user thing that requires registering in HKCU. In other words, a smart tag cannot be registered for all users on the machine. Instead, it must be registered for every user separately.

Step 1. Creating a smart tag library project

Make sure that you have administrative permissions before running Visual Studio. Run Visual Studio via the Run as Administrator command.

In Visual Studio, open the New Project dialog and navigate to the Extensibility folder.

Creating a new smart tag project

Choose Add-in Express Smart Tag and click OK. This starts the Smart tag project wizard. In the first wizard window, you choose your programming language, this can be either C#, VB.NET or C++:

Choosing to create a smart tag in VB.NET

In the window below, choose Generate new or specify an existing .snk file and click Next.

Using strong names

The project wizard creates and opens a new solution in Visual Studio. The solution contains an only project, the smart tag project.

Note. Do not delete the SmartTagImpl.vb (SmartTagImpl.cs) file required by the Add-in Express implementation of the Smart Tag technology. Usually, you do not need to modify it.

The Smart Tag project contains the SmartTagModule.vb (or SmartTagModule.cs) file described in the next step.

Step 2. Smart Tag module

SmartTagModule.vb (or SmartTagModule.cs) is a smart tag module that is the core part of the smart tag project. The module is a container for ADXSmartTag components. It contains the SmartTagModule class, a descendant of ADXSmartTagModule, which implements the COM interfaces required by the Smart Tag technology and allows managing smart tags. To review its source code, right-click the file in Solution Explorer and choose View Code in the popup menu.

Smart Tag module code

In the code of the module, pay attention to the CurrentInstace property. It returns the current instance of the Smart Tag module. This is useful when, for example, you need to access a method defined in the module from the code of another class.

Add-in Express project wizard - using strong names

Step 3. Smart tag module designer

The module designer allows setting smart tag properties and adding Smart Tag components to the module.

In Solution Explorer, right-click the SmartTagModule.vb (or SmartTagModule.cs) file and choose the View Designer popup menu item.

Click the designer surface when you need to set properties of the Smart tag module in the Properties window.

Smart Tag designer

Step 4. Creating a new smart tag

To add a smart tag to your Smart tag library, you use the Add Smart Tag command (see below) that places a new ADXSmartTag component onto the module.

Smart tag component

Smart tag component properties

Select the newly added component and, in the Properties window, specify the caption for the added smart tag in the Caption property. The value of this property will become a caption of the smart tag context menu. Also, specify the phrase(s) recognizable by the smart tag in the RecognizedWords string collection.

Words recognizable by a smart tag

Step 5. Specifying smart tag actions

Now you add smart tag actions to the context menu of your smart tag. To specify a new smart tag action, add an item to the Actions collection and set its Caption property that will become the caption of the appropriate item in the smart tag context menu (see the screenshot below).

Smart tag action

To handle the Click event of the action, close the Actions collection editor, and, in the Properties window, select the newly added action. Then add the Click event handler and write your code:

			Private Sub AdxSmartTagAction1_Click(ByVal sender As System.Object, _
			   ByVal e As AddinExpress.SmartTag.ADXSmartTagActionEventArgs) _
				  Handles AdxSmartTagAction1.Click
			   MsgBox("Recognized text is '" + e.Text + "'!")
			End Sub


Step 6. Running the smart tag

Choose the Register Add-in Express Project item in the Build menu, restart Word, and enter words recognizable by your smart tag into a document.

Please remember that Smart tags are declared deprecated since Office 2010. Nevertheless, you can still use the related APIs in projects for Office 2013 and higher.

Running the smart tag in Word

Also, you can check if your smart tag is present in the AutoCorrect dialog:

  • In Office 2002-2003, choose Tools | AutoCorrect in the main menu and find your smart tag on the Smart Tags tab.
  • In Office 2007, the path to this dialog is as follows: Office button | Word Options | Add-ins | "Manage" Smart Tags | Go.
  • In Office 2010-2013, see File tab | Options | Add-ins | "Manage" Actions | Go.

Autocorrect options dialog

Step 7. Debugging the smart tag

To debug your Smart Tag, just specify the host application as the Start External Program in the Project Options window and press F5.

Debugging the smart tag

Step 8. Deploying the smart tag

Links to step-by-step instructions for deploying smart tags are given in the table below. Background information is provided in Deploying Office extensions.

Table 4. Deploying Smart tags: links to step-by-step instructions

How you install the Office extension

Per-user Smart tag
Installs and registers for the user running the installer

Per-machine Smart tag
Installs and registers for all users on the PC

A user runs the installer from a CD/DVD, hard disk or local network location. Windows Installer
ClickTwice :)
A corporate admin uses Group Policy to install your Office extension for a specific group of users in the corporate network; the installation and registration occurs when a user logs on to the domain. For details, please see the following article on our blog: HowTo: Install a COM add-in automatically using Windows Server Group Policy. Windows Installer N/A
A user runs the installer by navigating to a web location or by clicking a link. ClickOnce
ClickTwice :)

What's next?

Here you can download the smart tag project described above, both VB.NET and C# versions; the download link is labeled Add-in Express for Office and .NET sample projects.

You may want to check Development where we describe typical misunderstandings and provide useful tips.