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You've Got Mail Merge 2002/XP!

Mail Merge is a basic word processor function: you create a generic document and then use a list of various information tidbits to create multiple documents that look like each was typed personally. That all makes sense and if you haven't yet mail merged you will some day.

Alas, Word has perhaps the screwiest, most step-laden, nonsensical method for accomplishing mail merge that I've ever seen. Not only that, Microsoft changes the way Word does mail merge with each new release. So even if you think you've mastered mail merge from a previous version of word – watch out! It's totally and utterly changed. Fortunately, this chapter explains mail merge and how to do it in a friendly, no-nonsense way. So I'll get to the point as soon as possible.

This document covers basic mail merging only.

All About Mail Merge

Mail merge is the process of taking a single letter, stirring in a list of names and other information, and combining (merging) everything into a final set of documents, each of which is customized and almost personal. In Word you can also "mail merge" e-mail messages, envelopes, labels and lists of information – all of which is a little eccentric, but still capitalizes upon the mail merge formula.

In Word 2002, mail merge involves the following things:

The Main Document. The file that contains the form letter — the fill-in-the-blanks letter — is called the main document. Yeah, I call it the "form letter." In Word this document can be created before or during the mail merge process.

The Address List. This is a special file on disk that contains names and other merge information. Word uses the information in the address list to fill in the blanks in the main document.

Fields. These are the fill-in-the-blank items inside the main document. Each field is filled in by an item in the address list. It's these fields that provide the link between the main document and address list, making each document appear to be customized. Fields are what makes the mail merge possible.

To make this all happen you use the Mail Merge wizard, which lives in the Task Pane. That's your headquarters for all mail merging mania, which the following sections go into detail describing.

There is also the Mail Merge toolbar, which can be used to perform mail merge operations once you're familiar with how mail merge goes.
In Word, the key to mail merging is the Address List. If you plan on doing mail merge as part of your regular routine, you'll want to build an Address List you can use over and over.
If you already have an Address List in Outlook, then you're that far ahead of the game. If you don't use Outlook, then you can create your own Address List using Word.

Doing a Sample Mail Merge

The following sections walk through creating a simple mail merge document step-by-step. (Actually, 34 steps.) They take you from nothing to creating both the main document and address list, and then merging them together.

(The Step numbers listed in the headings match the step numbers given in the Task Pane when the Mail Merge wizard is running.)

Getting started (Step 1 of 6)

Sending out a form letter, cover letter, faxes or any batch of similar-yet-customized documents is the domain of mail merge. My advice is to start with a blank document and mail merge as you go.

1. Start a new document.

Click the New button on the toolbar for easy new document creation. Don't worry about typing anything just yet.

2. Choose ToolsLetters and MailingsMail Merge Wizard.

This displays the Mail Merge Task Pane, as shown here:

The Task Pane lets you select the type of merge document you want to create, offers a description of each item, and lets you know this is only the first of six painful steps. Ho-boy.

3. Choose Letters from the list.

The basic mail merge document is known as "Letters" to the Task Pane. This includes form letters and faxes, since the difference between them is how they are printed (faxes are "printed" on the fax modem).

4. Click Next: Starting document.

Don't let the simplicity of this first step lead you down the merry path; this is the easiest step there is.

Preparing the main document (Step 2 of 6)

Time to build the fill-in-the-blanks, main document. The Task Pane offers you three choices:

Use the current document. That's the blank document sitting there on the screen.

Start from a template. This allows you to use a template on disk for creating the new document. For more information on templates, see Chapter 17 of Word 2002 for Dummies.

Start from existing document. You can open any Word document on disk and use it as the mail merge document.

Basically Word is just covering all the bases here. It lets you use any document as the main document, whether the document has already been created or not. Actually, that's kind of nice.

5. Choose Use the current document.

You're going to use the blank document on the screen. The other choices let you start a new document by using a template or open a previously created document on disk. (If you choose either of those options, the Task Pane shows some additional buttons and clicky things so that you can select a template or open a file on disk.)

6. Create the main document.

Write it as you would any Word document, using formatting, pictures – all that fancy stuff.

At this point, I put place holders in the main document for the items that change, as shown above. I make them ALL CAPS so they're easy to find, but otherwise I type and format the form letter just like anything else in Word.

7. When you're done, save the main document to disk.

8. Click Next: Select recipients from the Task Pane.

Time to move on to step 3.

The fill-in-the-blanks items are officially known as "fields."
The items I type in ALL CAPS are those that will be replaced when the main document is merged with the data – the fields. So FIRST may be an item that replaced by a first name, LAST by a last name, ADDRESS by a street address, FARM by a favorite farm animal, and so on.
The document can have as many fields as it needs. In fact, any item that you want to change from letter to letter can be a field: the greeting, a banal pleasantry, gossip, whatever. Anything can be changed from document to document, but you need to specify it now.
In addition to mail merging fields, I inserted an up-to-the-date field in my document shown in the figure above. The date (boxed in gray) is created using the InsertDate and Time command. That way the current date always prints. For more information on fields, see Chapter 18 in Word 2002 for Dummies.

Creating the fields (Step 3 of 6)

The Mail Merge wizard refers to this step as "select recipients," but that assumes you already have an Address List handy. If not, then you have to build an Address List and additionally add any fields to that list that you need for your document. (The Address List that Word maintains has only common fields in it, not anything customizable, such as birth date, favorite color, hat size, or body piercings, which you'll have to add yourself.)

Your options are to use an existing list, which you might have created using Word during a previous mail merge, or you can steal information from the Outlook e-mail/contact program – providing you use Outlook and have information in there you want. If so, select one of those options. That Task Pane changes to display additional clicky things to help you locate the Address List you want to use. For example a Browse option appears that lets you search the computer for an existing Address List should you choose that option.

For this example, I'll assume you're creating a new list from scratch. To type a new list, follow these steps:

9. Write down the names of the fields you need in your document.

Peruse the main document and look for the ALL CAPS entries, which are your fill-in-the-blanks field names. Write them down so that you have them handy.

10. Choose Type a new list.

This is the bottom of the three options shown in the Mail Merge Task Pane.

11. Choose Create.

The New Address List dialog box appears, full of mirth and merriment:

This place is where you create the fields — the fill-in-the-blank items — for the Address List. To be helpful, Word has already dreamt up a whole parade of field names. Normally I'd recommend that you delete them all, but that really takes too much time. Instead, you merely need to add those that you need and then ignore the rest. (And you can always come back and fill in the rest of the fields later, like when you take the laptop with you on vacation and you need something to fill the time between margaritas on the beach.)

12. Click the Customize button.

The Customize Address List dialog box appears:

All Word's preset fields are listed in the box. If you're lucky and all the fields you need are there, then great! Skip up to Step 16. Otherwise, you need to add the custom fields your document needs.

13. Click the Add button.

A tiny Add Field dialog box appears.

14. Type in a field name and click the OK button.

Use the list you created in Step 9. For example, to add the TATTOO field, type Tattoo into the box and click the OK button.

Here are some suggestions for typing in field names
Name the field to reflect the kind of information in it. For example, you may want to name the field containing their least favorite insect name it Least Favorite Insect.
No two fields can have the same name.
Field names can contain spaces, but cannot start with a space.
Field names can be quite long, though shorter is best.
The following characters are forbidden in a field name:
. ! ` [ ]

15. Repeat Steps 13 and 14 until you've entered all your custom field names.

16. Click OK to close the Customize Address List dialog box.

Your fields now appear in the New Address List dialog box, ready for you to fill everything in nice and tidy.

The Address List you create can be used over and over again. While you could remove the fields you don't need, it's best to keep them should you ever need to reuse this list for a future mail merge operation.
Please note that Outlook is not the same thing as Outlook Express. Outlook is the "Professional" e-mail and contact management program that comes with Microsoft Office. Outlook Express is a stupid version of Outlook that comes with every copy of Windows 98, Me and XP Home.
I am uncertain as to whether Word can use other mailing lists produced by other programs. The data Word saves to disk is saved as an Access database. So I assume if you use Access, you could access [sic] the data. Beyond that, I wouldn't know.

Adding the data

(Still on Step 3)

The next step is to fill in all the blanks. This is done in the New Address List dialog box, and is actually a continuation of step 3 in the mail merge process.

17. Fill in the blanks.

For this example, you need to fill in only the items used in your document. For example, if your document uses only the First Name, Last Name and Hair Style fields, then you need only fill in that information; the rest of the fields you can leave blank.

There's nothing wrong with filling in all the fields at this time, only that it takes time to do that. Besides, if your document doesn't require an e-mail field, there's no need filling that one in at this time.

18. When you've filled in all the blanks, click the New Entry button.

You don't have to click the New Entry button after typing the last record. Instead, go right on to Step 20.

19. Repeat Steps 17 and 18 for every person to whom you want to mail your form letter.

You're building a database. Say it properly: DAY-tuh-bays.

Each collection of fields in the New Address List dialog box is a record. That's yet another nerdy, database-like term you'll have to put up with when you mail merge in Word.

20. After you're done, click the Close button.

If you haven't yet saved this list to disk, a Save Address List dialog box appears to let you do so. Give the list a name and save it to disk.

21. Gloat over your work.

Finally, the Mail Merge Recipients list appears:

22. Click OK.

Word is now locked into the list you've created (or selected) and ready to use that information for the mail merge.

Meanwhile, back in the Mail Merge Task Pane . . .

23. Click Next: Write your letter.

Moving right along . . .

Inserting fields into the main document (Step 4 of 6)

The final step before actual merging is to place the fields — the blanks — into your main document. This is where I depart from the Mail Merge Task Pane and take another approach I feel works better for inserting fields into the main document.

24. Choose ViewToolbarsMail Merge.

This displays the handy Mail Merge toolbar, which contains all the buttons for commands you need to complete the merge. You can kiss the mooching Task Pane good-bye:

25. Close the Task Pane.

26. In the form letter, position the toothpick cursor where you want to place the field.

For example, you want a name field after the Dear in your letter's greeting, so position the cursor between the Dear and the colon.

If you used ALL CAPS words to mark your fill-in-the-blanks stuff (as I did above), select those place holders with your mouse; drag the mouse over the ALL CAPS text to highlight it.

27. Click the Insert Merge Fields button on the Mail Merge toolbar.

The Insert Merge Field dialog box appears:

This dialog box lists the fields you created when you built the database (the section "Creating the fields" earlier in this dispatch).

28. Select the field you want to place in the document.

29. Click the Insert button.

A special cryptic code is inserted into your document, representing that field. For example, the FIRSTNAME field may look like { MERGEFIELD "First_Name" } in the main document. This special code is what Word thinks of as a "blank" for fill-in-the-blanks stuff.

30. Click Close.

The Insert Merge Field dialog box goes away, which is dumb because you're not done yet. (And using the Mail Merge Task Pane for this activity is no better; there are two extra steps you must perform to merge in each field.)

31. Continue adding fields until the document is complete.

Repeat Steps 26 through 30 as necessary to stick all the fields in your document.

A tad bit of editing may be required after the field. I typically have to add a space, comma, colon, or whatever after fields as Word inserts them.
Don't worry if the formatting looks funny with the { MERGEFIELD } stuff in your document. Things get formatted nicely when Word fills in the blanks — after merging.
To delete an unwanted field, select it with the mouse and press the Delete key. You can't use the Delete or Backspace keys by themselves! You must highlight a field and then delete it.
To revisit the Mail Merge Recipient's dialog box, click the Mail Merge Recipients button on the Merge toolbar.

Once that dialog box is open, you can click the Edit button to edit (or add) entries.

Merge mania! (Last step)

After creating the main and data files, you're ready to merge away! This is actually the simplest part of all this mail merging nonsense:

32. Save the main document.

Clicking the Save button on the toolbar does this best.

33. Click the Merge to New Document button on the Mail Merge toolbar.

A dialog appears where you can select which records to print. Whatever . . .

34. Click OK.

As if by magic, Word creates several new documents merging your main document with the information that you put into your Address List. All the new documents appear, one after the other, on the screen in front of you in Word. Congratulations; you've just merged.

Word merges the names and other information from the data file into the main document and creates lots of little, customized documents in one great big document file. That's what you see on-screen right now. Your options at this point are to review all the documents, save them, print them, fax them. You made it!

The main file appears several times on-screen, with information from the data file plugged into each copy. All files are separated by section breaks or hard page breaks.

The merged documents are tossed into a new file; one that hasn't yet been saved. Save that file now!
If you missed some fields, you can return to the main document and insert them using the steps described in the section, "Inserting fields into the main document," earlier in this dispatch.
You can print right from the screen view of the merged files by selecting FilePrint.
Now you know how to get those custom, uniquely crafted documents out to the foolhardy who actually think that you took the time to compose a personal letter. Ha! Isn't mail merge great?
You can close the Merge toolbar; choose ViewToolbarsMail Merge.
Always examine the results of the merge. Some things may not fit properly, and some editing will no doubt be required.
After puzzling through Word's mail-merge feature, tearing through the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle will be a cinch.

Other Mail Merging Things

The main document can be of several types. To see (or switch) the main document type, click the Main document setup button on the Mail Merge toolbar:

This displays the Main Document Type dialog box:

To change (or switch if you're starting with a new document) the type of mail merge, choose the proper item from the dialog box.

You might also notice the last item in the dialog box: Normal Word document. That's what changes a mail merge document back to a non-mail merge document.

To connect the main document to an Address List (again, without using the Mail Merge Task Pane wizard thing), click the Open data source button on the toolbar:

Then choose the Address List you want to use by using the Select Data Source dialog box.

Now Don't Plague Yourself With Guilt!