Word Mail Merge: It's not Just for Letters

By Helen Bradley | Posted June 11, 2007

While it might seem as if Microsoft Word’s Mail merge facility is designed primarily for bulk mailings, this is not its only use. Did you know it can create lists, nametags and even catalogs complete with images? In fact, just about anything you have or can create in list form can be used to create just about any other type of document -- even an e-mail newsletter. In this column I’ll show you the basics of putting mail merge to work on more than just letters.

Mail Merge Basics
If you’ve never created a mail merge before, the process is quite simple. Using Microsoft Word 2003, I’ll explain how to create an e-mail newsletter – the process is pretty much the same to create a letter or any other document. Start with a new document and from the menu bar choose Tools > Letters and Mailings > Mail Merge to open the mail merge task pane. Select the type of document — in this case we’ll create e-mail messages — and click Next. Select the source for your e-mail messages. If you don’t have a document already prepared choose the Use the current document option and click Next.


mail merge screenshot
When using Mail Merge you have a series of options for creating all types of documents.

When identifying recipients for your message you can choose to use a list from a variety of sources, such as a database, an Excel worksheet and OutloOK contacts, or you can create a new list. To see how a new list works, click the Type A New List option and select Create to make it. When the New Address List dialog appears click Customize and remove any fields that you don’t need and add any new fields that you need for merging with your file. You will need, at least, an e-mail address for everyone and perhaps a salutation. Only add data if you plan to use it in your merged letter.

Now enter details for the first recipient, click New entry and continue the process until you have added all the people on your list. Click Close and type a name for your list. Place it in your My Data Sources folder as this makes it easier to find it later on. When the Mail Merge Recipients dialog appears, all recipients should be selected so click OK to continue.


mail merge screen shot
If you don’t have a list to use, you can create and save a new list that you can reuse later on if required. (Click here for a larger image.)

Click Next and type your e-mail message or newsletter. Wherever you need information from your data file you’ll need to add a merge field to your e-mail message. Click More Items and select a merge field to place that information in the newsletter at that particular point. For example, you might use the first name field in the salutation area of the e-mail message. When you are done click Next to preview the first of the e-mail messages on the screen. Click the recipient navigation keys to view each message in turn to ensure that they’re correct. Click Next and e-mail the messages by clicking the Electronic Mail option.


Mail merge screen shot
Once you’ve added the merge fields you can check the document by stepping through the recipients to ensure the list is correct. (Click here for a larger image.)

When the Merge to E-mail dialog appears, look at the To list and select the field in your data file that contains the e-mail address. Next type a subject line for the message and choose a mail format to use -- attachment, plain text or HTML. Click OK and the messages will be sent via Outlook. Once you have completed the send process, save the file in case you need to use it again later on. In the future when you open the file, the data list will open too. Make whatever changes you need to it — such as writing the next month’s e-mail newsletter — and send it again.


Mail merge screen shot
Once you’ve completed the merge data file and newsletter you can e-mail it to the recipients. (Click here for a larger image.)

Merge with Pictures
To include pictures in a mail merge, start in your graphics software. You need to size your images to the way you want them to appear in the message — 2 x 2 inches is a good start. Save them as .jpg files and save them to a new folder so they are all in one place.

To insert the image you use a two-part merge code. One part of the code is a Word field code (insertpicture) that inserts the image, and the other part is a mail merge field called mergefield that gets the image name to merge from the data file.

For example, to merge images that are located in a folder called "c:documents and settingsHelenmy documents" and whose names are in a field called "image in the data file" you use this code:

{ includepicture "c:\Documents and Settings\Helen\My Documents\{mergefield image}" d}

You must include the full path to where the images are located and, in doing so, replace all the single backslashes in the path name with two backslashes. The d switch ensures that Word links to the image on the disk but doesn’t import the image into the Word file -- this will keep the file size small. The curly braces cannot be typed using the keyboard and must be created by pressing Ctrl + F9 to get one set — for this code you need two sets, one nested inside the other. If you’re having difficulty seeing your field codes, choose Tools, Options, View tab, and click Field Codes. You can turn this off when you’re done.


Mail merge screen shot
When you’re importing images into a merge document you need a field code to import the image and a merge code to identify the image to import." (Click here for a larger image.)

In addition to your merge document (complete with codes) you will need a field called "image" in your data file, and it should include the filename of the image that goes with each record. Now tell Word to merge to a new document (which you can then edit if you need to and then print). Next, update the field codes to display the images correctly by selecting the entire document, pressing Ctrl + A (or select Edit, Select All) and then pressing F9.


Mail merge screen shot
This Excel worksheet contains the data for a catalog merge including information about the products and the name of an image. (Click here for a larger image.)

Lists and Catalogs
When you need to create a list from a data file -- for example to create a list of names and phone numbers from an address list, use the Directory option as the document type. This creates a single document where the merged items are placed one after the other on the page and not on separate pages.


Mail merge screen shot
The final merged catalog includes an image for each catalog item. (Click here for a larger image.)

This directory format is handy for phone lists, lists of conference attendees and for catalogs where you want to create a list of your products with pertinent details next to them including, if desired, photos. You can use a plain document, a table or a multi-column document for your list depending on your preferences.

Conference Nametags
A conference nametag is little more than a label placed inside a protective plastic sleeve and you can create conference nametags using the mail merge tool. In Step 1 of the merge, select Label as the type of document and then, in Step 2, select the type of labels that you are using. If you are using pre-perforated name badges, select the label type by matching it to the description on the packet.

Select the list containing the participants or type your conference list and, when required, configure the label with the information that you want in the places that you want it to be located on the label. When you have completed the first label, click Update All Labels to add the field codes to all the labels in the document. Preview your labels to make sure that they look right before printing.


Merged mail screen shot
Mail merge can create custom labels including nametags like this from a list of data. (Click here for a larger image.)

As you can see mail merge is capable of a whole lot more than simply creating bulk letters. Any task you perform using a list of people or products is a contender for an automated mail merge.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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