Word 2002's mail merge: For better and worse

Word's infamous Mail Merge Wizard has been completely revamped in Office XP. This step-by-step guide to Word 2002's mail wizard looks at the tool's old favorites and new twists.

When you roll out Office XP’s Word 2002 and start training users, you’ll want to pay special attention to explaining the ins and outs of the new-and-somewhat-improved Mail Merge Wizard.

To help you in this endeavor, I’ve put together a short primer on some of the latest features of this new version of the wizard, including some of my reservations about this updated tool.

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Same name, new location
In Word 2002, the Mail Merge Wizard is still under the Tools menu, but it’s been demoted one level. As Figure A shows, you must go to Tools | Letters and Mailings | Mail Merge Wizard in order to launch it.

Figure A
You'll have to dig a little deeper than before to find the Mail Merge Wizard.

The first thing experienced Word users will notice is that the wizard doesn’t launch a dialog box like prior versions of Word did. Instead, the wizard paints its screens in a special Mail Merge pane, which is adjacent to the document window. The first screen, shown in Figure B, lets you decide up-front what kind of merge document you want to generate: letters, e-mail messages, envelopes, labels, or directory. The wizard’s second screen, shown in Figure C, lets you decide whether to use the current document or an existing template or other document for the target file.

Figure B
First, decide what kind of merge document you want to create.

Figure C
Second, decide whether to use the current document or open an existing file.

Pick your data source
On the wizard’s third screen, you’ll be asked to choose your data source. This screen, shown in Figure D, corresponds to the Data Source option in previous versions of the Mail Merge Wizard. If you want to use an Excel sheet or other external data file for your merge, click the Browse link and navigate to the appropriate file. When you select a file, the Select Table dialog box (shown in Figure E) lets you tell the wizard whether your data source contains column labels in the first row.

Figure D
If you select the Use An Existing List option, click the Browse link to navigate to your external data file.

Figure E
Specify your column label locations in this dialog box.

When you click OK, the Mail Merge Wizard presents a screen like the one shown in Figure F, which represents one of the wizard’s most improved features. Although you can still use Word’s Mail Merge fields to test your data at the time of the merge, this screen lets you sort and filter your data by selecting or deselecting individual records. Click on the drop-down arrow beside a column label to enter your filtering expressions. Figure G shows what the Mail Merge pane looks like after you’ve selected your records. The Select A Different List and Edit Recipient List links come in handy if you realize midway through the process that you want to use a different set of records.

Figure F
The Mail Merge Recipients screen lets you sort and filter the records that will be included in your merge document.

Figure G
After you've selected the record set you want to use for the merge, click the Next: Write Your Letter link at the bottom of this screen.

Here's where it gets ugly
After you confirm your choice for the data source, the wizard will attempt to match up your column (field) names with its built-in column names. If the wizard can’t match up those fields, the user will have to use a screen like the one in Figure H to match them up one by one. (If a field is not available, clicking the drop-down arrow displays the column names from the current data source.)

Microsoft had good intentions when it beefed up the Mail Merge Wizard for Word 2002. But overall, it fell slightly short of its goal. On one hand, I applaud any effort by Microsoft to make this product easier to use. On the other hand, I predict support and training professionals are going to be busy trying to explain the process of matching up fields to casual and intermediate users.

Figure H
Many Word 2002 users will cringe at the thought of having to match up fields from their data sources with the fields the wizard expects to be populated in the merge document.

Fortunately, you can cancel out of that dialog box without matching up any fields. When you do, the wizard displays the screen shown in Figure I. At this point, experienced Word users will display the Mail Merge toolbar and wonder, "Where in the heck is the Insert Merge Field button?"

Figure I
Clicking the More Items link displays the fields available in the current data source.

The closest thing to that button in Word 2002 is the poorly named More Items link. If you click on any link other than More Items, the wizard will attempt to match up fields from your data source with its built-in templates. Clicking More Items, on the other hand, will display a list of fields from your data source, like the one shown in Figure J.

Figure J
Select the merge fields from your database to insert into your document.

Finishing up
Once you’ve entered your static text and the merge fields from your database, the screen shown in Figure K lets you preview your letters one at a time, edit the recipient list, or exclude a recipient. Click the Next: Complete The Merge link once you're satisfied and ready to finish the mail merge.

Figure K
Before you execute the merge, the wizard lets you preview and edit your selections.

The wizard’s last screen (see Figure L) gives you familiar options. You can send your merge letters directly to the printer by clicking the Printer link. If you want to create a document with your letters first, which is helpful if you want to tweak any one or more of the letters before you print, click the Edit Individual Letters link.

Figure L
The last step is to send the merged letters directly to the printer (with the Print link) or generate a new document (with the Edit Individual Letters link).

For Word 97/2000 users
If you haven’t yet upgraded to Office XP, check out "The five-step guide to doing a mail merge with a form letter," which provides step-by-step instructions for generating a merge letter in Word 97/2000.

Word up
If you’re supporting Word 2002 users, what kinds of training issues are cropping up in your shop? Post your comments below or write to Jeff.


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