Mailing a form letter to all clients living in a particular
city. Creating a
slew of envelopes addressed to all customers that purchased your latest gizmo.
Printing labels for each employee in your organization. What do these tasks
have in common? Two things:

  1. Each can be easily created using Word’s mail merge
  2. Without Word, or some kind of automated system, these
    items would take a whole lot of time to develop

this article, you’ll learn how to create simple form letters using lists of
names in Word. In my next article, I will show you how to integrate Word
with Excel or Access, allowing you to create form letters, labels, birthday
cards (anything you can imagine, really) using existing information.

The version used throughout this
tutorial is Word 2003.

Click this tag search to find other How do I… articles and downloads.

Jump right in

jump right in to creating a form letter so you can see how much time you could
save with Word’s mail merge.

To get started, open a new document in Word and, from the
menu bar, choose Tools | Letters and Mailings | Mail Merge. In the sidebar area, Word opens a
Mail Merge helper that provides you with a wizard-like interface that walks you
through the process.

Step 1: Select document type

mail merge can be used to create form letters, e-mail messages, envelopes,
labels, or directories. With a little imagination, these choices let you create
just about any kind of document or communication you would need.

Figure A

Mail merge step 1: Determine your document type

free to experiment with the different document types. For this example, I’ll be
creating a simple form letter and, so, will choose the Letters option from the selection. When you’ve made your selection,
click “Next: Starting Document”.

Step 2: Select starting document

document you’ve created can be converted into a form letter. Or, if you want to
start from scratch, you can use the current document (which, for me, is a blank
document) and type your letter. You can also use any document template on your
computer, or on Office Online, Microsoft’s Web repository which contains
hundreds of templates available for download.

starting document is often referred to as the “master document” as
well. The terms are interchangeable, although other Word features also use the
term “master document”, so be sure to keep things straight.

starting document is the document that will ultimately contain the base form

going to use the blank document I have on the screen as the starting document.

Figure B

Mail merge step 2: Choose the starting document.

you’ve decided on the document that gets the honor of being the starting
document, click the “Next: Select recipients” option. Notice that the
wizard also allows you to go back to the previous step if you need to.

You will be able to modify your
letter in Step 4 of the wizard.

Step 3: Select recipients

In the
previous step, you chose what document to use as a form letter. In this step,
you need to decide to which recipients you want to send the form letter. Word’s
mail merge feature lets you use a wide variety of data sources. You can use an
existing list you created for an old mail merge. Or, you can type in a new list
of recipients. You can also use your Outlook address book if you like. Finally,
you can use just about any other data source that has the names and addresses
of the people to whom you want to send your letter. Supported data sources
include Excel spreadsheets, Access databases, SQL
Server databases and, if you have the appropriate support, you can probably
even directly use your company’s customer relationship management system or ERP
system. To keep things simple for now, I’m going to type a new list. In my next
article, I will show you how to use Excel, Access, and Outlook as data sources.

Figure C

Mail merge step 3: Choose (or provide) your recipients

If you
select the “Type a new list” option, as shown in Figure C, Word also provides you with a “Create” option
so that you can actually provide your data list. Click the Create option to
build your list using the resulting New Address List window.

Figure D

You can type recipient information right into the form.

New Address List form allows you to easily provide recipient information and
includes all of the fields you would expect, including first name, last name,
address information, e-mail address and phone numbers. If you need different
information, such as an employee’s length of service or another piece of
information not provided in the window, click the Customize button.

Figure E

You can easily customize the fields that show up on the address list.

this window, you can add and subtract fields as needed. Don’t worry about
getting things perfect when it comes to removing fields you don’t need. They
don’t hurt anything if you leave them alone. To add a new field, click the Add
button. You’ll be asked for the name of the field, which you should provide. Click
OK. The new field will show up on the list.

remove a field, select it and click Delete.

can change the order in which the fields appear by using the Move Up and Move
Down buttons. Select the field whose placement you want to change and, to move
it up the list, click Move Up. To move it down, click Move Down.

you’re done customizing the field list, click the OK button.

enter information into the appropriate fields as you saw in Figure D. When you’re done with a
record, click the New Entry button to
complete it. If you want to remove a record, choose Delete Entry. Once you get a lot of entries, you can use the Find Entry button to locate a specific
record. Finally, you can also sort and filter you entries. For example, you can
sort you entries by zip code, or filter the entries so that just records from a
particular city are available. When you’re done adding entries, click the Close

will ask you to save your new list so you can use it again. Provide a name for
your list and click the Save button.

Figure F

Save your list for future use.

your list saved, Word gives you the opportunity to take a look at your list,
sort it, filter it, and choose whether to include or exclude specific records.

Figure G

From this window, you can search, filter, and sort records and decide which
ones to use in your merge.

If you
don’t want to make any changes to who will get your
form letter, or to the order the letters will be printed, click the OK button
on this window. However, if you’re doing a large mailing, chances are that you
need to at least sort your letters by zip code for the post office. To sort the entries by a particular field, click the heading (the
name) for that field. Clicking the heading results in your records being
sorted “ascending” by the values in that column. That is, the records
will be sorted alphabetically or numerically. Clicking the same heading again
results in a reverse sort—from Z to A and from 9 to 0.

can also filter records—that is, select just a certain subset of records to
include in your output. For example, suppose you want to print form letters
just for a particular zip code. Notice that each heading has a little down
arrow right next to the name. Click the down arrow to get a list of all of the
values in that column. When you select a specific value, you will only see
records that have that value in that field. All other records are then hidden
from view and will not be printed. To remove your filter,
click the filter down arrow and choose the “(All)” option.

Figure H

A filter is a handy way to print just a selection of records.

is another way to include or exclude specific records, too. Take a look back at
Figure G. To the left of each
record, notice the small checkbox. Normally, each record has a check in the box.
This means that the record will be included in your output. If you want to skip
a specific record, remove that checkmark by clicking the box. Presto!

you’re done with your record manipulation, click the OK button. The right-hand
sidebar now indicates which data file you’re using. Click the “Next: Write
your letter” option to continue.

Figure I

You’re ready to move on to writing your letter.

Step 4: Write Your Letter

You’ve told Word what you want (form letters) and to whom they should be
addressed (the address list). Now, you need to type your letter. Or, if you’ve
opted to use an existing letter, you need to provide Word with “fields”
that are replaced with the information from your address list. Remember that
each form letter will be addressed to a different person. So, you don’t want to
type your letter to a specific individual, but want to make it generic and let
Word do the heavy lifting for you.

Before you start typing, notice the addition of a new
toolbar to your arsenal. It should look similar to the one in Figure J.

Figure J

The mail merge toolbar makes form letters easy.

not going to go over every option on the toolbar in this article, but will
provide details on which buttons you need for most mail merge operations.

first three buttons are pretty important. In order from left to right:

  • Main document setup: This is the same as step one of the
    wizard in that you select the type of document you intend to create.
  • Open data source: Again, this button loosely matches
    a step in the wizard; in this case, step 2. When you click this button, Word
    opens up a dialog window asking you to choose the data file you want to use. If
    you want to connect to a different kind of source, such as an Access database,
    click the New Source button.
  • Mail merge recipients: This button opens the window you
    saw in the previous step where you can decide which recipients should be
    included in the final output.

in the side bar, now entitled “Write your letter”, there are a number
of options, including “Greeting line”, “Postal bar code”,
and “More Items…”

Figure K

Using the More items… link, you can include the merge fields you populated

the beginning of your letter. As an example, I’m going to write a sample
letter—a very short one—that starts with “Dear so-and-so:  We have the following address on file for
you: Address. If this is incorrect, let us know. Thanks!”  The parts that need to be personalized are
the “so-and-so” and “address”.

you type you letter, it’s important to keep in mind that, when you’re inserting
the fields from the list you created earlier, you still need proper punctuation
and so on. I’ve gotten a lot of help desk calls in my career from mail merging
folks asking why all of their addresses are coming out “citystatezip” (i.e. “GermantownMD20874”
instead of “Germantown, MD 20874”. The answer was simple: You still
need to include the command and the spaces. An example will make a lot more

start simple. In your letter, type the word “Dear” and then hit the
space bar. Now, click the More Items option. The Insert Merge Field window
opens with the same list of fields you saw earlier (Figure L). Choose the field you want to insert—in this case, the
First Name field—and click the Insert button.

Figure L

Choose a field

your document, you will get <<First Name>>. The brackets around the
field indicate to Word that this is a field
and not straight text. So, each time Word sees this indicator, it will replace “<<First
Name>>” with information from your data table. In Figure M, I’ve show you what this looks
like in your document.

Figure M

Note the space (indicated by a dot) between “Dear” and
“<<First Name>>”.

Easy, eh? Now, do the same thing for the rest of the letter. One bad
thing about the way Word handles putting fields in the letter is that Word will
not let you add spaces and commas at the same time the Insert Merge Field
window is open. To add spaces and commas, you would need to add a field, close
the insert merge field window, put in the space, open the insert merge field
window, add a field, close the insert merge field window, etc. Since this can
be tedious, you can add all of the
fields at once and then manually place spaces and commas in the appropriate
locations. The final product looks something like Figure N.

Figure N

All of the fields we want are on the letter.

Step 5: Preview your letters

your letter written, it’s time to see the results. From the sidebar, click the “Next:
Preview your letters” option. The result should look similar to what you
see below in Figure O.

Figure O

Word shows you a preview of what your letter looks like.

that the merge fields have now been replaced with actual information. You can
see what each record looks like by clicking the “<<” and “>>”
buttons in the sidebar. Or, if you don’t want a letter printed for this
recipient, click the Exclude this recipient button. You can also make mass
changes to the recipient list (as you saw earlier) by clicking the “Edit
recipient list” option.

you’re verified your recipients, click the “Next: Complete the merge”

Step 6: Complete the merge (you will be assimilated)

part is easy! Your sidebar again changes to match the step you’re on and looks
a whole lot like what you see below.

Figure P

Step 6: Finish this thing!

this point, Word has not officially performed the merge. That is, your letter
and data file are still mostly separate. When you click one of the two
options—(1) Print; or (2) Edit individual letters—Word asks you what you want
to merge.

Figure Q

What records do you want to have printed?

options here are to merge all of your records, in which case you will get one
page per recipient, or choose which records you want to include. When you
choose the print option, Word sends your letter right to your printer. If you
made a mistake, you have to reprint the letters. By choosing the “Edit
individual letters” option, you make Word create a huge document that includes every letter just as if you’d typed the
letter manually for each recipient. I usually prefer to use the latter option
so I don’t have to reprint things.


mail merge feature goes way beyond what I’ve explained here. In my next
article, I’ll show you how to connect Word to Excel and Access to perform more
complex merges.