10 things you should know about Word 2010's mail merge tools

Word's mail merge process has traditionally been viewed as intimidating and complex. But once you master a few basics, you'll discover that Word's mail merge tools are straightforward and easy to use.

So you need to send 100 letters to the biggest donors in the Midwest region. You don't want to create 100 Word documents and type in each name and address separately, do you? Of course not. Word 2010's mail merge process makes the task fairly simple -- provided you know how to follow the right steps. Mail merge is one of those procedures most people use infrequently, so even if you're an old hand a Word, a refresher might be helpful.

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1: Know your data

The best place to start for any mail merge process is with a clean data list. If you're new to the data game, or you aren't the one responsible for keeping track of your donor or customer list, that may be an unfamiliar task. The list of data you use -- which could include names, addresses, products, donations, and more -- may be stored in an Excel worksheet, an Access table, a text file, or even an Outlook contacts list. Word can use data from a wide variety of sources, so don't worry -- you'll get to import the data in the next step. But before you begin the merge process, look at the data to see what the fields are (First Name, Last Name, Product, for example) and get an idea of the fields you're likely to use in the merge process. This will help you later when you create your letter.

2: Start your merge document

When you're ready to create the document you want to merge the data into, you have a couple of options. You can use one of Word's merge templates (click the New tab in Backstage view and type merge in the Search Office.com Templates box; then press [Enter]) or create a new blank document where you can add the desired text and fields. If you start with a template, you can use the fields that are already in place when you merge your data. If you start from scratch, you'll need to add your own fields to the document (which you will do in step 6).

Figure A

Some templates already have merge fields entered for you.

3: Think output

Word gives you a range of choices for the type of merge document you want to create. Click the Mailings tab and then click Start Mail Merge to see your choices. The first choice, Letters, is the most common, but you can also create labels, envelopes, email messages, and even a directory you can use for an employee roster, a product listing, a course catalog, or something else that fits your needs (Figure B).

Figure B

Begin the process by choosing the type of document you want to create.

A few versions of Word ago, the developers-that-be introduced the Mail Merge Wizard -- to the relief of many users. The wizard walks you through the whole merge process step by step. If you'd like to use the wizard, click Start Mail Merge and click Step By Step Mail Merge Wizard. The wizard appears in the task pane on the right side of your document and leads you through choosing the document type, selecting recipients, customizing your list, adding fields, and producing the output. If you choose not to use the wizard, read on.

4: Import your list

Once you select the type of output you want to create, you're ready to add your data. You can add the information you want to merge with your document by typing it directly into Word, importing a list of existing data, or adding data from your Outlook contacts. Click Select Recipients in the Mailings tab and then choose the option that fits what you want to do. If you choose Type New List, a dialog box appears so that you can add new addresses and contact info. If you select Use Existing List, the Select Data Source dialog box appears, so that you can select the file containing the information you want to add. If you choose Select From Outlook Contacts, a dialog box appears so that you can choose the address list you want to use.

If you're adding data from an existing file, click the Data Sources arrow in the bottom-right corner of the Select Data Source dialog box and select the file type you want to use (Figure C). Click the file and then click Open to add the file to the Word merge process.

Figure C

Choose the type of data file you want to import by clicking the Data Sources arrow in the Select Data Source dialog box.

If the data file you add to Word includes more than one data table, Word will prompt you to choose the table containing the data you want to add. Click OK to import the data for Word to use in the merge.

5: Include only the info you want

Now you can choose the data you want to include in the document. That's one of the great things about the Word merge process -- you can import your data list as it is and then use only the elements you need. Choose the data you want to include by clicking the Mailings tab and clicking Edit Recipient List. In the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box, you can sort, filter, and select the data you want to be included in the merge (Figure D).

Figure D

Use the options in the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box to choose the data you want to include.

6: Use ready-made fields

Another way Word can help you customize your merge document is by adding ready-made fields to your document. You'll find a collection of fields in the Write & Insert Fields group in the Mailings tab. Click Address Block to add a set of address fields to the document or click Greeting Line to add a salutation. Click Insert Merge Field to insert one of the fields from the data file you've imported in the document.

7: Match fields to get the right data in the right place

You can tell Word which fields to map to specific merge fields in your document by using the Match Fields tool in the Write & Insert Fields group in the Mailings tab. To match a field, click Match Fields. Then, in the Match Fields dialog box, click the arrow of the field you want to match and select the field in your data file that you want to match to the Word field name. You can do this as many times as you need to in order to match all the fields you want to include. If you plan to use this data file regularly in different merges, click the Remember This Matching For This Data Source On This Computer check box to save the settings. Click OK to save your changes.

8: Inserting data conditionally

If you have a conditional nature to the merge you're performing -- for example, if you want to include one phrase if a customer purchased Product A, but a different phrase if the customer purchased Product B, you can use the If...Then...Else rule to set that up. Click Rules in the Write & Insert Fields group on the Mailings tab and click If...Then...Else. Choose the field name and the comparison setting (for instance, Equal To or Not Equal To) and then choose the data you want the field value to be compared with. For this example, you might choose the Product field, select Equal To as the comparison setting, and enter Product A as the Compare To value. In the text boxes, enter the text you want to be displayed if the Product field does show Product A, as well as the text to be displayed if the value is not Product A.

9: Preview the merge

After you finalize the data settings and rules you want to use, you're ready to take a look at the merge in real time. To preview the merge, simply click Preview Results in the Mailings tab. Click Next Record and Previous Record to page through the different documents. Look for a specific recipient by clicking Find Recipient and entering the recipient's name in the Find box and click Find Next. Click Auto Check for Errors to ensure that nothing will hang you up in the real merge. You can simulate the merge and check for errors at the same time, merge the files but elect to be prompted at each error so you can fix the problem, or finish the merge and receive a report of all errors at the end so you can go back through and deal with any problems that occurred. The first time or two you do this, you may want to choose the simulation option so you know how to correct the errors in the merge before you need to do it live. This can save time and trouble -- and headaches -- when you're working with a huge merge project.

10: Wrap it up

Finally, you're ready to accomplish the goal you've been heading for all along: printing those documents, sending those email messages, or creating a set of documents you can save and file or edit and send. Use the Finish & Merge tool in the Finish group on the Mailings tab to accomplish this last step. When you choose Edit Individual Documents, the Merge Documents dialog box asks you to choose which records you want to merge. The merged documents are placed in a new Word file, ready for you to save. The Print Documents selection displays the Merge To Printer dialog box so that you can choose the records you want to print. Just enter your settings and click OK to send the files to the printer. The last option, Send E-mail Messages, displays the Merge To E-mail dialog box, which enables you to choose the recipients, select the format for the message, and then choose your records and click OK to send.