The mail merge function of Microsoft Word is arguably one of its most useful features. It is a simple way of personalising a template document with individual information from records on a database to create multiple personalised copies of a letter or file. One of the easiest ways of creating large numbers of letters or address labels, for a mail shot, for example, is using contact data from an Excel spread sheet. Having previously looked at creating tidy datasets in the last article, your data should now be well presented and useful to you when it comes to mail merge.
In theory, any data stored in Microsoft Excel can be used to mail merge in Word. However, there are big benefits to having your data well-presented and in a logical format when it comes to mail merging as this will ensure that your address labels or letters will be consistent and require little reformatting or editing once you have merged your documents.
When mail merging in Word, you can manually enter records into the mail merge wizard to use with your document but there is little benefit to this if you already have your data stored elsewhere and as Microsoft Excel is commonly used for this purpose, it is handy that the mail merge function in Microsoft Word integrates quite seamlessly with Excel!
To begin with, your data should obviously be arranged in rows and columns as in a usual spread sheet, with clear headings at the top of each column. This important, as it is these columns that will become your ‘merge fields’ later on and so having clear headings will make your data much more easily identified when you come to setting up your merge document.
In this example, we are going to create some letters with an address field and some personalised information. With this in mind, you need to first think about the fields that you want in your letter, and then ensure that your Excel data contains this information. For example, in an address we will use a number of separate fields; Name, Surname, Address Line 1, Address Line 2, Town, County and Postcode. Assuming that we are going to put each of these items on a separate line, we need to make sure that each of these items is contained within a separate column of our dataset as shown below.
Having previously used data validation to ensure that the address records we entered are free from errors and consistent, there should be little more we need to do to it. However, if you haven’t entered your data so carefully, which is often the case where data has been collected over time, or added to by a number of different users, then it would be worth cleaning up your data at this stage to remove any unnecessary spaces or punctuation and checking that there are capital letters in all of the right places. Doing this now will save you a lot of time and frustration later on!
With large datasets, you can make use of some of the other functions of Excel to clean these up, but more about that another day…
For now, let’s assume that your data is error free, consistent, and suitably split into relevant fields. We can now go on to set up your merge document. Read more…
Steph Middleton is an experienced Virtual Assistant and MD of Outhouse UK