We previously looked at setting up tidy and consistent data in an Excel spread sheet ready to use it in a mail merge. When setting up a merge document, you can do it in two ways. Either in a new document, or if you already have a letter saved as a Word document, you might like to use this. In this example, we have a simple membership renewal letter ready to insert our data into.

There is handy mail merge wizard to talk you through each step of the mail merge and so if you’re not so confident then this might be the best place to start. However, we’re going to jump straight in and set up our letter ourselves. Start by opening your template letter. Select the ‘mailings’ tab.


From here you will be presented with a number of options. Select ‘start mail merge’ and then ‘letters’.


Next you need to select your recipients. This is your address data and associated information. We are going to choose ‘select recipients’ and then ‘use existing list’. If you don’t have an existing list of data, you could at this point select ‘type new list’ to set up a new dataset within Word.


Selecting ‘use existing list’ will open a dialog box from which you can browse to where your excel file is stored. Click on the file and select ‘open’.

Now your data file is linked up to your mail merge document, the next step is to add in your merge fields. Using the tools located under ‘write and inset fields’, you can insert pre-defined fields (useful when you are carrying out a common task such as adding an address block) or add in single merge fields.

Mail Merge walkthrough

Firstly, we will use the Address Block function. Place your cursor at the point in your letter that the address should appear. Click on ‘address block’, and you will be presented with the box below. From here you have a number of different options as to how you would like your address block to be presented. Select the format required and you will see a preview of your data on the right hand side. Word will automatically associate the address line fields with those in your Excel spread sheet (going back to setting up our data, this is one of the arguments for having clear and simple column headings!). If you can see that the data is not linking up correctly to the data in your spread sheet, you can click the ‘match fields’ button to manually link up the address field in Word to the fields in your spread sheet. When you’re done, click ‘ok’.

Mail Merge walkthrough

Next for the greeting line. Again we will use the tool to do this easily. Place your cursor at the point that you would like the greeting line to appear and select ‘greeting line’. In a similar process, you are presented with a number of options for your greeting line format. Select the most appropriate. You can also set an error trap for invalid data, perhaps where a full name is missing from your data, in which case a standard line, such as ‘Dear Sir’ will be included instead. Again, if you data doesn’t seem to be matching then you can manually link it using the ‘match fields’ button. When you’re done, click ‘ok’.

Moving on to insert another merge field, we want to insert the membership number into the subject line, and then the expiry date into the body text of our letter. To do this, once again we place the cursor at the point in the text we want our data to appear. Click ‘insert merge field’ where you should see a list of all of the fields in your dataset. Select the relevant field. Repeat this to enter the date into your body text. You can format the merge fields as you would any other text, such as making the text bold or underlined. Any formatting applied to a merge field will also be applied to the final text once the merge is complete.


This should be everything you need to set up your letter ready for the merge. If you have more complicated requirements, you can use the ‘rules’ tool to create validation criteria for your merge, for example we could set the line ‘your membership is due to expire on…’ to say ‘your membership expired on…’ if the expiry date occurred in the past using the rule ‘if…then…else’ (if the expiry date is less than today then use the wording “your membership expired on” else use the wording “your membership is due to expire”.

When you’re all set, have a read through your mail merge document and check that the merge fields are all in the correct place. Pay close attention to any spaces between merge fields or punctuation before or after a field. Bear in mind that the merge data will be entered in the exact place that the merge field is, so if you require a full stop immediately after a word with no space, then make sure this is the case in your merge document.

If needed, use the ‘preview results’ button to scroll through the letters and preview how your data will look in the documents. When you’re happy, choose ‘finish and merge’ when you can choose to edit, print or email your finished documents.


You will then be presented with a new document containing multiple copies of your letter, each with its unique data entered.



Steph Middleton is an experienced Virtual Assistant and MD of Outhouse UK