An Overview of Word's Mail Merge

Mail merge is the process of creating custom mailings (or other documents) that combine unique information with standard text to create a set of unique documents?typically, one for every recipient. Word's mail-merge feature gives you the power to customize your message for just a few people?or for thousands at the same time.

To successfully run a mail merge, you need to understand two fundamental concepts. The first concept is this: You need a main document and a data source.

The main document contains the text that you want to remain constant. The main document also contains instructions about which changeable text Word should import and at which point it should import it. These instructions are called merge fields.

Your second file, the data source, contains the text that is to change from one form letter (or envelope or label or directory page) to the next. Your data-source file can consist of a table in a Word document, or it can be an Access database, Outlook contact list, or Excel worksheet. It can also come from various other sources, such as dBASE-compatible (DBF) database files.

The second concept is this: Merging is a step-by-step process, far more than many other tasks you perform in Word. Microsoft thoroughly revamped Word's mail-merge feature in Word 2002 to make this step-by-step process easier to follow, introducing a new Mail Merge Wizard task pane to replace the Mail Merge Wizard dialog box that was used for nearly a decade. If you've shied away from Word mail merges in the past, due to their complexity, you'll find that the revamping of the process has made the job far easier. Having radically changed mail merge in Word 2002, Microsoft has left it virtually unchanged in Word 2003.

Word's Mail Merge Wizard task pane enables you to create mail merges for five types of documents:

  • Letters. When you create a form letter, Word creates a new letter for each set of merge data (that is, each individual recipient).

  • E-mail messages. When you create an email merge, Word creates a new email for each recipient.

  • Envelopes. When you create envelopes, Word creates a new envelope for each recipient.

  • Labels. When you create labels, Word creates new labels for each recipient.

  • Directories (called "catalogs" prior to Word 2002). When you create a directory, Word creates only one new document that contains all the merged data. Word repeats any standard text you add to the directory main document for each set of data.


Directory mail merges have many uses. For example, they're ideal for creating parts lists. They're also a handy solution for generating a list of people you've already sent mail to so that you can follow up by telephone or other means.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word