Answer Box: Common problems when using e-mail contacts in Word mail merge

Answer Box By Connie Miller

Run into problems trying to merge information from your e-mail Contacts folder into a document? Here's how to make it work.

Applies to
Microsoft Office Word 2003
Microsoft Word 2002
Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003
Microsoft Outlook 2002

A question from your comments

I want to do a customer mailing. I have my customer names, addresses, and more stored in my e-mail Contacts folder, but Word can't connect to that folder when I do a mail merge. Please help me so I don't have to create a whole new customer data file.

Advice from the Answer Box

Thanks to Sue Mosher, Microsoft Office Outlook MVP and author of Microsoft Outlook Programming: Jumpstart for Administrators, Power Users, and Developers, for helping me get this column right.

If you diligently keep your e-mail Contacts folder up to date, it can provide a handy list for mass mailings.

Outlook Contacts folder in phone list view

But it's not enough for that handy list just to exist. Word has to be able to connect to it during a mail merge. And there, you can definitely run into some nasty little glitches. We'll sort through these glitches and tell you how to avoid or work around each one so you can get your customer mailing out the door.

Common glitches

According to your comments, these are the most common glitches that you encounter when you're trying to merge information from your e-mail Contacts folder:

I can't find my Outlook Contacts folder

You've been diligent. You've carefully listed all of your contact information in Outlook Contacts. Now you're in the middle of a mail merge in Word. You click Select from Outlook contacts in the Mail Merge task pane, and then you click the Choose Contacts Folder link. The Select Contacts List Folder dialog box opens just as it's supposed to, but your Contacts folder isn't there.

If you're using the task pane, there are two primary reasons that your Contacts folder might not show up in the dialog box. Both are pretty easy to fix, and we'll look at both of those. Before we do that, though, there is one other possibility that we have to address.

If you're a Mail Merge toolbar user and you're trying to connect to your Contacts folder by clicking the Open Data Source toolbar button, that attempt will fail. To work directly with your Outlook Contacts folder as the data file for a mail merge, you have to use the Mail Merge task pane. If you're determined to use the toolbar, what you can do is export your Outlook Contacts folder to a Microsoft Office Excel 2003 worksheet. You can connect to that exported file by clicking Open Data Source. (Find out more about how to export Outlook contacts by clicking a link in the See Also box, which is visible in this article when you are connected to the Internet.)

So back to the issue at hand, the two reasons that account for the Contacts folder not showing up in the Select Contacts List Folder dialog box:

  • You may need to turn on this one powerful little property to connect to a Contacts folder during a mail merge.
  • You might be using a different Outlook user profile from the one with the Contacts folder that you want to use.

Turn on the "Show this folder as an e-mail Address Book" property

This is one of those "How could I possibly know to do this unless someone told me to?" things that seem all too common in software programs. There just happens to be this powerful little property associated with Contacts folders called Show this folder as an e-mail Address Book. If this little property isn't turned on, you won't be able to connect to your Contacts folder during a mail merge. Here is how you make sure it's turned on:

  1. In Outlook, on the Go menu, click Contacts.
  2. Right-click the Contacts folder that contains the information that you want to use for a mail merge, and then click Properties.
  3. On the Outlook Address Book tab, make sure that the Show this folder as an e-mail Address Book check box is selected, and then click OK.

Change your Outlook user profile

An Outlook user profile is a group of e-mail accounts and address books. Usually you need only one profile, but if you share your computer with other people or use different address books for different purposes, you can set up more than one profile. If, when you start your mail merge, you're using a profile that doesn't include the Contacts folder that you want to use, that folder won't show up in the appropriate dialog box.

To switch to a different user profile, just restart Outlook. When you're prompted for a profile, choose the profile that includes the Contacts folder that you want to use in the mail merge.

If you aren't prompted for a profile and you know that you have more than one, you may want to set up Outlook so that it prompts you. Here's how:

  1. Close Outlook.
  2. In Control Panel, double-click User Accounts, and then click Mail.

If you're using Microsoft Windows 2000, in Control Panel, double-click Mail.

  1. Click Show Profiles.
  2. To be prompted to select a profile each time you start Outlook, click Prompt for a profile to be used, and then click OK.

I get error messages about mail clients and tables

This is one of those "what you set in one program affects what happens in other programs" lessons. If you try to connect to your Contacts folder during a mail merge in Word, and Outlook is not set up as your default e-mail program in Microsoft Internet Explorer, you'll get an error message that says:

"Either there is no default mail client or the current mail client cannot fulfill the messaging request. Please run Microsoft Office Outlook, and set it as the default mail client."

When you click OK, you see another error message that says:

"Unable to obtain list of tables from the data source."

To avoid getting these irritating messages during a mail merge:

  1. On the Internet Explorer Tools menu, click Internet Options.
  2. On the Programs tab, under E-mail, click Microsoft Office Outlook, and click OK.

When you start Word again and try to connect to your Outlook Contacts folder during a mail merge, things should work just fine.

I can't connect to an Outlook Contacts folder in Public Folders

If you start a mail merge in Word and try to connect to an Outlook Contacts folder in Public Folders, you get an error message that says, "The operation cannot be completed because of dialog or database engine failures. Please try again later." If you try again later, you get the same error message.

If you want to use a Public Folders Contacts folder as the data file for your mail merge, you have to start the mail merge from within Outlook.

To learn how to start a mail merge from within Outlook, click a link in the See Also box.

I want to use my Outlook Express address book as my Contacts folder

And you most certainly can. You just can't connect to that address book directly during a merge. What you can do is export your Outlook Express address book as a text file and then connect to it in that readable form.

Here's how you export your Outlook Express address book:

  1. Start Outlook Express. On the File menu, point to Export, and then click Address Book.
  2. In the Address Book Export Tool dialog box, click Text File (Comma Separated Values), and then click Export.

Don't be afraid of this weird-sounding file type. It just means a text file where commas separate the column headings from one another. It has a .csv extension and opens in Excel.

  1. In the Save exported file as box, type a file name for your exported file, and then click Browse.
  2. In the Save As dialog box, for Save in, choose where you want to save the file, and then click Save.

Time-saving tip     It's handy to save data files in the My Data Sources folder in your My Documents folder. That's where Word looks first for data files when you browse for them during a merge.

  1. Click Next. Select the check boxes next to the fields that you want to export, and then click Finish.

Consider this     When you're deciding which fields to export, think about the form letters or e-mail messages or labels that you intend to create with mail merge. For example, if you'll never include nicknames or personal Web sites in your merged documents, don't export those fields.

  1. When you receive the message that the export procedure is completed, click OK.
  2. To close the Address Book Export Tool dialog box, click Close, and then exit Outlook Express.

When you're back in Word performing your mail merge and you come to the step where you connect to a data file, click the Use an existing list option, and browse to locate the .csv file that you just exported. Before the file opens, you'll be asked to select which separator character will separate one column from another in your address list. Click Comma, and then click OK.

I can't figure out how to add some of the information in my contact records to a merged document

If you're doing a mail merge in Word by using an Outlook Contacts folder as a data file, you can insert any of the typical fields from a contact record, such as First Name, Last Name, Job Title, Business Phone, Home Fax, or E-mail Address, by opening the Insert Merge Field dialog box and clicking Address Fields.

Insert Merge Field dialog box listing typical fields from Outlook contacts record

 Tip   You open the Insert Merge Field dialog box by clicking the More Items link in the Mail Merge task pane at the point when you're creating the content for the main document, or by clicking the Insert Merge Fields button Button Image on the Mail Merge toolbar.

Sometimes, however, you want fields other than the typical ones to appear in merged documents. For example, suppose you run a small coffee roasting company. You keep your customer list in a Contacts folder and you've added some custom fields, such as Favorite Roast and Personal Note, to records in that folder. By adding these custom fields to documents during a mail merge, you hope to personalize your mailings for each customer.

Outlook Contacts folder in phone list view

If you go through a mail merge process in Word and open the Insert Merge Field dialog box to insert these custom fields, you won't find them listed.

The only way to include custom contact fields in your main document is to start the mail merge from within Outlook.

In your Contacts folder in Outlook, you first create a view of your contact fields that contains all the fields that you want to include in the merge. Then, on the Tools menu, you click Mail Merge to start the merge from within Outlook.

Several Help topics provide information on creating a custom view and starting mail merge from within Outlook. You can find links to those topics in the See Also box.

 Tip   It can be a little tricky to get a custom contacts field that you create to show up in your contacts list view. First, make sure that you're looking at your contacts in Phone List view. This view looks kind of like a worksheet with labelled columns so that you can easily see your fields. Then, do the following:

  1. Right-click a column heading, and then click Field Chooser.
  2. In the drop-down list at the top of the Field Chooser dialog box, select User-defined fields in folder.
  3. Drag the field that you to add from the dialog box to the column headings. A little red arrow helps you place the field in the location that you want.
    Dragging a custom field from Field Chooser into a Contacts folder view

 Note   You can add a new field in the Field Chooser dialog box by clicking New at the bottom.

  1. When you've added all of your custom fields to the view, click Close to close the Field Chooser dialog box.

Wishing you many happy merges,

Connie, the Answer Box monitor

About the Author

Connie Miller, a writer on the Microsoft Office User Assistance team, collects and responds to issues that come to the attention of the Word Answer Box. To submit a detailed question of your own that we may be able to respond to, click Feedback.

 
 
Applies to:
Word 2003