By Connie Miller
Using mail merge, you can quickly send an e-mail message to a group of people. Get the inside scoop, so you can avoid common problems and pitfalls.
|Microsoft Office Word 2003
Microsoft Word 2002
A question from your comments
I've used mail merge successfully many times, but e-mail merge just does not work for me. What can I do to send merged e-mail messages?
Advice from the Answer Box
Let's say that you run a small coffee roasting business. You want to send e-mail messages to your best customers to let them know about an upcoming sale. To personalize the messages, you want to address each customer by name and include a personal note at the bottom of each message.
Mail merge is the perfect way to handle this task. Using mail merge, you can create a common e-mail message that contains unique elements, so each customer receives a personalized version. And you can automatically send the message to all your customers or just to the customers you specify.
This same message is sent to all customers, but each message contains two unique elements: the customer's name and a personal note.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the process, let's discuss some limitations that you may encounter and explore ways to cope with these limitations.
Limitations are inevitable in any task that you try to accomplish with software. Sending e-mail messages by using mail merge is no exception. By understanding these limitations up front, you can sometimes design strategies for working around them. Or, at the very least, you can avoid problems that the limitations might create.
You must have a MAPI-compatible e-mail program
To use mail merge to send e-mail messages, you must have Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 or Microsoft Outlook 2002 installed on your computer. The capabilities of Outlook MAPI (Messaging Application Program Interface) make it possible for Word and Outlook to share information during the merge.
Note In case you're interested, MAPI is the Microsoft interface specification that allows different messaging and workgroup programs, such as e-mail, voice mail, and fax, to work through a single client. For example, because of MAPI, you can quickly send a document as an e-mail attachment by clicking a command on the Word File menu.
You must use the same versions of Outlook and Word
If you want to send the merged e-mail messages that you create in Word, the version of Word that you're using must match the version of Outlook that you're using.
You can't include an attachment
It's perfectly natural to want to include an attachment in an e-mail message that you send by using mail merge. For example, you might want to attach a document that lists all of your coffee roasts. Unfortunately, the mail-merge process doesn't support attachments.
Workarounds There are a couple of ways to get around this:
- Insert the document's content into the body of the e-mail message. We'll describe how to do this in the section about writing your e-mail message.
- Store the document on a server or make it available on a Web site, and then include a hyperlink to the document in your e-mail message.
Note If you're using Word 2002, the hyperlinks that you put into your e-mail message won't work unless you download a fix. For information about resolving this issue, see The hyperlinks do not work in a merged HTML e-mail message in Word 2002.
You can't add recipients to the Cc (Carbon copy) line
In the mail-merge process, you cannot designate that a certain group of recipients should receive copies of the e-mail message (the equivalent of putting recipients on the Cc line).
Workaround You can send two different e-mail messages, one to the people whom you want to receive the message, and another to people you just want to copy. In the second message, you can add a note at the top that says something like, "For your information. The message below was sent to customers on May 7."
To send messages to two different groups of recipients, you must be able to distinguish one group from the other. You can do that by setting up two different recipient data files (find out more about data files in Step 2: Connect to the data file). Or you can organize your data file so that you can filter it by type of recipient.
To send the message to recipients in your Outlook Express Address Book, you must first export the address book
You definitely can use your Microsoft Outlook Express Address Book as the source for the e-mail addresses of the recipients. You just can't directly connect to that address book. You have to export the address book as a text file and then connect to that file. We'll describe the exporting details in the section about connecting to a data file.
To send the message to recipients in your Outlook Address Book, you must first add the recipients to a Contacts folder
To send merged e-mail messages to recipients listed in your Outlook Address Book, you first must add each recipient to a Contacts folder . We'll describe that process in the section about connecting to a data file.
Text form fields are not visible in a merged e-mail message (Word 2002)
You can include a form for recipients to complete in e-mail messages that you send by using mail merge. If you're using Word 2002, however, text form fields in the form aren't visible in the merged e-mail messages.
Workaround To solve this problem by using macros, see WD2002: Text Form Fields Are Not Retained During Mail Merge.
In this section, we go through the mail-merge process step by detailed step. As part of each step, we look at the potential pitfalls and discuss how to avoid or recover from them.
Sending an e-mail message by using mail merge involves six major steps:
- First, you set up the e-mail main document. The e-mail main document is the model on which each individual message is based.
- Then, you connect the e-mail main document that you just set up to a data file that contains the e-mail addresses of the recipients. More about data files later.
- Next, you write the e-mail message. This involves adding two kinds of information to the e-mail main document:
Then, you preview the messages to make sure that information from the data file merged correctly.
Next, you send a test message. When the test message is sent and you're completely happy with the results, you complete the merge.
Finally, you send the entire set of messages.
- Information that is the same in every e-mail message. Usually, if you send a message to a group, most of the message is the same no matter who receives it. For example, in the message to customers, the sale information is the same in each message.
- Placeholders (officially called fields) for information that is unique to a specific message. For example, in the message to customers, you might want to greet each customer by name and include a personal note about the customer's preferred coffee roast. To make that happen, you add placeholders for the name and the personal note to the e-mail main document.
Step 1: Set up the e-mail main document
The e-mail main document is the model message on which each individual message will be based. To set up this main document, you just click a few appropriate options in the Mail Merge task pane. Here's how to do it:
- Start Word.
- On the Tools menu, point to Letters and Mailings, and then click Mail Merge to open the Mail Merge task pane.
- In the task pane, under Select document type, click E-mail messages. Under Step 1 of 6 at the bottom of the task pane, click Next: Starting document.
- Do one of the following:
Under Step 2 of 6 at the bottom of the task pane, click Next: Select recipients.
- If you're creating the e-mail message from scratch, click Use the current document. When you started Word, a blank document opened by default. That open default document is a perfectly good place for you to compose your e-mail message.
- If you already have a document that contains the text that you want to include in the e-mail message, click Start from existing document. Under Start from existing, click Open. Locate the document, and then click Open.
Step 2: Connect to the data file
When you use mail merge to send e-mail messages, Word requires the e-mail addresses for the message recipients. You provide that information by connecting the e-mail main document to a data file that includes, at the very least, a category (column) that lists each recipient's e-mail address.
This data file can come from lots of different places. For example, you might:
- Have your recipient data, including e-mail addresses, stored in a Microsoft Access 2002 or Microsoft Office Access 2003 database, a Microsoft Excel 2002 or Microsoft Office Excel 2003 worksheet, or a table in Word.
- Keep your current recipient data in your Outlook Contacts list.
- Want to use the recipients listed in your Outlook or Outlook Express Address Book.
- Want to create a new data file that contains the e-mail addresses that you want to use. You can create a new data file in Word.
To learn about the different types of data files that Word can connect to and for additional information about data files and how to use them in a mail merge, click a link in the See Also section of this article.
Tip Include yourself in the data file as a recipient. Then, when it's time to send the merged messages, you can first send a test message to yourself to make sure that the message content looks exactly the way you want and that the messages are actually being sent.
If you want to use your Outlook Express Address Book as the data file
To use your Outlook Express Address Book as a mail-merge data file, you have to export the address book as a text file.
- Start Outlook Express.
- On the File menu, point to Export, and then click Address Book.
- 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 columns from one another. It has a .csv extension, and you can open it in Excel.
- In the Save exported file as box, type a file name for your exported contacts file, and then click Browse.
- In the Save As dialog box, in the Save in box, choose where you want to save the file, and then click Save.
Time-saving tip It's handy to save your data files in the My Data Sources folder in your My Documents folder. That's where Word searches first for data files when you browse for them during a merge.
- Click Next. Select the check boxes next to the categories of information that you want to export, and then click Finish.
Consider this When you're deciding which categories of information to export, think about the e-mail message that you're creating. For example, if you're sending e-mail messages to customers and you want to include customers' names in the messages, you'll need to export at least the name and e-mail address categories. You won't need to export nickname, personal Web site, or other categories of information that you don't need in the message.
- When you see the message that the export procedure is completed, click OK.
- Close the Address Book Export Tool dialog box by clicking Close, and then exit Outlook Express.
In the step where you connect to a data file, click Use an existing list, and browse to locate the .csv file that you just exported. If Word asks you to choose what separator character will separate one column from another in your address list, click Comma. Then click OK.
If you want to send merged e-mail messages to recipients in your Outlook Global Address Book
To send merged e-mail messages to recipients in your Outlook Global Address Book, you have to export those recipients to an Outlook Contacts folder. Here's how to do that:
- Open Outlook.
- On the Tools menu, click Address Book.
- In the Address Book dialog box, on the Tools menu, click Options.
- Under Keep personal addresses in, select the Contacts folder that you want to export the recipients to, and then click OK.
Note If this is a different Contacts folder from the one that you typically use, be sure to change this setting back after you finish adding entries.
- In the Type Name or Select from List box, type the name of the recipient whom you want to import into your Contacts folder.
- In the list below, right-click the name, and then click Add to Contacts.
- The Contact form for the recipient opens. Update any information that you want to change, and then click Save and Close.
Note You might have to click the Close button to close the Contact form.
- Click the Close button to close the Address Book dialog box.
If you open the Contacts folder, you can see the recipient whom you just added.
If you intend to include personalized information, such as a name or a personal note, in individual messages
For each personalized item that you want to include in the merged e-mail messages, you must have a corresponding category (column) in your data file.
For example, if you want to address each customer by name and include a personal note, your data file must contain columns for name and personal note. The data file might look like this.
In the section about writing the e-mail message and adding placeholders, we'll talk about how to indicate where you want each piece of information to appear in the message.
If you want to filter the data file by type of recipient or another category
If you want to send e-mail messages to subsets of the recipients in your data file, make sure that you can filter on each subset.
For example, if you want to send e-mail messages only to customers who prefer a specific coffee roast, your data file must contain a category (column) for preferred roast. Or, if you want to send the original message to customers and a slightly revised version to coffee company managers, your data file must contain a category (column) for recipient type.
You'll learn more later about how to filter a data file during the mail-merge process.
To establish a connection between your e-mail main document and your data file
In the Mail Merge task pane, under Select recipients, you have three options:
- Use an existing list Click this option if you already have a data file, such as an Excel worksheet, an Access database table, or a Word table, that contains your recipients' names and addresses.
Note Remember, if you want to use your Outlook Express Address Book as a source for the message recipients, you can't connect to that address book directly. You must export the address book to a text file first and then use this option to connect to the text file.
- Select from Outlook Contacts Click this option if you want to use names and addresses from your Outlook Contacts list.
- Type a new list Click this option if you don't have a data file that contains recipients' names and addresses.
Click one of the following options to find out what to do next.
Use an existing list
- Under Use an existing list, click Browse to locate your mailing list data file.
- In the Select Data Source dialog box, locate the file, select it, and then click Open.
- If you see the Select Table dialog box, click the table or worksheet that contains your recipient names and addresses.
- The Mail Merge Recipients dialog box opens.
Select from Outlook Contacts
- Under Select from Outlook contacts, click Choose Contacts Folder.
If you see the Choose Profile dialog box, choose the profile that includes the Contacts list that you want to use, and then click OK.
- In the Select Contact List Folder dialog box, click the Contacts folder that contains your recipient names and addresses, and then click OK.
- The Mail Merge Recipients dialog box opens.
Note If you run into problems connecting to your Contacts folder, you can get problem-solving help by clicking an Answer Box link in the See Also section of this article.
Type a new list
- Under Type a new list, click Create.
The New Address List dialog box opens. Under Enter Address information, you see a list of categories, such as First Name, Last Name, and Address Line 1. You need to modify this list so that it matches the categories of information that you want to record about your recipients. For example, although the list in the dialog box includes items such as Title, Home Phone, and mailing address information, you might want your list to include only First Name, Last Name, E-mail Address, and Personal Note.
- To edit the list of categories, click Customize.
- In the Customize Address List dialog box, use the buttons to add, delete, or change the order of the categories. When the list looks the way that you want, click OK.
- Type the information for the first entry in the New Address List dialog box.
- Click New Entry, type the information for the second entry, and so on.
- After you type entries for all the recipients, click Close.
- In the Save Address List dialog box, type a name for the file, and then click Save.
- The Mail Merge Recipients dialog box opens.
By default, if you don't change the location, the data file that you just created is saved to the My Data Sources folder in your My Documents folder. This is a convenient location. If, in the future, you want to send a new set of e-mail messages by using the same data file, Word automatically searches first for the file in the My Data Sources folder.
Tip If you want to add to or change the data file that you just created, you have a couple of options. You can open the file in Access and modify it there. Or you can make changes to the file in Word during a mail-merge process:
- Go through the steps in the Mail Merge task pane until you come to Select recipients.
- Click Use an existing list, and then click Browse.
- Open the mailing list data file that you created. In the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box, click Edit.
- The Customize Address List dialog box opens, and you can change categories, add new entries, and more.
Filtering and sorting
The Mail Merge Recipients dialog box gives you the opportunity to filter or sort the entries in the data file. For example, your data file might include all of your customers, but you might want to send the sale announcement only to those whose preferred roasts match the roasts that are on sale. Or your data file might include both customers, who are the intended recipients, and managers of the coffee franchise to whom you want to send copies.
If you want to send messages to all the recipients in your data file and you don't need to do any sorting or filtering, just click OK to move on.
If you don't want to send messages to all the recipients in your data file, you can do some or all of the following things before you click OK:
- To eliminate one recipient, click the check box at the beginning of the recipient's row to clear it.
- To sort the rows according to the ascending or descending order of information in a particular column, click the column heading. For example, if you wanted to sort your customer list by preferred roast so that all of the Sumatra lovers are grouped together, you can click the preferred roast column heading.
- To filter the list according to specific criteria (for example, customers' preferred roasts), click the arrow next to a column heading. When you click the arrow, you see a list that looks similar to this.
if you previously filtered the list and now want to include all the entries again.
Click the value by which you want to filter the list. In this example, the values are coffee roasts. By clicking one roast, such as Sumatra, you can restrict the list of recipients to those customers whose preferred roast is Sumatra.
to filter the list to only those entries in this column that are blank.
to filter the list to only those entries in this column that have content.
to open the Filter and Sort
dialog box, where you can narrow the list according to more complex criteria. For example, you can narrow the list to two or more different values.
Note Any filtering and sorting changes that you make in the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box don't affect the original data file.
After you close the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box, you're ready to move to the next step. Under Step 3 of 6 at the bottom of the task pane, click Next: Write your e-mail message.
Step 3: Write the e-mail message and add placeholders
Now you add content to the e-mail main document. This content includes:
- Information that is the same in each message For example, in the case of the e-mail message to customers, the description of the sale is the same in every message. You can just type or paste this information right into the e-mail main document.
Note This is where, instead of adding an attachment to your message, you can add the contents of a document to the body of the e-mail main document. On the Insert menu, click File. Locate and select the document with the content that you want to include, and then click Insert. The dialog box closes and the document's content appears in the e-mail main document.
- Information that is unique to each message, such as the recipient's name You can't type information that is unique to each message into one e-mail main document. Instead, you add placeholders, or fields, to the main document. These fields correspond to categories (columns) in your data file. When you complete the mail merge in the next step, information from each row in the data file replaces the fields to create a set of unique e-mail messages.
Here's how an e-mail main document might look with fields in it. You can identify the fields because they are always surrounded by chevrons (« »).
Now take a few seconds to look at the Mail Merge task pane. Notice the list of links under Write your e-mail message (such as Address block, Greeting line, or More items). As the following procedure shows, you click these links to add fields to your e-mail main document.
To add placeholder fields
- Make sure that the insertion point is in the e-mail main document at the position where you want to add a field, such as a name or personal note field. In the Mail Merge task pane, click More items.
- In the Insert Merge Field dialog box, click Database Fields. Under Fields, you can see a list of the categories (columns) from your data file.
- Click the field that you want to insert (for example, Name or Personal Note), and then click Insert.
A field surrounded by chevrons (« ») appears in your document.
Note If you don't see all the fields that you want to insert, you may be trying to insert custom fields that you added to a view in an Outlook Contacts folder. For information about how to do this, click an Answer Box link in the See Also section of this article.
- Click Close.
- Repeat steps 1 through 4 until you have added all the fields that you want to add.
Now, you're ready to preview your personalized messages.
Step 4: Preview the merged messages
When you click Next: Preview your e-mail messages at the bottom of the Mail Merge task pane, information from the data file replaces the placeholder fields in the messages. You can click the double-arrow buttons in the task pane to page through the messages, or you can click Find a recipient to locate a specific message.
Some things that might need fixing
- Unintended recipients If messages were created for recipients whom you don't want to include in this mailing, click Edit recipient list in the Mail Merge task pane to open the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box, and then filter the list of recipients. Or, just clear the check box to the left of each name that you want to omit.
- Missing recipients If only a subset of the records (rows) in your data file was merged into the messages, click Edit recipient list in the Mail Merge task pane to open the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box. Make sure that you haven't inadvertently filtered the list of recipients. Click the arrow in the column heading for each category that you don't want to filter, and then click (All) in the list.
If you haven't filtered the list of recipients in any way, check your data file to be sure that it is organized correctly.
Step 5: Prepare and send a test message and complete the merge
As I mentioned earlier, it's a good idea to send one test message before you send the entire set of messages. A test message gives you the opportunity to to see if the messages will actually be sent and to verify that the message says exactly what you want. If you didn't add yourself to the data file, you can still send a test message if you can recruit a volunteer from among the recipients.
Prepare to send a test message
Use the double-arrow buttons in the task pane to display the message to yourself or to the person who has volunteered to receive the test message. By displaying this message on the screen, you'll be able to choose it quickly in the next step.
Send the test message
When you're satisfied with the way your messages look and the appropriate message is displayed on the screen, click Next: Complete the merge at the bottom of the Mail Merge task pane. Then, do this:
- In the Mail Merge task pane, under Merge, click Electronic Mail.
- In the Merge to E-mail dialog box, make sure the To box contains the name of the column from your data file that lists e-mail addresses. If it doesn't, click the arrow and then click the column name.
- In the Subject line box, type the subject that you want to send with the messages.
- In the Mail format box, click HTML.
- Under Send records, click Current record, and then click OK.
The test message should appear in your Inbox or the Inbox of the volunteer recipient.
What if the message never appears?
If the test message is not received, here are some things you can try:
- Make sure your versions of Word and Outlook match If you have different versions of Word and Outlook installed on your computer, you can't send merged e-mail messages.
- Troubleshoot in Word Try deleting your Normal.dot template file, deleting the data key, or getting rid of any macros or add-ins as described in the Knowledge Base article How to troubleshoot problems when you start or work in Word 2003.
- Use Detect and Repair to fix problems that may exist with your file On the Word Help menu, click Detect and Repair.
- Create a new Outlook profile For instructions about how to create a new profile, click a link in the See Also section of this article.
- If you're using your Outlook Contacts list as your data file, start the mail merge in Outlook instead of Word For instructions on starting a mail merge in Outlook, click a link in the See Also section of this article.
What if you want to revise the message?
If, after you look at the test message, you decide that you want to revise it before you send it to the whole group, here's what to do:
- In the Mail Merge task pane, click the Previous link at the bottom of the pane twice until you come to the step called Write your e-mail message.
- Make the changes that you want to the e-mail main document, and then click Next: Preview your messages to preview the changes.
- If everything looks good, click Next: Complete the merge, and then follow the steps to send the entire set of messages.
Step 6: Send the entire set of messages
After you send a test message and like the results, you're ready to send the entire set of messages. Here's how:
- In the Mail Merge task pane, under Merge, click Electronic Mail.
- In the Merge to E-mail dialog box, for To, make sure the name of the column from your data file that contains e-mail addresses is listed. If it's not, click the arrow and then click the column name.
- For Subject line, type the subject that you want to send with the messages.
- For Mail format, click the format you want. Here are some reasons why you would choose one format over another:
- HTML HTML format supports text formatting, numbering, bullets, alignment, horizontal lines, pictures (including backgrounds), HTML styles, stationery, signatures, and linking to Web pages. Choose this option if your message includes formatting and links.
HTML format is the recommended format for Internet mail, and most popular e-mail programs support it. However, if you think that a lot of your recipients use less mainstream programs, you might want to choose another option.
- Plain text Because plain text format is compatible with all e-mail programs, choose this option if you aren't sure what e-mail programs the recipients will use to read the message. The drawback is that plain text doesn't support bold, italic, or colored fonts, or other text formatting or hyperlinks. It also doesn't support pictures that are displayed directly in the message body.
- Attachment Don't be confused by this term. As we discussed earlier, you can't attach a separate document to your e-mail message. If you click this option, the main document that you just created will be sent as an attachment rather than as the body of the e-mail message. You might need to do this if you're using Word 2002 and you want to send a message that includes hyperlinks. For more information about hyperlinks in merged messages that you create with Word 2002, see The hyperlinks do not work in a merged HTML e-mail message in Word 2002.
Note If you choose a format other than HTML, an Outlook message may inform you that a program is trying to access e-mail addresses and send e-mail. This message is a security measure designed to protect against viruses that replicate through e-mail. To continue with the merge, select the Allow access for check box in the security warning dialog box, and then select the amount of time that you need to complete the merge. Click Yes. If you are prompted again, continue to click Yes until the merge is complete.
- Under Send records, click one of the following options:
- All Click this option if you want to send e-mail messages to all of the recipients in your data file.
- Current Click this option to send an e-mail message only to the recipient in the message preview displayed on the screen.
- From...To Click this option to send e-mail messages to a specific range of recipients. Type the numbers for the recipients in the From and To boxes.
Messages are numbered according to how you sorted the recipients in the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box.
Note To see how the recipients are sorted or to change the order, click the Previous links at the bottom of the task pane until you come to the Preview your e-mail messages step. Click Edit recipient list.
Important When you click OK in the Merge to E-mail dialog box, the messages are sent to the recipients. You won't have another chance to review or change the messages. Before you click OK, be sure that you're completely satisfied with what the messages say.
Before you close the e-mail main document
You've just gone to all the trouble to set up an e-mail main document and connect it to a data file. By saving the e-mail main document, you can preserve your efforts and make it easier and faster to send a set of form e-mail messages the next time you want to. When you save an e-mail main document, you save the document's connection to the data file.
The next time you open the document, you'll see a message that information from a data file will be placed in the document. Click Yes to continue. If you used an Outlook Contacts list as your data file, you'll also see the Select Contact List dialog box. Select the Contacts list folder that you connected to originally, and then click OK. On the Tools menu, point to Letters and Mailings, and then click Mail Merge. The Mail Merge task pane opens at the Select recipients step, where you can choose the data file that you want to connect to.
- If you want to use the same data file without any filtering or sorting, just click Next: Write your e-mail message, and continue through the mail-merge process.
- If you want to filter or sort the list of recipients from the data file to create a new set of messages, click Edit recipient list.
- If you want to merge recipient information from a different data file, click Select a different list.
Wishing you much happy e-mail merging,
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, send feedback.