Making a common change to multiple contacts

Applies to
Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003

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This article was adapted from Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Inside Out by Jim Boyce. Visit Microsoft Learning to buy this book.

It's easy to make changes to Outlook items, and contacts are no exception. Just open the Contacts folder, make whatever changes you need, and click Save and Close. That's easy enough! But what if you need to make the same change to lots of contacts? For example, let's say the fax number has changed for a company you work with frequently, and you have twenty contacts in your Contacts folder from that company? Changing the fax number field in each of those twenty contacts one at a time certainly isn't a difficult thing to do, but it would take some time. You'd have to open each one, change the fax number, and close the contact form. You probably have much better and more productive ways to spend your time!

Regardless of what you need to change, it's actually easy to make the same change to multiple contacts in Outlook without having to open, modify, and save each one. The trick is to use Outlook to group items in the Contacts folder view to organize the contacts, and then use a quick drag-and-drop operation to make the change.

Here's how to make it happen, using the Business Fax field as an example:

  1. Open the folder containing the contacts you need to change. This doesn't have to be the primary Contacts folder, but instead can be any folder where you store contacts.
  2. With the folder open, on the View menu, point to Arrange By, point to Current View, and then select a table view that best displays the information you want to change. In this example, select By Company because this table view includes the Business Fax field by default, as shown in the following figure.

Contacts grouped by company

  1. Now, let's customize the view to organize it by the Business Fax field. On the View menu, point to Arrange By, point to Current View, and then click Customize Current View.
  2. In the Customize View dialog box, click Group By.

Customize View dialog box

The Group By dialog box is displayed.

Group By dialog box

  1. Click Clear All to remove the existing item grouping. Then, from the Group Items By list, select the item you want to change. In this example, select the Business Fax field from the list.
  2. From the Expand/collapse defaults list, select All collapsed, and then click OK twice to return to the view you just created.

Contacts dialog box

  1. Scroll through the view and find the item you want to change. In this example, look for the company's old fax number in the Business Fax field. The view will be grouped by Business Fax, so finding the number should be a snap.
  2. When you find the item you need to change, click the plus sign beside it to expand the group and show all of the items in the group. In this example, the group will contain all of the contacts who have the old Business Fax number.
  3. Choose any one of the contacts under this group and double-click the contact. Change the Business Fax number for this contact to the new number, and then click Save and Close to save the changes. At this point, the contact you just modified will show up in a new group in the view because its Business Fax field has changed. Unless you specified an existing number for the new fax number, the only contact in the group will be the one you just changed.
  4. Now, let's do a little magic. Click the grouping bar for the old group (the one with the old fax number), and then drag it to the new group (the one with the new fax number). Outlook automatically applies the change to all of the items in the old group. When you expand the new group, you'll find that all of the contacts now have the new Business Fax number.

It's easy to change multiple items like this as long as you remember that you first need to display the items in a table view with the items grouped by the field you need to change. For example, if you need to change the company's address, customize the table view to group the view by the Business Address field. Also, you don't have to change an entire group, but can instead change individual contacts by using the same method. Rather than drag an entire group, select one or more individual contact items and then drag them to the target group. You can use this technique, for example, to add a fax number or other property to contacts that currently have that field blank.

When you need to customize a view to make a global change, you can either modify an existing view, as we did in this example, or create a new one. If you customize an existing view, you'll probably want to restore the view to its original settings after the change is made. To reset the view, on the View menu, point to Arrange By, point to Current View, click Define Views, select the view, and then click Reset. If the customized view you want to reset is the current one, you can also point to Arrange By on the View menu, point to Current View, click Customize Current View, and then click Reset Current View in the Customize View dialog box.

Also keep in mind that you're not limited to changing just contacts by using this method. Any items in a grouped table view can be changed in this way. For example, you might change the categories associated with Journal entries, notes, or tasks in the same way. It's all about grouping the view by the item to be changed, and then simply dragging other items to that group.

About the author:     Jim Boyce has authored over 50 books on software and operating systems, including over a dozen titles on Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook. In other lives he has owned and operated an Internet services company, and been a college instructor, engineering technician, CAD systems manager, and UNIX administrator. In his spare time he enjoys flying, both real and model aircraft. See Jim's Web site for other Outlook, Office, and Microsoft Windows® tips.

Applies to:
Outlook 2003