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Use mail merge for mass mailings and more

Data file with columns (categories) and rows (records)

Callout 1 Columns in a data file represent categories of information.
Callout 2 Each row represents one complete record.

A data file (sometimes called a data source or data list) is any file that organizes information into columns and rows. You can create data files using lots of different programs. For a list of the data file types that Word can use during a mail merge, see the Quick Reference Card at the end of the course.

The columns in a data file represent categories. For example, in a customer data file, like the one on the left, you might have columns for Name, Last Name, and Street Address.

Each row in a data file represents a complete record. In the customer data file, for example, one row contains all the information about one customer: the customer's name and address.

It's these columns and rows that make it possible to get unique information into documents during a mail merge. With the main document open, you:

  • Connect, or link, to the data file that contains the unique information.
  • Add placeholders, called fields, to the main document for each category (column) of unique information that you want to include.
  • Complete the merge to create a set of unique documents. Each document represents one record and contains information from one row in the data file.

Tip     For the best results, set up your data file so that each column represents the smallest possible category. For example, use separate columns for First Name and Last Name rather than just a Name column. This gives you the most flexibility when you arrange fields in the main document and lets you, for example, greet customers by their first names.

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