About mail-merge data sources

You use a mail merge when you want to create a large number of documents that are mostly identical but include some unique information. For example, you can use a mail merge to create a product announcement that you are sending to your top 1,000 customers. The text of the letter is always the same, but the name and address are different for each customer.

These customer names and addresses are stored in a data source, which is a file that contains the unique information that you want to include. The data file can be in a variety of formats, including:

  • Microsoft Office Outlook Contacts lists.
  • Microsoft Office Excel 2003 worksheets.
  • Microsoft Office Word 2003 tables.
  • Microsoft Office Access 2003 database tables.
  • Text files in which tabs or commas separate the columns, and paragraph returns separate the rows.

In a data file, information is organized into columns and rows. Each column represents a category, such as first name, last name, company, or street address. Each row, except for the first row, represents one complete record or set of data. The first row is special. Called the Header row, it contains the column names.

Mail-merge data source

ShowHow data files work in a mail merge

To add unique information in a mail merge, you place fields in the main document (main document: In a mail-merge operation in Word, the document that contains the text and graphics that are the same for each version of the merged document, for example, the return address or salutation in a form letter.). The fields correspond to the names of the columns that contain the information that you want to include.

For example, in the product announcement, you can place fields for first name, last name, company, street address, and postal code at the top of the main document. This adds unique address information to each document when you merge. You can also add a first name field after the word "Dear" to make sure that the customers' first names show up in the greeting.

When you set up the mail merge, you can sort, filter, and arrange the information from the data file so you use only the information that you want. For example, you can target customers with specific postal codes or those who purchased a certain product in the past.


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 and last names rather than just a name column. Use separate columns for each element in an address, such as street number, city, state, and postal code. This gives you the most flexibility when you arrange fields in the main document.

ShowConnect to or create a data file

When you perform a mail merge, you can either connect to an existing data file or create a new one. You connect to or create a data file in step 3 of the mail-merge process when you are using the Mail Merge task pane (Tools menu, Letters and Mailings submenu, Mail Merge command).

  • To connect to an existing file, click Browse in the task pane to locate the file on your computer or on a server, and then open the file.
  • To create a new, simple data file, click Type a new list in the task pane. The new file is saved as a mailing database (.mdb) file in the My Data Sources folder, which is located in the My Documents folder. You can reuse the file for future mail merges. You can also make changes to the records in the file in the Mail Merge Recipients dialog box or by opening the file in Access.
Applies to:
Word 2003