Manage mail merge in Outlook

By Jim Boyce

Many legal firms these days rely on e-mail as the main method for blanket communications with their clients, such as newsletters, holiday cards, and other mass mailings. It's important for a firm to carefully target mailings to make sure that the right messages reach the right recipients.

The Microsoft Office System can help you refine your target audience to achieve that goal. Microsoft Office Word 2003 and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 can work together to help you create mailing lists for various types of mass mailings such as greeting cards, business letters, and address labels. This capability is called mail merge.

Most people know that you can start a mail merge in Word and that you can pull address information from Outlook. However, not so many know that you can also start the mail merge in Outlook. The advantage to this approach is that you can more easily control whose addresses are included in the list.

Rather than struggle with lists in Word for each mail merge, you can create a custom, filtered view in Outlook that automatically includes the appropriate recipients. Performing the mail merge then becomes a simple process of selecting the right view and initiating the mail merge process.

ShowCreate a filtered view

The secret to controlling address inclusion for mail merge in Outlook is the filtered view. In a nutshell, you create a filtered view that includes the addresses and fields that you want to use for the mailing list, and then you use that view as the source for the mail merge.

Before you start the process, you need to decide what properties of the contact items you'll use to identify people who must be included in the list. For example, perhaps you want to create a list of everyone who works for a particular company. In this situation, you could use the Company field as the property on which to filter the view. Or maybe you'll use a specific contact category: All contacts with the specified category will be included in the mail merge.

It's important to create your Outlook contacts with mail merge in mind so that you can effectively filter the mailing list, whether you're going to start a mail merge in Outlook or in Word. Make sure that you add at least one property or set of categories that you can use to quickly and easily identify specific contacts.

Then create a filtered view to show contacts with that property or with those categories:

  1. Open the Contacts folder that contains the addresses that you want to include in the list.
  2. On the View menu, point to Arrange By, point to Current View, and then click Define Views.
  3. In the Custom View Organizer dialog box, click New.
  4. Type a name for the view, click Table as the type of view, and then click OK.
  5. In the Customize View dialog box, click Filter.
  6. In the Filter dialog box, select the property or properties that will cause the target contacts to be included in the view. For example, on the Contacts tab, you can use the first two controls to search for a company name. Or you might search for an area code, phone number prefix, ZIP Code, or other contact property.

Filter dialog box

To create a filtered view that uses categories:

  • In the Filter dialog box, click the More Choices tab, click Categories, and then select the category or categories to use. You can type category names in the box next to Categories, but the advantage of clicking Categories is that it helps ensure that you choose existing categories and that you don't make typographical errors.

Filter by category

If the Contacts or More Choices tabs don't contain the property you're looking for:

  1. Click the Advanced tab, click Field, point to the field set that you want, and then click a field that you want to use in the search criteria.
  2. After you choose the field, choose the condition for which to search. For example, you might choose all contacts whose last names contain a particular letter or letters, whose addresses contain a certain state or ZIP Code, or whose birthdays are in a particular month.
  3. When you finish specifying the conditions, click OK twice, and then click Apply View.

Advanced filter option

 Note   To select all contacts whose last names start with a particular letter, on the More Choices tab, select the Match case check box. Then on the Advanced tab, click Field, point to Name fields, and then click Last Name. In the Condition list, click contains, and in the Value field, type the capital letter that starts the last names that you want to find.

Specifying which contacts to include in the view is just the first step. You also need to specify which fields to display in the view, because these are the fields that will appear in the mail merge. For example, you might include First Name, Last Name, Mailing Address, City, State, and ZIP/Postal Code for a set of mailing labels.

To specify which fields to display in a view:

  1. Open the Contacts folder, and then click the filtered view in the Current View pane.
  2. On the View menu, point to Arrange By, point to Current View, and then click Customize Current View.
  3. In the Customize View dialog box, click Fields.

Show Fields dialog box

  1. In the Show Fields dialog box, add and remove fields as needed to show only those that you want to include in the mail merge, and then click OK twice.

ShowStart a mail merge in Outlook

  1. In Outlook, open the Contacts folder, and then click the filtered view in the Current View pane.
  2. On the Tools menu, click Mail Merge.

Mail Merge Contacts dialog box

  1. In the Mail Merge Contacts dialog box, click All contacts in current view under Contacts, and then click Contact fields in current view under Fields to merge.
  2. If you already have a merge document created in Word, click Existing Document under Document file, and then select the document.
  3. Under Merge options, click the document type and the merge type in the lists, and then click OK.

From this point on, the mail merge process is the same as it is when it's started in Word. You can build the document, add merge fields, and set other options as needed in the Mail Merge task pane. (To open the task pane, in Word, on the View menu, click Task Pane. At the top right of the task pane that appears, click the drop-down menu, and then click Mail Merge.)

If you've prepared a mail merge in Word, you know that it can be time-consuming to get the list just right. But if you create your contacts in Outlook with mail merge in mind — adding categories or consistently adding specific, useful merge fields — you'll find that it's easy to tailor those contacts into a list for mail merge. A single filtered view is all that it takes to whittle down even a big collection of contacts to a useful mailing-list source.

About the author     Jim Boyce has written more than 50 books about computers and technology, many of them about the Microsoft Office System. He regularly contributes to several online sites and publications. His latest book is Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Inside Out, which is available from Microsoft Learning.

Applies to:
Outlook 2003, Word 2003