How to Use Mail Merge in Microsoft Word

Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Microsoft Word has the functionality to use Word and Excel together to create form letters, labels, or other documents where the slight differences between documents occur in the same place for each one. In this lesson, we'll learn the basics of the mail merge tool.

What Does Mail Merge Do?

Before we get into how the mail merge function in Microsoft Word works, let's talk about what it actually does. We can use an example, and we'll keep it simple, but as we work through it, try and think of a specific instance from school, your job, or your life where you could benefit from using mail merge.

Mail merge got its name because in earlier versions of Microsoft Word, it was primarily used to address envelopes or put information on labels. To merge something means to combine two or more things into one. Now, it can merge much more than just mail, and can be a very useful tool.

For example, let's say that after a charity event where 500 people showed up, you want to send each one a thank you note. The note itself is generic - it's a thank you note, and the only thing that changes from note to note is the name of the guest and the amount they donated. So, instead of writing the note 500 times, or making 500 copies and manually changing the name and dollar amount, you can set up a mail merge to make this happen. Let's talk about how.

Mailings Menu

When you open Word, there's a tab called Mailings. When you click on that, 'Start Mail Merge' is the third option from the left side of your screen. After clicking that, you can see all the choices you'll get to potentially merge: letters, emails, envelopes, labels, directories, a normal Word document, and then there is an option for using the Mail Merge Wizard….a step-by-step guide to help you with each stage of the process.

Each of the document types available to merge - letters, emails, envelopes, labels, directories, and a normal Word document - all require the same steps and set up. For this lesson, let's just use a form letter for our example.

Necessary Documents

You need two documents for your mail merge. The first is a Word document and is the form letter, or the document into which the information will be merged. The second is an Excel file that has the information, in rows and columns, that you will merge into the document to make each document specific to each person.

The Excel file needs to have column headings. Under the column headings, you need continuous data. For our example, let's say your form letter is a quick thank you for attendance at a charity gala and a donation. So, each letter is going to have a different recipient and a different donation amount. Thus, your Excel file will have column heads like 'names' and 'donation,' under which will be a number of rows with the names and donation amounts for the letter. Once this file is saved, you can open Word and start your thank you letter.

The Mail Merge Process

After your Excel file is saved, it's time to start the merge. Select the mail merge option from the 'Mailings' menu, and for our example, select 'Step by Step Mail Merge Wizard.' The wizard option is a great tool to remind you of what step-by-step actions you need to take. The first thing it will ask you in the wizard panel on the right side of the screen is what kind of document you want to prepare. We'll do a letter since you're just writing some simple thank you notes. So, you select 'letter.'

The next option is to either use the current document (meaning you'll write it from scratch), start from a template (which is a pre-drafted document with fields already prepared), or open and edit from another document. Since our example is a brief one, you'll just write it in the wizard, so you select 'Use the current document.' After selecting Next, you're asked to select recipients.

This is the first time you'll go out of Word and bring your Excel file into your merge. At this point, your page is still blank, since you haven't started writing your letter. Since you have an Excel file, you can select 'Use an existing list.' Doing so opens a dialog box, a presented box that asks questions when we're about to do something in Word.

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