This time, let’s talk about mail merge… An old topic and a black box that many wish not to try and look into. Partly due to the old idea that it is only for what the name suggests, snail mail work, but also due to supposed complexity born almost entirely due to it’s lack of use and discussion.

This will be a short section, mail merge is relatively simple and requires only that certain steps be followed correctly but the benefit can be massive when used for the correct task. An example was the author’s personal experience with report writing in an IT environment. The problem was that the source of all data for the report was a software tool and one destination of the reporting was a corporate management environment. This outlined a massive disconnect between the required level of detail which needed to be bridged. Luckily, mail merge was thought of as a possible solution and the result was as follows.

First a process was put in place to ensure that any use of the tool resulted in data being recorded in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet became the main data source for any information requirements in the project. Using the older report document, a template was created, in this case using MS Word, and then mail merge stepped in. The major change in thinking here, where outside the box comes in, is that instead of recipients being selected for this “mail merge”, the data records become the mailing recipients and once they are connected to the document, elements of the template which will be changed between data records are added as recipient merge fields.

How this works is as follows:

  • Create the template, text and all
  • Go to the mailings or mail merge section of your document editor
  • Select recipients source file or an existing recipients list and find your spreadsheet of data to attach
  • When adding the link, allow the merger to use the first row as headers
  • Go to each point requiring report data and insert the correct merge field (they will be titled as in the spreadsheet now)

This is essentially all that is required. From here it is a simple task of finishing and merging your document for a particular record. I recommend you do this one by one as required but due to the initial point of the mail merge, you can of course merge through an entire dataset and output reports for every record in one go. It is even possible now to connect to a different dataset and as long as the headings of the data are unchanged, use the merge template without any further work.

As can be seen, this does have rather specific applications but when you have a task that can use this technique, it will have a massive effect of reducing the effort involved.