Make the world of mail merge work for you with Marie Herman’s advanced guide

Mail merge is a powerful function in Microsoft Word, but most of us don’t really know how to tap into the more advanced features to reduce our workload. Built-in rules are one of the enhancements that can really make mail merges sing. The instructions that follow are written for Microsoft Word 2013, but they will work with Office 2007 and 2010 as well. This article assumes you know the basics of creating a mail merge.

If… Then… Else…

Let’s say you have information you want to incorporate into a letter, but you want one phrase to show if they are in a certain geographic area and you want a different phrase to show if they are anywhere else. You might think you need to run two mail merges to accomplish this output or add extra fields to your mail merge data, but the rules in Word will let you do it easily.

Once you have your mail merge set up, then click Rules on the Mailings tab. One of the options is If… Then… Else… When you select that option, the Insert Word Field IF window appears. Select the appropriate options on the various fields.

With the above example, you would make the Field Name the geographic area you are referencing, such as State, change the Comparison field to Equals to, and then type the appropriate value into the Compare To Field, let’s say Illinois for this example. Next you’ll type the text you want to insert into the Insert this text field. In the next field, Otherwise insert this text, you’ll enter the text you will use for everyone else (in this case everyone but Illinois). So, using our above example, you might type “6.75%” in the Insert This Text field and “5%” into the Otherwise Insert This Text field.

Choices available in the Comparison field include Equal To, Not Equal To, Less Than, Greater Than, Less Than or Equal To, Greater Than or Equal To, Is Blank, Is Not Blank.

Skip Record If

There may be times when you want to skip a record entirely. You might choose to skip records where the company name field is blank, for instance. As another example, you might have a database that continually adds new records. You could set up a field in your original data called Letter Sent, marking the records where you already sent an introductory letter with an X. You can then use the mail merge rule Skip Record If to have Word skip that record if there is an X in that field. (Then go one step further and create a macro that adds an X to the field when you are done – but that’s a different article!).

To do that action, once you have set up your mail merge, go to the Rules button on the Mailings ribbon, select Skip Record If. There are three fields on this window: the Field Name, the Comparison, and the Compare To criteria. Using the example of skipping clients who had already received letters, you would use Letter Sent in the Field, Equals To as the Comparison field, and X as the Compare To field. By setting that rule up, the mail merge would skip every record that had an X in the Letter Sent field.

Using our earlier example of clients in the State of Illinois, we would select State as the Field Name, Equal To as Comparison operator, and Illinois as the Compare To field value.

Pause the mail merge for input

Don’t you sometimes wish you could pause a mail merge and have it ask you for input, which you would then insert into your document before processing? Well, actually you can. The rule that allows you to do this is called Fill-in.

Go to the Mailings ribbon, click Rules, Fill-in. Enter any text you want as a Prompt (like “type your name here”). If you want to use the same text for all records, click Ask Once. Otherwise Word will prompt you for each record. Click OK. Word will show you a sample of the prompt. Click OK. This will immediately enter the information where you are typing. The challenge is, during the mail merge, it doesn’t show you information about the record you are on, so this is not as easy as it sounds.

Pause the mail merge for input and then insert that input into multiple places

Don’t you sometimes wish you could pause a mail merge and have it ask you for input… Oh wait a minute, you just learned how to do that. Well, what if you could then insert that input into your document in multiple places, rather than retyping it multiple times? Well, ha! You can do that too! The rule that allows you to do this is called Ask and it works in conjunction with bookmarks that you have placed within your mail merge document.

To create the bookmark, go to the Insert ribbon and click Bookmark. Give your bookmark a name and click Add. The bookmark name can be up to 40 characters long with letters, numbers, underscore, but no spaces.

After you create the bookmark, you will go to the place in your mail merge where you want the information to go. Click Insert Cross-Reference. Change the Reference Type to Bookmark and the Insert Reference To field to Bookmark Text. Uncheck the box to Insert as Hyperlink. Click Insert. Repeat this as necessary wherever you want the information to be placed in your mail merge document.

Next go to your Mailings ribbon, click Rules, then click Ask. Select the bookmark you just created. In the Prompt field, type the text you would like Word to ask when it pauses for input. In the Default Bookmark Text field, enter the text you want it to insert if someone doesn’t type new text to replace it. The Ask Once check box allows you to insert the text that is typed into all the documents, rather than prompting for each document merge individually.

Most commonly, you would use this field for information that you don’t necessarily want to include in your original data spreadsheet, and which might change every time you run the mail merge, such as an upcoming date (please reply by…), a person’s name (assigned to John today, Bill tomorrow), etc.

Merge Record # / Merge Sequence #

Sometimes it is handy to be able to provide a reference number in our mail merges. Let’s say you want a mail merge survey to feel anonymous. You might not include a place for people to write their name on the document. However, maybe you secretly still want to know who the document was sent to. You can have the mail merge include a record number or a sequence number on the mail merge document.

To do this, go to Mailings and click Rules, then Merge Record #. This will insert the actual number of the record from the database or spreadsheet where you are pulling the records. Record numbers are essentially just a line numbering applied to the records in order – the first record is #1, the second record is #2, and so on. So if you have 500 records, and you are including 5 of those records randomly in this particular mail merge, those record numbers would be printed on the appropriate page of your mail merge document (for example, #52, 163, 269, 384, 496).

If you instead choose to use a sequence number, you would go to Mailings, click Rules, then Merge Seq #. It looks like nothing happened, but when you run the mail merge, you will see the sequence of numbers printed in the mail merge document (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

If you are printing all the records in your database, the record number and the sequence number would be the same. But when you print a portion of your database (for instance when you filter by zip code), the two numbers won’t match.

Final thought

I encourage you to explore the Rules that are available to you in Microsoft Word mail merges. There is so much that can be done to fine tune and tweak our documents, if only we learn how to do it.

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Marie Herman CAP, OM, ACS, MOSM operates a successful business, MRH Enterprises LLC (www.mrhenterprises.com), whose services include teaching computer and other classes in-person and via the internet, writing articles, and conducting workshops and other ... (Read More)

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