How to Mail Merge in Word – It’s that easy

mail merge

Creating mail merge letters in Word is not difficult. A form letter is used to send information to a number of recipients in the form of a letter. Each letter is individualized and uses, for example, the address of the recipient or a suitable letter salutation. Here you can read about the possibilities Word offers you.

mail merge

This saves you a lot of time and work because you only have to write the content once. This tutorial will show you how easy it is to create a mail merge letter in Word and personalize it using placeholders.

What is mail merge in Word?

A mail merge is a word processing document that you can send to many recipients. This means there are personalized parts in the document (for example, address, salutation, parts of the text). The serial letter is useful when you want to send the same letter to many different recipients. Each letter thus has a personalized section and common passages. This gives each letter the form of a personal cover letter.

With the computer, you can easily create a mail merge. The basis for this is a document template and a database (or a simple table). The data source is then integrated into the existing text document in the form of mail merge fields (placeholders).

Many word processing programs support the creation of mail merge letters. There is a mail merge wizard in Ms Word and Open-Office, which makes the creation easy and fast.

How to do mail merge letter in Word

A form letter consists of the main document (which contains the content) and a data source (e.g. an Excel list or Outlook contacts). The recipient data from the data source is automatically transferred to the main document and entered.

To create a form letter in Word, proceed as follows:

Start Mail Merge Wizard

  • Open your letter.
  • On the Mailings tab, click Start Mail Merge and select Step-by-Step Mail Merge Wizard instructions.
  • The Mail Merge Wizard starts and guides you through six individual steps to create a mail merge letter.
Start Mail Merge

Select document type

Select “Letters” from the options bar on the right side of the screen. Then click on “Next: Starting Document” at the bottom right.

Select document

Select start document

start mail merge document

Now specify which Word document you want to base the mail merge on. You can choose to continue with the document you already have open, to use a template, or base it on a document you have already created.

Since you have already opened your letter at the beginning, select “Use the current document.” Then click on “Next: Select recipients” at the bottom right.

Select recipient

Select mail merge recipient

Word needs the address data of all recipients to create the individual letterheads. You can use an existing address list, select recipients from Outlook contacts, or enter a new address list.

Since you created an Excel list as the data source, select “Use an existing list” for Recipients. Click on “Browse” and select your saved Excel list. Then click “Next: Write your letter” at the bottom right.

Write letter

Now you can add elements such as an address block, greeting line, electronic postage, and more.

The easiest way to add the address is to click on “Address block.”

You can insert a greeting line by clicking on the “Greeting line.” Decide on a format for the greeting line. The preview will help you to choose. Confirm with OK, and it will insert the greeting line.

Write mail merge letter

You can insert further database fields from the Excel list via “Further elements.” To do this, click on “Other elements.” Now you see the fields (company, first name, last name, title…) that you have entered in your Excel list. You can assign these fields to the letter. To do this, click on the appropriate place in the letter, then select the appropriate field and click “Insert.” Pay attention to the correct order as well as the spacing between the fields.

When your letter is ready, click “Next: Preview your letters” at the bottom right.

Preview Mail merge


You can now review the individual letters. Check if the address data is correct if the salutation is correct. By clicking on “Edit recipient list,” you can add or remove recipients by activating or deactivating the checkbox.

Finally, click on “Next: Complete mail merge” at the bottom right.

End mail merge

In the final step, now you can print the created letters collectively or edit individual letters again. We recommend that you edit or check the letters individually before printing. Especially the salutation and the spacing between the fields. To do this, click on “Edit individual letters.” Then you can start printing.

How to set conditions for your mail merge letters?

With the help of rules, you can achieve further individualization for your serial letters and make the workflow more flexible and efficient.

In our example, we want to control the salutation for each branch individually. This works via an IF-THEN condition field that queries the different possibilities.

  • Select the place in your letter where you want to insert the personal salutation and click on “Mailings -> Rules -> If … Then … Else”.
  • Select “Branch” under “Field name” and accept the default setting “Equal to” for Comparison. In the “Compare with” field, enter “Munich” as the branch.
  • Under “Then insert this text”, enter the desired salutation for the Munich branch. Under “Otherwise insert this text”, enter the alternative greeting. Finally, confirm with “OK”.

With the help of mail merge fields, any type of data (even entire text blocks) can be variably adapted to different recipients. You can find more examples in the following video.

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Set up mail merge letter manually

In the following, we will show you the manual procedure. However, the individual steps are basically identical to those of the wizard.

A mail merge has these elements

A form letter consists of three components:

  • The main document determines the appearance of the desired output. It is usually just a normal letter that contains placeholders for the individual fields.
  • The recipient list contains the information that is inserted into the placeholders. The data source can be, for example, a database query, an Excel document, or a Word managed recipient list. As a rule, a new letter is created at the end for each data record in this source.
  • The combination of both components creates the output, the so-called mail merge document, i.e. the finished mail merge letters. These either come out of the printer or are created as a new document containing all mail merge letters for viewing and possible post-processing.

Besides the above scheme, Word can also produce labels or directories (lists) instead of letters or generate e-mails directly. Even though Word always refers to the data only as “recipients”, you are not limited to generating personalized mail at all with the mail merge.

For example, if you have products stored in a database, you could use the mail merge function to generate labels for your warehouse or print a data sheet with the relevant details for each product.

Basically, Word offers two ways to create mail merge letters: The mail merge wizard takes you by the hand, so to speak, and goes through all the necessary questions with you step by step in order to create the mail merge letter, add the data and output the whole thing. Alternatively, you can compose the letter manually, which in some cases gives you better control.

How to create the main document of the mail merge letter

First of all, the main document is a regular Word document. So, if you already have a text that contains certain elements you want to use, load it and save it later under a new name. Or you can just start with an empty document.

  • Go to the Mailing option. All the elements you need for mail merge are gathered there.
  • Click on the Start Mail Merge button and select the type of your document in it. Usually, letters are the appropriate ones.
  • Word knows that this is a mail merge main document from now on.
  • You can start designing the document now or wait until the placeholders for your data fields become accessible by linking to a recipient list.

Click on the Select Recipients button. Here you have the option to enter the desired data directly in Word, tap into an existing data source, or link to your Outlook address list.

If you already have the data, then click on the second menu item Select Existing List. When you do this, you load a file that either represents the data source itself or at least contains a link to it:

  • When selecting an Excel file, Word will ask which spreadsheet to use. It then uses the column headings of the found data as field names.
  • In the case of a text document, for example, the file types *.doc, *.txt or *.csv, Word assumes that a separator separates the data. Such as a tab or a comma, and the field names appear in the first line. You can select the separator and the end of line indicator in a dialog.
  • In case of a database format like *.mdb or a file in XML format, Word analyzes the content and asks you if necessary which parts should be imported from it.
  • If you want to use information from a database server, you must first create a connection outside of Word with the ODBC Data Sources application and then store it as a file in *. odbc or *.dsn format. This can then be loaded into Word as a source and connects to your database server.

How to enter the recipient data in Word

If you do not have any data available, then select the first item Enter new list. It opens a window with a tabular view of an address database with specific fields. The cursor is placed directly in the first Address field of a new record, and you can start typing directly. You finish entering an address each time by pressing the New entry button.

If you want to change the structure of the data first, for example, define more fields, use the Adjust Columns button.

Immediately after you have finished entering data, Word displays a Save dialog. Here you define where the data you have just entered should be stored. This is done in the form of an Access database, i.e. a file with the extension *.MDB.

A reference to this data source is stored in the main document. Word will also always point this out to you with a dialog when you open this document and ask for your permission to open the data source.

Select the menu item Start mail merge – Normal Word document to break this link again. This turns the main mail merge document back into a regular document without the data link. If there are still placeholders for the data source fields, they will remain.

However, they will not work again until you make the file a main document again and link it to a recipient list. If not all of the contained placeholders can be successfully linked to a data field of this new source, Word will report this problem with the warning “Invalid merge field” and ask you to remedy the problem.

Include the placeholders for fields

Click the Insert Merge Field button, and Word will display a list of all the recognized fields in the data source for you to select.

Click it, and it will insert at the current cursor position.

To inform you that a merge field is now inserted here, Word displays, for example: “Last Name.” In principle, you can treat this field the same way as normal text, i.e. format it, cut it and paste it somewhere else.

Word builds in a particular field with the Address Block button for the address, which contains all the elements you usually want. First, a dialog for customizing opens. This offers, for example, different spellings for title and salutation.

In the window on the right, you can see which address Word compiles from your data. If something is missing here, use the button Set matching fields, and you can link the data expected by Word with the fields in your data source.

To mark the field with the complete address, the placeholder “Address” is inserted in your document.

This is how you can exclude addressees

Use the Edit Recipient List button if you don’t want to write to all recipients from your data source. This will open a window that gives you a list of addressees. With only a handful of entries, you can now exclude certain recipients from the mail merge simply by using the column with the check marks.

However, this is not a practical method for large amounts of data. It is better to select the Filter… link in the lower half of the window.

This opens a new window that offers you a number of fields. This allows you to define a logical selection condition. For example, to reach only addressees who live in Hamburg, Berlin or Munich, select the following scheme:

After confirming with OK, you will see the filtered list of people in the Mail Merge Recipients window.

If you also want to specify the order of the addresses, go to Sort. This can be important for certain forms of mass mailing, for example, where you have to sort the letters by postal code.

How to issue your mail merge letter

Don’t be confused by the Start Mail Merge button. You can’t start printing from it. Instead, you need the Finish and Merge button on the far right.

Here you can choose two ways. Select the Print Documents sub-item if you are quite sure that everything is OK. After that, a typical print dialog will appear after the output to the selected device starts.

Almost always, the better way is the item Edit documents individually. The name is unfortunately again unfortunate chosen. What happens is that Word starts the output but, instead of printing, creates a new document. This then contains the entire mail merge output. If you have a one-page main document and send it to 100 recipients, Word will create a new document containing these 100 pages one after the other.

This is very useful for checking. For example, you can do spot checks to see if merging the main document and the recipient data worked as intended.

You can then correct individual problems directly in this document and print it out. If, on the other hand, you find a systematic error, such as a missing space after a certain data field that occurs once on each page, then proceed as follows: 

Close the generated document without saving it. Then go back to the main document, fix the problem and start the output again.

Use further possibilities mail merge letters

Behind the placeholders for fields displayed by Word, there are field functions that you can display with [Alt + F9]. You can see that the insertion of the data fields is done with the function MERGEFIELD. But there are many more functions that Word offers here that expand your possibilities considerably.

For example, by conditionally inserting text in the address, you can convert to the correct or avoid blank lines caused by new additional fields. A different approach is recommended if you want to have longer text passages inserted on a case-by-case basis. Word knows logical operators for more complicated cases in the conditions to link several case distinctions together.

You can also use information from your data source to print address labels. For printing forms, for example, the mail merge fields must appear in a precisely defined position. With text fields anchored to a fixed position, Word solves this challenge for you.

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