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Working with Special Content in Word

Mail Merge: The Power and the Pain

If you’ve ever had to send the same letter or catalog to more than one person, you know what a time-saver mail merge can be. Mail merge saves you the trouble of typing numerous names and addresses by merging your contacts list with the document you’re creating. In Word 2010, mail merge uses a master document and a data source to accomplish the task. The master document is the template (although not a template in the Word-document sense) that lays out your document and contains text or other items that never change. This might be the sales letter, for example, that you want to send out to all your customers. The master document also contains instructions for inserting data from a data source into each document. The data source is your contact list, Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet data, or other file containing the name and address information you want to merge with the document.

The goal of mail merge is simple: to produce many different documents that are personalized to go to many different individuals—without a lot of extra work from you. The process of putting together a mail merge document may seem a bit complicated at first, but it’s really just a matter of telling Word where to substitute the different data items. (For example, the name goes here, and the address goes there.) Once you use the mail merge feature a time or two, it will seem intuitive. After you master the basic mail merge process, you can get a little fancier by adding conditional expressions, which enable you to create a mail merge letter for a customer if a certain condition is true.

It’s More than Letters

The mail merge feature can do more than create form letters and address envelopes. You can save the merged documents as a file so that you can edit them or send them by e-mail. You can create almost any type of document by using a specific template or designing the document from scratch. All Word needs is a data document with some data fields in it. You can create mailing labels and address books, awards, parts lists, different versions of exams, and catalogs designed for specific geographical areas or demographic populations. The uses for mail merge are limited only by your creativity, your willingness to experiment with different data fields and Word fields, and your decision as to whether mail merge would be faster than manually creating individual documents.

Setting Conditional Content

Mail merge offers you a flexible way to produce content based on what your customers want to see. You can easily tailor the content according to the data stored in your mailing list. For example, you might offer one promotion to individuals who live in the western region, but offer a different promotion to those who live in the southern U.S. If you have an entry in your data file that tracks the region in which the customer lives, you can use that data to control the content of your document. To add this kind of conditional content, you use the IF field, available in the Rules tool in the Mailings tab. You can tell Word to insert one set of content IF the contact lives in the western region, or insert a different set of content IF the contact lives in the southern region.