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By Chris Le Roy
With every new version of Microsoft Office it seems that in Microsoft’s wisdom they decide to change the way in which we do the humble mail merge. In earlier versions of Microsoft Word such as Microsoft Word 2000, the process for undertaking a mail merge was simple. The first step was to create your data source, which by default was a Microsoft Word document with a simple table in it. The next step was to create the main document, which could be a letter or pamphlet. Then the third step was to add your fields to the main document and then finally carry out the merge.
In Microsoft Word 2003, if you are starting a brand new mail merge then you should be aware that you no longer produce a Microsoft Word document as a datasource, in fact the datasource you produce is a Microsoft Access database. I, to a certain degree applaud this move because I am a fervent believer that all raw data should in fact be stored in a database of some sort, it doesn’t matter whether its a Microsoft Access Database, a MySQL Database or SQL Server. The reason for this, is that the database enables the user to use this information more than once and a database is far more stable than a Microsoft Word document, especially if you are working with large volumes of data. You will also find that the Microsoft Access database created by the Mail Merge Wizard is very simple and will only contain a single table with the fields you defined.
The cool thing Microsoft has done with this, is that by storing your raw data in a Microsoft Access database, it enables you in the future to easily share this data with other applications. In fact, it is much easier to move data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or even into a commercial database system like Microsoft SQL Server from Microsoft Access. The new mail merge functionality also enables you to filter and sort your data much easily. The other key benefit is that the Filter allows you to select what data you want to actually include in the mail merge proces.
The issue I have though with the new Microsoft Word 2003 Mail Merge process is the complexity of doing a merge. In particular the long winded way that you have to add the merge fields to your document. In earlier versions of the Microsoft Word application, such as Microsoft Word 2000, you could simply add each merge field to your main document in one go. In Microsoft Word 2003, you must first open the Merge Fields dialogue box each time you want to add a field. That’s right, you have to add each field by selecting the field and then inserting the merge field and then close the dialogue and then you must repeat this step for each individual field. I find this more annoying than anything else.
We could of course manually enter each field in using the shortcut Ctrl + F9 (used to insert a field) but that too I consider is a lot of work. I think in future versions this is something that Microsoft will change but I guess only time will tell.
All in all, I think the new Microsoft Word 2003 Mail Merge Wizard is a positive step forward but for the previous users of the mail merge process it can be a little daunting and confusing.
If you would like some help or step-by-step assistance, my team at One-on-One Personal Computer Training have put together a Microsoft Office Specialist Word 2003 Training kit to help you step through the process of doing a mail merge in Microsoft Word 2003 check our our Microsoft Word Help or check out our Microsoft Excel Courses at Microsoft Excel Help.