<firstimage=”http://www.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/gear1.jpg”>While there are a lot of things I don’t like about Microsoft Word, there are many more things I love about it. In particular, I like how flexible the drawing tools are, the included templates for things like letters and resumes, and most of all, I love the ability to automate many of the tasks that you do often. One of those tasks is sending reports or emails.
Most of us are faced with a job where you have to send a report to an entire team of people. What makes this worse sometimes is that you have to send individually tailored emails to each person with specific information pertaining to them. Maybe 80 to 90% of the verbiage is the same, but that 10 or 20% specific to the person is unique – so you find yourself spending hours writing up email after email.
Sending Automated Emails
In the past, I wrote about how you could automate Google Analytics to send out scheduled reports, which you could then pass on to your boss or client. But the form of automation that I’m going to show you today is a little different. Instead of producing the data for you, Word is going to automatically fill in the details about the person on your contact list, while allowing you to quickly fill in the data or information that you want to send to that person. This makes the email feel personal and direct, but at the same time you aren’t spending hours writing up tens or hundreds of personal, direct emails.
To get started, in Word (in my examples it’s Word 2007), click on “Mailings” and then click “Start Mail Merge.”
The Wizard isn’t necessary, but it’s nice because it helps you to remember everything you need to do. First, pick a template that you’d like to use for your generic report.
Word has a lot of good styles and layouts. Once you choose your template, just click OK. Now your entire report is written for you, all you have to do is fill in the text. When it comes to the date, make sure to choose “today” so that the document always uses today’s date every time you recreate it later.
When you choose your recipient list to receive these emails, you can use your current Outlook contacts, a current contact list that you’ve exported from somewhere else, or create a new list of contacts.
In my example, I’ve selected recipients from my current Outlook contacts.
Now that you have your recipients selected, you’re going to tell the document what information to pull out of the Contacts information and automatically embed into the report. You do this by clicking on the “Insert Merge Field” button.
For example, I’m creating a report about a specific website for a client, so I’ve defined that website in their Contact details, and here I’m telling Word to use that URL in the report.
If you’re using Outlook, don’t forget that Outlook Contacts offers User Fields, where you can insert any information you want for that person.
This is useful when the information you want to embed for that person isn’t found in the Contact List fields.
The coolest thing about the Microsoft Word Mailings is that you basically create “fill-in” fields for the parts of the report that are unique for each person.
So as you’re writing the generic message and you get to a place where you have to write something that would have specific data relevant to that person, just click on “Rules” and choose “Fill-in“. This lets you define the prompt question and a default answer. What will happen is when you load up your automated document, it will prompt you to fill in every single one of the fill-in fields for each recipient.
Once you’re finished creating your automated mailing, your document will consist of some fields that automatically fill in based on recipient Contact details, and other fields will fill in based on what you’ve specified for information.
For each document, you can quickly send out the email report from Word by clicking the Outlook button on the upper right part of the screen, choosing “Send Email” (or send as PDF attachment), and you’re done!
Using this technique, you’ll cut down your correspondence work by at least 50% or more. Up front it’ll take you some time to get the document set up perfectly, but every week or month that you need to issue the report, you’ll be very happy that you put in the effort.
Give Microsoft Word Mailings a shot and let us know how it went. Did it save you time? Share your own experiences with it in the comments section below!