Mail Merge is like one of those old friends you haven’t called for years. Underestimated and ignored, until the day you need them badly.
You just don’t realize its potential until you’ve been delegated the job of managing a few hundred invites at the last minute. Maybe, they are a bunch of wedding invites or a red alert to an impending zombie apocalypse. Or, it could be something innocuous – like printing a bunch of address labels and name badges.
Don’t worry. You can send personalized mass emails with Microsoft Outlook 2016 in a few minutes with a few clicks. And save the day.
When Should You Use Mail Merge?
Before I leap ahead, mail merge is used when you want to create several documents that are basically the same but where each document contains unique details. The emails share the same format and the same text and graphics if any. For example, invitations where the text stays the same but the name, address, or even the subject bits are unique for each.
Mail merge — unlike emailing a message to a group of people — makes each recipient of the message the sole recipient.
The best use I have found so far for them – use the mass email as a job hunting power tool with custom details for each employer.
The mail merge feature uses two parts:
- The main constant document (here: Microsoft Word) where you write the body of the email.
- The changeable data source (here: Microsoft Outlook Contacts) that is usually the address and the name of the recipient.
These two are “merged”. With Outlook being a part of the Microsoft Office suite, one can use this feature to send mails in bulk, each personalized for a different contact. It isn’t spamming, although I guess in the wrong hands, mail merge can be used to carpet bomb with unsolicited emails.
Microsoft Office allows you to use different data sources for the address details – for instance, you can use an Excel spreadsheet or even an Access database. Here, you will use your Outlook contacts to send forth the emails.
Prepare Your Pool of Contacts for the Mail Merge
So, let’s break down the steps after you launch Outlook.
1. Open People to display the list of your contacts.
Select the contacts (CTRL + Click) you want to include in the personalized email list. To make it easier to manage a huge list, use the Sort options available (click on the dropdown arrow next to All). To make it more manageable, you can sort by Categories via the same dropdown.
Do note: Mail Merge does not work with distribution lists.
2. Select Mail Merge from Ribbon > Home > Actions Group.
3. In the Mail Merge Contacts screen that you should see now, choose Only selected contacts if the personalized email is meant for a select batch of contacts. Under the Merge options section down below, select the following parameters.
- Document type: Form Letters
- Merge to: Email
- Message Subject Line: The subject line will not change for all the emails. So, follow the rules to make the subject line stand-out in a choked inbox.
4. Click OK and then Microsoft Word will launch for you to compose the personalized message.
Write the Personalized Message in Microsoft Word
The Mailings tab on the Ribbon is on view front and center. Here, you will want to start your mass email with a personalized greeting line. From the Mailings tab in Microsoft Word, select Greeting Line.
As you can see, the dialog box has been pre-populated the name of Mr. Randall. This is just a placeholder for names from your contacts list. Just below that, you can check a preview of the names from your list. You can customize the entries with the options given here.
Do note that the merge fields come from the column headings in your mailing list. So, if there is a mismatch, use Match Fields to ensure that the merge stays accurate. If a field you want says “Not Matched”, select the drop-down list for that field and then choose the column name that matches that column in your list.
When you click OK and exit from here, a placeholder for the greeting line (Dear Mr.…) is placed in the Word document.
Remember this: You can enter extra information to the document with additional fields.
Click on Insert Merge Field. This data must be present in your original data source that is in this case, the Contacts information in Outlook. Examples include – home address, home phone, job title etc. You can see the complete list when you click the tiny dropdown arrow.
Format the Greeting. To format the greeting line the way you want, highlight the whole field, including the marks at each end. Go to the Home tab and use Font settings. Also, set the Line Spacing to make sure the line spacing matches the spacing in the rest of your document.
Type the Message Now
The beginning of the message is the <<GreetingLine>> placeholder and/or any other field you inserted with the help of extra merge fields. Compose your message. Remember, this is mass emailing at its best. So, make sure to use all the email etiquette you can muster.
When the body of the email is done, click on Finish & Merge > Send E-mail Messages.
The Merge to E-mail dialog box opens. Click OK.
MS Word then does the job of automatically posting the emails in a flash. Word sends an individual email to each address. You can’t CC or BCC other recipients, and you cannot add attachments to the email.
You can save the document you used for the mail merge, as it also saves the link with the data source i.e. the contacts. When you open the mail merge document, choose Yes when Word prompts you to keep the connection.
Add This Timesaver to Your Email Toolset
Once you get the hang of it, the whole process takes barely a few minutes from start to finish. In the same time, it takes to compose an email for just a single person, now you can do so for a group. It doesn’t matter how large the group is.
Also, it is a good group email behavior to use a recipient’s name as a greeting. It lends a more personal touch to the email. Something, a CC-ed email sorely lacks.
Next, you can try mail merge to print letters, labels, and envelopes. It is a powerful technique for anyone to learn and use.
Do you use mail merge for email? Or, are you stuck with the more common habit of carbon copy (CC) and even more “anonymous” blind carbon copy (BCC)? Share your productivity tips for Outlook with us below.