There is a very good reason people spend upwards of US$400 on office suites: The ability to take data created for a specific use in one component and drop it into a document created in another component. Nowhere has the adage "killing two birds with one stone" been truer. And nowhere is this synergy more apparent, not to mention easier to use, than with the mail merge feature in Word.
While it is nice that Word can create its own data source, your options for using this data are limited. Further, if you already have your data in a spreadsheet, it doesn’t make much sense to retype all the information into Word’s data source. Fortunately, Word’s mail merge feature will work seamlessly with data from Excel.
Preparing Your Data for Mail Merge
Theoretically, you can use any Excel worksheet in a Word mail merge function without any special preparation. However, I recommend that you do take some time to prepare your worksheet to optimize the mail merge process. Here are a few guidelines you should observe to make the mail merge process go more smoothly:
1. At the risk of stating the obvious, your data should be organized neatly into rows and columns. Think of each row as a single record and each column as a field you are going to insert into your document.
2. Create a header row for the sheet you intend to use for the mail merge. A header row is a row containing labels that identify the data in the cells below. Excel can be finicky sometimes about differentiating between data and labels, so I like to provide clues: bold text, a cell border, and cell shading that are unique to the header row will ensure Excel differentiates it from the rest of your data. Later when you are merging the data with the main document, the labels will appear as the names of the merge fields, so there will be no confusion as to what data you are inserting into your document. Further, it makes good practice to label your columns, as it helps prevent user error.
3. The data you intend to use for the mail merge must be on one sheet. If it is spread across multiple sheets, you will need to combine the sheets or perform multiple mail merges. Also, make sure the sheets are clearly named, as you will need to be able to select the sheet you intend to use without viewing it.
Once you make sure your data is prepared, you’re ready for the next step.
Next: Setting up the Main Document
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