Perform a Mail Merge in Microsoft Word to Generate Form Letters for Bulk Mailings

by Avantix Learning Team | Updated January 10, 2021

Applies to: Microsoft® Word® 2013, 2016, 2019 and 365 (Windows)

You can use mail merge in Microsoft Word to create form letters, labels, envelopes and even a catalog or directory. In this article, we’ll review the process for creating form letters for multiple contacts or clients. You’ll need to create a main document or letter in Microsoft Word and then connect to a data set of names and addresses in a Word document, Excel worksheet, delimited file or database like Microsoft Access. When you run the mail merge, you have the option of creating a new merged file (which would include a letter for each contact) or merge directly to a printer.

Recommended article: How to Create Labels in Word Using Mail Merge and Excel Source Data

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Understanding the mail merge process for form letters

There are 7 steps in the mail merge process to create form letters in Word:

  1. Start the merge and specify the main document for the letter.
  2. Select the source file containing the data set with names and addresses. Microsoft refers to a data set or database as a list. It’s best to create this file before you begin the mail merge process.
  3. Insert fields into the letter and any other required content (such as the body of the letter and signature).
  4. Format the letter.
  5. Select specific recipients or filter the recipient list (optional).
  6. Preview the merged letter (optional).
  7. Run the mail merge.

During the mail merge process, fields are inserted into the main document and appear in carets (such as <<FirstName>>). By default, when you click in a field, it is displayed with grey shading. When you run the merge, the fields are replaced by data from the source file.

In this article, we’ll be using the Mailings tab in the Ribbon to set up and run a mail merge (not the Mail Merge Wizard):

Mailings tab in the Ribbon in Microsoft Word for mass mailings.

Step 1: Start the merge and specify the main document

The first step in the mail merge process is to start the merge using Start Mail Merge on the Mailings tab in the Word Ribbon:

Start mail merge command in Word Mailings tab in the Ribbon.

To start the merge and specify the main document as a form letter:

  1. Create a new blank document or open a Word document containing a sample letter.
  2. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Start Mail Merge in the Start Mail Merge group.
  3. From the drop-down menu, select the type of document you want to create. In this case, select Letters. By default, Word uses the current document. At this point, you may want to insert other components such as a date, the body of the letter and a signature.

Step 2: Select the source file containing the data set

The next step is to connect to a source file containing a list of names and addresses using Select Recipients. The source file can be a Microsoft Word document containing a table or delimited data, Excel worksheet or even a table or query in a database such as Microsoft Access. For Word tables and Excel spreadsheets, the first row in the table or worksheet must contain field names such as FirstName, LastName, Company, Address and so on. In a Word source file, there cannot be any paragraphs above the table or data. You can also use a comma or tab delimited file as long as the first line in the document contains field names. In delimited files, the field names and data are separated by a delimiter such as a comma or tab.

Select Recipients appears on the Mailings tab in the Ribbon:

Select recipients command in Word Mailings tab in the Ribbon.

In the following example, note that the field names are in the first row of a Word table which will be used as a source:

Word source table for mail merge form letters.

In the following Excel example, note that the field names are in the first row of the worksheet which will be used as a source:

Excel worksheet used for source for Word mail merge.

To select a Microsoft Word source file containing a table with names and addresses:

  1. In the main Word document, click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Select Recipients in the Start Mail Merge group. A dialog box appears.
  2. Click Use an Existing List from the drop-down menu. A dialog box appears.
  3. Navigate to the Word file containing the names and addresses you want to use.
  4. Double-click the file.

To select a Microsoft Excel source file containing a worksheet with names and addresses:

  1. In the main Word document, click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Select Recipients in the Start Mail Merge group. A dialog box appears.
  2. Click Use an Existing List from the drop-down menu. A dialog box appears.
  3. Navigate to the Excel file containing the names and addresses you want to use.
  4. Double-click the file. A dialog box appears.
  5. Ensure First row of data contains column headers is checked.
  6. Click the Excel worksheet containing the data you wish to use.
  7. Click OK.

The following dialog box appears when you select an Excel file as the source for a merge:

Excel dialog box to select worksheet to be used for Word form letters.

Step 3: Insert fields from the source file

Once you have connected to a source file, you can insert fields into the main document or letter. You have the option of using special Word fields such as Address Block and Greeting Line (for example, to insert Dear John) or inserting individual fields.

Address Block and Greeting Line appear as follows in the Ribbon:

Address block for mail merge in Microsoft Word.

To insert the Address Block field:

  1. Click in the main document where you want to insert an address block.
  2. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Address Block in the Write & Insert Fields group. A dialog box appears. Word will display an address based on the source data.
  3. In the samples on the left, select the address sample you prefer.
  4. Check or uncheck other options if necessary.
  5. Click OK. Word inserts an Address Block field into the main document.

For Address Block, select a sample address in the area on the left in the Insert Address Block dialog box:

Insert address block dialog box in Word for form letters.

To insert a Greeting Line field:

  1. Click in the main document where you want to insert a greeting.
  2. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Greeting Line in the Write & Fields group. A dialog box appears. Word will display a greeting based on the source data.
  3. Select greeting line options for the Greeting line format.
  4. Select an option for invalid recipient names.
  5. Click OK. Word inserts a Greeting Line field into the main document.

For Greeting Line, select greeting line options in the Insert Greeting Line dialog box:

Insert greeting line dialog box in Word for form letters.

To insert fields individually:

  1. Click in the main document where you want to insert a field (such as FirstName).
  2. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then select Insert Merge Field in the Write & Insert Fields group.
  3. From the drop-down menu, select the field you want to insert.
  4. Press the spacebar, type text or press Enter if necessary.
  5. Repeat for other fields you want to insert.

Step 4: Format the letter

You may need to apply formatting to the letter such as changing the font and size and adjusting paragraph spacing.

It’s common for an Address Block field or address lines to have extra paragraph spacing above and / or below lines in the address when the results are previewed or printed. This is caused by default settings for space above and below paragraphs.

To remove the paragraph spacing:

  1. Select the Address Block field or other lines (often in the address if you have inserted individual fields).
  2. Click the Home tab in the Ribbon and select the dialog box launcher on the bottom right of the Paragraph group.
  3. Select Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style. Alternatively, change the space above and below the paragraph(s).
  4. Click OK.

Step 5: Select specific recipients or filter the recipient list (optional)

You have the option of specifying specific recipients or filtering the recipient list if you don’t want to create form letters for all contacts in the data source.

To choose specific contacts:

  1. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Edit Recipient List in the Start Mail Merge group. A dialog box appears.
  2. Uncheck the check boxes beside the recipients you do not want to include in the mail merge.
  3. Click OK.

To filter the source list:

  1. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Edit Recipient List in the Start Mail Merge group. A dialog box appears.
  2. Click Filter. A dialog box appears.
  3. Select / enter the desired filtering options.
  4. Click OK.

For example, below is a filter to display records from Toronto:

Filtering dialog box in Word for mail merge for form letters.

To remove the filter, repeat the process, but click Clear All in the Filter and Sort dialog box.

Step 6: Preview the results (optional)

Before you run the mail merge, you can preview the results:

  1. In the main document, click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Preview Results in the Preview Results group.
  2. Click the arrows in the Preview Results group to go to the next or previous letter.
  3. Click Preview Results to view the fields again.

Step 7: Run the mail merge for letters

The final step is to run the merge. You can either create a new merged document or merge directly to a printer.

To run the letter mail merge in the main document and create a new merged document:

  1. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and then click Finish & Merge in the Finish group. A drop-down menu appears.
  2. Click Edit Individual Documents. A dialog box appears.
  3. Click Current Record or enter a selected range if necessary.
  4. Click OK. Word creates a new merged document that you can edit, print and save. Each letter will appear on a new page in a new section.

The following dialog box appears when you select Edit individual documents.

Merge to new document in Word for form letters.

To run the letter mail merge in the main document and print the merged documents:

  1. Click the Mailings tab in the Ribbon and click Finish & Merge in the Finish group. A drop-down menu appears.
  2. Select Print Documents. A dialog box appears.
  3. Click Current Record or enter a selected range if necessary.
  4. Click OK. A dialog box appears.
  5. Select the desired printer and other printer options.
  6. Click OK.

The following dialog box appears when you select Print Documents:

Merge to printer dialog box in Word.

You will typically want to save the main document and the source file. If you save the merged file, you will have a record of the letters that were created.

The process is similar for labels. The main document would be labels (usually a label type with a product code) and would connect to the source document in the same way.

This article was first published on December 9, 2019 and has been updated for clarity and content.

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Summary
How to Use Mail Merge in Word for Form Letters (Step by Step)
Article Name
How to Use Mail Merge in Word for Form Letters (Step by Step)
Description
You can use mail merge in Microsoft Word to create form letters, labels, envelopes and even a catalog or directory. In this article, we’ll review the process for creating form letters for multiple contacts or clients. You’ll need to create a main document or letter in Microsoft Word and then connect to a data set of names and addresses in a Word document, Excel worksheet, delimited file or database like Microsoft Access.
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Avantix Learning

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