Form letters in Word based on an Excel spreadsheet database


The workbook that will be used in this session is named Data.xls The leftmost spreadsheet contains imaginary students with addresses and TOEFL scores. The Code and Campus fields are generated by IF and CHOOSE functions. The Code field also employs the AND function to determine that the student is above 400 in each section of the TOEFL.

1 Seq HS First Last POB State Zip Sx St Lang Elem List Read Struct Avg Code Campus
2 1 CHS Ama Elidok 1230 Chuuk 96942 F C Puluwatese Puluwat 550 540 550 547 3 Natl
3 2 CHS Kofi Jacob 1240 Chuuk 96942 M C Mortlockese Iras 460 480 440 460 2 IEP
Table Notes
  1. In row 2 the function that calculates the average is:
  2. The function that calculates the code is:
  3. The function that calculates the Campus is:
    =CHOOSE(P2,F2&" State Campus","Intensive English Program at "&F2&" State Campus","National Campus in Palikir, Pohnpei")
  1. Start by opening a Microsoft Word.
  2. From the Tools menu select Mail Merge.
  3. Click on the Create button listed under Main Document.
  4. Select Form Letters from the drop down menu.
  5. In the dialog box that appears select Active Window to start the form letter in the new document.

  1. Click on the Get Data button and choose Open Data Source from the menu that drops down (bleow left).

  1. Click on the Get Data button and choose Open Data Source from the menu that drops down.
  2. Set the Files of Type to MS Excel Worksheets.
  3. Click on the Data.xls file.
  4. Click on the Open button.
  5. Click on OK in the next dialog box.
  6. Choose Edit in the next dialog box.

We are now ready to compose the document that will act as the template for the form letter. Note that a new tool bar has appeared above the document ruler:

  1. Enter our address in the first three lines of the document:
    College of Micronesia-FSM
    P.O. Box 159 Kolonia
    Pohnpei FM 96941-0159
  2. After typing in the zip code press the Enter key a couple times to move down the page.
  3. Click on the Insert Merge Field button to access the merge field drop down list.
  4. Choose the First name field from the list. Note that the drop down menu items are the field names in the Data.xls spreadsheet.

    The result should be the appearance of: «First» in the document.
  5. Use the menu to add the rest of the student’s address, placing spaces and returns as appropriate. Items in « » brackets are field names to be inserted from the Insert Merge Field Menu. Note that the letters FM, Dear, and the final full colon were typed in. Within the FSM the four states share the common state code FM. The result should be:

    College of Micronesia-FSM
    P.O. Box 159 Kolonia
    Pohnpei FM 96941-0159

    «First» «Last»
    «State» FM «Zip»

    Dear «First» «Last»:

    Continue editing the template with the addition of the following sentence:
    Congratulations! You have been selected to attend the «Campus».

    J.J. Ofari-Awuko

    Note that any field in the Excel database could be included in a form letter. A student’s TOEFL scores could be reported back to the student.

    The next step is to perform the actually "merge" of the data into the template.
  6. From the Tools menu select Mail Merge.
  7. Note that the dialog box now displays three new buttons. The Edit buttons afford one the option of editing either the template or the database. The third new button, Query Options, lets us filter the database. Although one can merge the whole the database, one can also merge on filtered subset of the data. The filter has to be set from Query Options as opposed to being set by using the Autofilter feature in Excel. For practice we will merge only the students who are Code 3, admitted to the National Campus at Palikir.
  8. Click on Query Options.
  9. Under the word Field: use the drop down list control to select the Code field. The Comparison field is set to equal to. This can be changed if needed. A grade book might be filtered to produce midterm deficiency form letters for all students with a midterm average of less than 70. For now, leave this field set to the default Equal to setting.
  10. Type the number 3 into the Compare to field that appears. This dialog box could be used to set up any type of filter, numeric or alphabetic. If the Field is set to HS and the Compare to field is set to CHS then form letters for only the students attending Chuuk High School would be produced. Click on OK once the mail merge options are set.
  11. The main Mail Merge Helper dialog box should be open after OK’ing the Query Options. Click on the Merge button to the left of the Query Options button in this dialog box to see the following dialog box:
  12. This dialog box controls where the final merge of the data with the template. Normally you would perform this final merge directly to a printer and thus this final step should be taken only on a machine connected to a heavy duty printer.

    You can, as we will today, opt to merge to a New Document and then save that document to a disk, but the resulting document is often too LARGE to fit on a floppy disk. If the document is large enough a merge to a New document could overflow the memory or hard disk.

    What printers are capable of handling a mail merge? The only printers that are actually designed for this sort of work are our largest work horses: the Hewlett Packard 4 and 5N in the Office of Admissions and Records, and the similar machine on Norma Edwin’s desk. I think FAO and the Business Office each also have such printers. Do NOT merge to an ink jet printer such as the Hewlett Packard 690 or 870 series printers, they are not designed to handle the load. Not to mention the number of ink cartridges one consume.
  13. In the Merge dialog box the Check Errors button accesses a dialog box that control the error handling mode. If the merge is particularly large and will be left to run unattended (such as overnight) these parameters will need to be set. For our small merge we will not need to adjust these settings.

    There is also the option to Merge only certain records, Records to be merged. This allows one to merge only a single record (one student) or a set of records, say from five to ten. Remember that one record is one row in Excel. I find this feature to be of limited usefulness. This feature requires knowing what number the record is in the set.

    Although a Sequence number column can provide information on the record number, the Query Options can be used to enter a filter to handle the production of single records. A filter can be set to the first name and in the second row of the filter the last name can be entered to produce a single form letter. The most productive use of this feature is in producing a test merge of the first two to three records to check the output before committing to a 4000 record merge.
  14. Click on the Merge button with Merge To: set to New Document.

    The computer will work for a few moments and then produce a new document with the data merged into the new document.
  15. Choosing the Print Preview in Word should show that each section is a new page. At this point one could print the form letters from Word.

Microsoft Access note: If the data is in Microsoft Access then at the Open Data Source dialog box choose MS Access as the type. After selecting the desired database and clicking on Open, a dialog box will appear that allows one to select the desired table or query. Query Options prior to merge can also be set for an Access database.

The template with the field names should be saved. This document can be opened and edited. The document remembers the data source.

Remember when you go to perform the merge to a printer to take with you on a floppy disk BOTH the form template file AND the Excel or Access database!

Office 97 and 2000 User notes (Linda, Pastora, Quly, and anyone else using 97 or 2000)

One other caution: Office 97 files are not compatible with Office 95 files. Those using Office 97 or Office 2000 and wishing to exchange documents with Office 95 users face a host of complications. Both the Word form template and the Excel spreadsheet must be saved in a format compatible with Microsoft Office 95.

Unfortunately the option to save in Office 95 versions from Office 97 do not always function properly. Due either to incompetence, inattention, or sheer arrogance, the converters to save Word 97 documents in Word 95 formats do not work properly in the early versions of Word 97. Problems also sometimes occur when saving Excel 95 files using Excel 97.  There are work-arounds.  Please contact me if you are in need of making conversions.

Sample work-around

Excel 97 documents can be saved and transferred using Excel 4.0 Workbook (not worksheet!) format. Office 97 will kick and scream that you about lose your formatting, your functions, your data, and your life. This is basically a lie designed to scare you. Functions such as IF, CHOOSE, and FREQUENCY date back to version 4.0 and are preserved. Subtotals and filter settings will be lost, but I have never lost actual data. There are various small glitches you might encounter, such as if you save in 4.0 format with subtotals active then the subtotals will not be automatically removeable when the document is reopened.