Step-by-step how-to, part two: Cool mail merge tools in OpenOffice 2.0

OpenOffice 2.0's vastly improved Mail Merge Wizard 2.0 has the chops, and it's pretty cool, says OpenOffice expert Solveig Haugland. Find out how to use it in tour.

Dorothy had to survive a tornado to get to Oz. All you had to do was get through the setup process to get to cool

features in OpenOffice 2.0's mail merge wizard.

In this installment, I'll cover customizing and excluding records and alternatives to using the mail merge wizard. In part one, we followed the meandering yellow brick road through the setup process.

Customizing and excluding records -- the cool features

You've gotten through the setup. Now, click Next a couple times through the salutation and layout adjustment windows. Here's where we get to the good stuff.

In window six, you get to exclude any record you want. Granted, it just says "1" for the record rather than giving you the first name or something, but you can keep an eye on the letter that's displayed behind the window and the data there should give you a hint. I'm excluding record two.

After excluding the records you want, click Next. You'll get the Personalize window, which lets you edit particular documents. Let's say you want to tell Mrs. Finch that you enjoyed meeting her at the Lutheran Brotherhood meeting last Thursday.

Click Edit Individual Document if you want to make a change to a particular letter, and scroll down until you find it in the mass document that appears. Save when you're done.

Go back to the wizard window by clicking on this button.

Click Next.

Here you are at the end, where you can print the letters -- all or some -- edit, etc.

To do a standard print, just choose your printer, and choose the range of documents to print. This range is based on only the records you chose, so if you already excluded record 2, for instance, printing 1 to 5 will get you records 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

If you want to save the document, select the Save Merged Document selection, and you get the option to save it as one big document, or as several different ones. Click on all the selections on top to see the resulting options you get below.

Once you finish in this window, you're done. If you've saved the document, then later you can open it and print using File > Print. When a message asks you if you want to print a form letter, say yes.

If you don't need the power features of excluding recipients and personalization, I would just do it the old-fashioned way -- create the mail merge document from scratch, or experiment with the new leaner letter wizard.

Alternatives to the Mail Merge AutoPilot If that's too complicated for you, here are some alternatives.

Using the letter wizard

Back in the good old 1.x days, you could choose File > AutoPilot > Letter and get a mail merge wizard. It would take you through designing a letter, selecting a database, inserting fields, and creating the document. That wizard is still around, under File > Wizards > Letter.

The windows have changed a bit and you see the template in the background as you design it, but the principles are the same—the principles of creating the mail merge document, at least.

However, you can't choose your database here anymore. Not as freely, anyway. My only options are to connect to my address book (which it assumes I've set up already), or to just use placeholders in the letter that I fill in manually later.

So, that makes this feature pretty much just only good for letters. OK, yes, the navigation does say Letter right there in the menu, but it used to be good for a wider variety of documents. It used to be, basically, your mail merge wizard.

If you used to use this feature for your mail merges, you're probably going to have to switch if you have any variety of databases outside your address book.

On the other hand, depending on how you use mail merges, you might find the placeholder feature useful. If you don't send a lot of copies at once and like to do a lot of customization, you might find the placeholder feature useful. It's not much more than an enhanced template but that can be really useful. Here's what the result looks like.

Creating a mail merge document from scratch

If you're not a wizard person and all this strikes you as a little too complicated, you can always create the letter from scratch. That's easy. It works the same way it did in 1.x. Create a new Writer document, choose View > Databases, and expand the database and table you want. Click on the title of each field, like Name or Address, and drag the field into the document. Add whatever other content you want and format it as you like.

Progress for mail merges

Part of my complaining about this feature is, I must confess, just because it's (gasp) different from what I'm used to. I'm getting over that. I think some of the default settings could be smarter and better organized, but those issues can be managed. The point is: Mail Merge Wizard 2.0 has the chops. Give it a try. Use all the features. It's pretty darned powerful.

To go back to the beginning of this tip, click here.

Solveig Haugland has worked as an instructor, course developer, author and technical writer in the high-tech industry for 15 years, for employers including Microsoft Great Plains, Sun Microsystems,and BEA. Currently, Solveig is a StarOffice and OpenOffice.org instructor, author, and freelance technical writer. She is also co-author, with Floyd Jones, of three books: Staroffice 5.2 Companion, Staroffice 6.0 Office Suite Companion and OpenOffice.Org 1.0 Resource Kit, published by Prentice Hall PTR. Her fourth book, on OpenOffice.org 2.0, is coming this summer. For more tips on working in OpenOffice, visit Solveig's OpenOffice blog.

This was first published in February 2006

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