Tip

The mystery of the missing mail merge

Solveig Haugland, Site expert

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I didn't know I'd be able to use the Nancy Drew analogy again so soon.

Nancy always gets a tip from a "suspicious event" that something's up. Someone nearly runs her off the road, or Hannah Gruen gives her the mail one morning and there's an odd letter. In the current versions of the book, it's entirely possible that someone will post information on her blog.

Which brings me to my point: The Mystery of the Missing Mail Merge.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to OpenOffice.org 1.4 or so. Back in those days, I taught people to do mail merges with the Address Autopilot. There was another approach, too: very simple and easy. Does this look familiar to anyone?

It was a nice little mail merge tool that let you select your starting document, your data source, and the fields to insert. You got to it by choosing, logically, Tools > Mail Merge.

But where is it now? Click on the Tools menu and all you see is the option for the Mail Merge Wizard, a powerful -- but needless to say -- fairly complex, tool. (If you've read my article on that tool, you'll see that there is in fact an implicit cry of "I just want a nice simple mail merge tool!")

Now, you might think that since you can't find the the old simple Mail Merge tool from 1.4 in any of the menus or toolbars, it had entirely disappeared.

Of course, you'd be dead wrong. Louis, who submitted a comment to my blog, was clever and not at all wrong. He's the OpenOffice.org migration czar for his organization and discovered that the old mail merge was, in fact, still there. He has his users add it back on. They like it a lot, which makes sense because it's simple, straightforward and gets the job done.

Now, this clearly begs the question: "Why take a nice, useful mail merge tool off the Tools menu when it's so helpful?" I guess because it might be confusing, but a name change and a little online help could have smoothed the way.

The other question is "How do I get to it and how do I use it?" I can answer that one far more certainly.

Adding the Simple Mail Merge Tool to a Menu or Toolbar

The first step is to get the tool back in the navigation toolbar/menu where it belongs.

  1. Choose Tools > Customize. Click the Toolbars tab or the Menu tab.
  2. Pick the toolbar or menu that you want to add the Mail Merge icon to.

  3. Click the Add button.
  4. In the Customize window, select Document in the left category and Mail Merge in the right category.

  5. Click Add.
  6. Use the arrows to move the icon to where you want it on the menu or toolbar.
    More OpenOffice tips:

    How-to: Working wonders with OpenOffice 2.0's Web Wizard

    Step-by-step how-to, part one: OpenOffice 2.0's new mail merge tools

    Finding hidden treasures in OpenOffice 2.0's Charting Wizard

    How to get reports on OpenOffice 2.0 Base, part one

  7. Click OK. The icon will show up on the menu or toolbar.
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Using the Simple Mail Merge

You've added it. Now how the heck do you use it? Very easily.

  1. Make sure you've set up your data source. You can do it on the fly, but that's just going to make things complicated. Set up data sources by choosing File > New > Database.
  2. Open the document wherein you want the mail merge fields to be. Set up the default printer to be the one you want to print to.
  3. Choose Tools > Mail Merge, or whatever navigation you set up in the previous section to get to the mail merge.
  4. You'll see this window. Select Current Document, and click OK.

  5. In the next window, choose to use an existing connection and click OK.

  6. Here's the power window. Select the data source you want to use, expand it and select the correct table. I'm just going to stick to inserting the fields. I'm not using the other four items which are powerful but don't mesh with my "this tool is so simple" theme.

  7. Click in the document where you want the first field to appear; you can keep the window open and click in the document at the same time. Select the field you want, and click Insert. The field will appear in your document. Keep inserting until you have all the fields you want, where you want them.

  8. Close the window. You'll see this window, which is the window you need in order to print:
    • If you're not ready to print, just click Cancel. Later when you want to print, just be sure the document is set up to print to the correct printer, then choose File > Print and choose to print a form letter.
    • If you are, specify the range of records and where you want to print, and click OK. The documents will be printed to your default printer.

That's all there is to it. It's pretty simple. If you need advanced features, by all means use the Mail Merge Wizard, and if you're more of a do it yourselfer, there's nothing wrong with choosing View > Data Sources and dragging the fields onto the document yourself.

Thanks again to Louis, to posting on my blog in the first place to the fact that the mail merge was not in fact missing; just sitting alone in the dark and waiting to be used. (If you happen to learn about the location of some gold bullion, however, please e-mail me directly instead.)

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 March 2006

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