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In Word 2007: Mail Merge in Depth, author Gini Courter demonstrates how to take advantage of Word's Mail Merge feature to save a tremendous amount of time creating customized documents. The course offers tutorials on creating letters, emails, envelopes, and labels. It also shows how to use Mail Merge with Outlook and Excel, creating data sources, inserting fields, using IF and other rules for customized merges, and troubleshooting Mail Merge issues. Exercise files are included with the course.
As soon as you connect your Word Primary document to a data source, you create a relationship between the primary document and the data. If you move the data from one location to another, Word will have difficulty finding the data for your primary merge and every time you open the file, Word asks you if it's okay to use that data, if the data is from a data source other than Microsoft Outlook? You don't need to try to follow along with this. Just watch and I'll try to go through it fairly quickly so that you can see how this works.
When I open a mail merge letter, as soon as Word starts to open it, the letter says "hey, wait a second, I'm connected to a data source somewhere else," and so Word then will prompt you to say, "do you know that this letter intends to go grab some information from a data source?" Now this says it's running a SQL command, which it is. What it doesn't tell you is this information is sitting in an Excel worksheet. This looks far more dangerous than it is. It's not a big risk. It says it's going to select Star, which is all the records out of the spreadsheet named Team Members that's sitting in Microsoft Excel.
If you wanted more information you can click Show Help, and it will give you the information that I'm going to give you right now. Which says that if this is okay with you, click Yes and everything will be fine. But if you click No, you won't be accessing this information from the database. So we're going to click Yes, and in this case we have another problem. What's happened is that Microsoft SQL can't find our dataset anymore. This is unusual. The first thing is very usual. We expect to have it ask us, can it actually open the dataset? But in this case after we gave permission, Word went out to look for the dataset and it can't find it.
Several things could have happened here. The most likely thing is that this dataset has been moved. The Excel workbook that contained the information is somewhere else. This error might be seen as being misleading, because it says the Microsoft Office Access database engine couldn't find the object. But it's not looking for Access database. It's that the same engine that Access uses is the engine that Excel uses. So pay attention that it's looking for an XLS file or an Excel file. It says make sure the object exists and that you spell its name and the path name correctly.
Well, we haven't spelled anything, but Word has. If we click OK, we'll actually see the properties of this connection that we created by attaching this data source to our Word primary document and we could try to type in some corrected information if we know where this file has been moved to, and if you do that you can then click Test Connection. This is a heavy-duty dialog box meant for connections not just to Excel, but to Access and SQL and Oracle and other things.
But the easiest thing to do here is to say I'd like a browse button. And you do that by clicking OK. Seeing the error again and clicking OK, and then you'll be prompted, would you like to just find this data source? So we'll say yes, and now we're back in the familiar Select Data Source dialog box that we used to actually identify the data source in the first place. So we'll go back and we'll find that this document has been erroneously moved onto the Desktop. But if I connect to it and say OK, then we're right back where we were to begin with.
Now, this data connection will be saved again when I save this merged document. So if my intention is to move this file back to where it belongs, I can just close this Word document without saving it, move the file back to the location that it was in originally, and then the next time I open it I'll simply be prompted, and because it's back, Word thinks it is. I won't see those errors. One more thought about how Word is managing the data connections to our various data sources. For our Excel and our Access and SQL and Oracle data sources, if you have a choice and it's your data source and your letter, it's preferential to keep them both in the same folder, because if you simply move that folder around, Word isn't going to have any trouble finding your Excel workbook or your Access database.
It knows it's in the same place the document is. So if you put them both on a thumb drive or both on a CD, Word will have no trouble at all finding its data source. On the other hand if you need to move either the letter or the data source, you're almost always better moving the letter. Word is fairly good at keeping track of its data connections as long as the data source itself doesn't move. But worst case, the person who owns the data source moves it, all you need to be able to do is twice tell that error that you don't have a clue where to find that and it will offer you more help.
That nice dialog that says go find that data source. The most important thing to remember about all of this is that there are three elements to your Word merge: the primary file, your data source and the connection in between. And you need to manage all three of those in order to have a long-lived Word merge file that's going to work well for you.
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