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Prompting for input with ASK and FILLIN

From: Word 2007: Mail Merge in Depth

Video: Prompting for input with ASK and FILLIN

Most organizations have some letters that are sent out periodically with very little change in the letter from one period to the next. For example you might mail or email a monthly meeting reminder, where the only real change is the date and the location for the meeting. Word has two different types of fields called rules fields. It allow you to enter information that will be used in your merged letters at the time you begin the merge, eliminating the need to create a different letter each month.

Prompting for input with ASK and FILLIN

Most organizations have some letters that are sent out periodically with very little change in the letter from one period to the next. For example you might mail or email a monthly meeting reminder, where the only real change is the date and the location for the meeting. Word has two different types of fields called rules fields. It allow you to enter information that will be used in your merged letters at the time you begin the merge, eliminating the need to create a different letter each month.

Here's another version of our simple letter, inviting our team members to the monthly meeting. The meeting moves between locations and so one of the pieces of information that would change each month is the location shown here in Green. Another item that would be different each month is the date of the meeting and then the date that we're sending out the letter about the meeting. So these two items also vary. The information shown in yellow we already know we're picking up out of our data source because we inserted merge fields and address block here and individual merge fields to pick up the recipient's first name in these two locations.

So let's replace our dates here, August 24, 2010, let's simply delete that and we're going to replace it with a fill-in field. In the Write & Insert Fields section, choose Fill-in from the Rules drop-down and there's a prompt that says, "What would you want the user to see to know what they should enter?" So we're going to say, "Enter the date that should appear at the top of the letter." Now, if you're the person doing this merge, you might just say letter date.

But it's helpful to fill in enough information that if you were out of the office or when you get promoted and someone else does your job that you have now, that they understand how this works as well. We're going to check the Ask once checkbox, because the letter date will be the same for every letter that we merge and click OK. As soon as you do this you're actually prompted. You see the prompt that you entered. And we're going to choose to enter August 20, 2010. That will actually be entered there, but it is a field. If I click there you can see that the entire field highlights.

Now let's replace the meeting date here. We need a space and then we're going to insert another Fill-in field that says Enter the date of the meeting and Ask only once. And this meeting is on September 12. If we want to put in the year that's fine and it's inserted. Now, don't think that this Ask once means ask me this time and never again. It's means ask once each time I merge. So let's take a look at how these letters look if we previewed them. But also if we were to simulate the merge, or to complete the merge, and pause to report each error, we would again be prompted at the start of the merge.

What's the date that should appear at the top of the letter and just so we see this work, so let's choose a very different date and a very different date for the date of the meeting. Okay and you'll notice that we have September 1st here and March 8th, in every single letter that gets merged. Now, because we asked Word to simulate the merge, it actually created a file. Let's close this. We don't need it. And return back to our Meeting Cover Letter.

So we've replaced these two dates. Now what we're left with is the meeting location and it appears twice in the letter. We could use Fill-in twice, we could say meeting location first time and meeting location second time as our prompts, but that's a waste because we have another field that we can use with the Word merge that will actually accomplish this for us in one step. This field is called Ask, so we're going to delete the location information that's in here now, hit the Space so that we have a nice space on either side of this field.

So we're going to go back to Rules in the Write & Insert Fields section choose Ask and this opens up the Insert Word Field: Ask dialog box. Now, the way Ask works is it will prompt the user for a piece of information and it then stores it in a bookmark. And a bookmark needs to have a name, so we're going to name this MeetingLocation, no spaces. And now we need to give it a prompt, so we're going to say, "Enter the meeting location." This is what the user will see.

And Ask only once because we're going to send everybody to the same meeting, because it would be either very funny or very tacky to send them somewhere else. And if there was a default location, we could say for example Headquarters Cafe, you always have the ability to overwrite this. And let's say OK. So we'll be prompted and we'll say OK, but notice it doesn't appear anywhere. All we've done is take that piece of information, hand it to Word, which stuffed it into a bookmark. In order to actually see this information, at some point following the bookmark, it can be immediately following the bookmark or it can be five pages later, we actually want to insert a corresponding field that refers to the bookmark.

Sadly, this is not here on the Mailings tab. We need to go to the Insert tab if we weren't there already choose, Quick Parts > Field, go back down to Ref, choose our bookmark name, and say OK. And now notice we have Headquarters Cafe here as well. So I now have a main document that has all the fields that I want. And I want to save this as soon as I'm really convinced that it's a great document, but let's check it out first to make sure we're happy with it.

Let's go over here to Mailings and let's walk through the merge, either by completing the merge in the Checking and Reporting Errors or if you're feeling like you're ready to go, you can go to Edit Individual Documents and actually do the merge and end up with a document. The effect is the same. I'm going to merge all the records. It says what date should appear at the top of letter. Let's choose a new date. Let's choose August 30th, we haven't used this yet, 2010. I keep pressing Enter and when I do it's important that I come back, or I will have an extra return in my letter. Say OK. What is the meeting location? And the meeting location is going to be Bali. Because we deserve it.

And then the date of the meeting is going to be September 22, 2011 and notice here is our first letter. We have both insertions of Bali, we have the meeting date that we inserted, and we have the letter date that we inserted. We can skim through our letters here in the merge by using the Next Page button and you'll notice that the things that changed are the things we would expect to have changed. So we can close this letter though we don't need anymore to return to our main letter, which we do want to keep.

And by saving this, we'll now be able to recreate this merge every single month simply by opening the file and by walking through and entering three pieces of information: the letter date, the meeting date, and the meeting location. By using Fill-in and Ask we can create one generic letter that will work all the time and allow us to enter data on- the-fly rather than needing to have a specialized data source or type these letters separately.

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Word 2007: Mail Merge in Depth

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Gini Courter
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