Mail merge

Pro Tip: Combine Outlook Categories with a Word Mail Merge

Outlook categories aren’t just for organizing. Susan Harkins shows you how to use Outlook categories to selectively merge contact information with a Word document.

Merging Outlook contact information with a Word document is a common task for Office users. With Outlook’s many sorting and grouping features, you can narrow down sent contacts in several ways. One way to selectively choose contacts is to specify a category.

You may already be using categories — they’re a great visual tool, but they’re so much more than that! Categories are a useful tool for managing items by people, subject, priority, etc. You can use them to sort, populate search folders, or to visually locate something. In this article, I will show you how to combine categories with a mail merge to selectively manage the contacts sent in the merge. Like many features, categories have improved with each release. On the other hand, it makes it nearly impossible to cover all versions comprehensively. I will be using Outlook 2010 and you can apply the instructions to 2013 and 2007. Outlook 2003 categories are text, but the technique still works. I will note differences between versions where significant.

Bring categories into play

The first time you apply a category, Outlook will ask you to name it. You can rename it or not, but giving the category a meaningful name helps. If you don’t see a Categories field in the title bar, you can add it. Simply right-click on the title bar and choose Field Chooser. Next, drag Categories from the resulting list to the title bar and drop it, as shown in Figure A. To move the field, click and drag it.

Figure A

Add the Categories field.

If you don’t see the title bar in Outlook 2013, make the width of the list pane a little bigger. Also, Outlook 2013 calls it the Category field (not Categories).

To apply a category, select the item, then right-click the Categories field for that item. Then choose a category from the resulting dialog as shown in Figure B. (I’ve already given meaningful names to most of mine.) If you right-click another field for the selected item, choose Categories from the context menu to access the list shown in Figure B. You can assign multiple categories to an item, and they’re not just for mail items.

Figure B

Choose a category.

If categories aren’t available, you might have an IMAP account that doesn’t support Outlook categories. However, you can convert an IMAP account to a POP3 account, which it does. Consult your administrator before attempting to convert your account.

Most of the time, you’ll use categories to group and find items. You can skip this section and go straight to merging. You don’t need to group your items first to merge. To group items by category, click the Categories heading in the title bar. If you prefer, you can populate a search folder with mail items categorized as follows:

  1. If you have multiple accounts, click the appropriate account.
  2. Click Search Folders, then choose New Search Folder — or click the Folder tab, then click New Search in the New group.
  3. Choose Categorized Mail under Organizing Mail.
  4. Under Customize search folder, click Choose.
  5. Select the appropriate category(ies) (Figure C).
    Figure C
  6. Double-click OK (Figure D).
    Figure D

Let’s merge!

Now that you’ve mastered categories, let’s use one with a mail merge. In the Contacts (People in Outlook 2013) window, assign a category to a few contacts. Simply right-click on a contact and choose Categorize. Then choose a category.

When you’re ready to merge, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the View tab.
  2. Choose List from the Change View option in the Current View group.
  3. Click Categories in the Layout group (Figure E), and Outlook will group your contacts by categories. If you are using Outlook 2007, choose Current View from the View menu. In Outlook 2003, choose Arrange By from the View menu, and then select Current View.
    Figure E
  4. Select the contacts you want to merge by selecting one or more specific category groups. I choose Family (Figure F).
    Figure F
  5. Click the Home tab.
  6. Click Mail Merge in the Actions group. In Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003, choose Mail Merge from the Tools menu.
  7. Click Only the selected contact in the Contacts section to limit the merge to the contacts you selected in step 4 (G-figure).
  8. Select all other options (if any) for the current merge.
  9. Click OK. Outlook will launch Word. At this point, continue the merge session from Word as you normally would.

If you’re familiar with the mail merge process, this quick selection technique will help you work more efficiently. If you’re not familiar with direct mail, don’t worry. You may not succeed in everything immediately, but with a little exploration you will be merging in no time!

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