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Mail merge is a process to create personalized letters and pre-addressed envelopes or mailing labels for mass mailings from a form letter. The feature is usually employed on a word processing document which contains fixed text (which is the same in each output document) and variables (which act as placeholders that are replaced by text from the data source). The feature dates back to early word processors on personal computers, circa 1980. WordStar was perhaps the earliest to provide this, originally via an ancillary program called MailMerge. WordPerfect also offered this capacity for CP/M and MS-DOS systems, and Microsoft Word added it later on.
The data source is typically a spreadsheet or a database which has a field or column for each variable in the template. When the mail merge process is run, the word processing system creates an output document for each row in the database, using the fixed text exactly as it appears in the template, but substituting the data variables in the template with the values from the matching columns.
The mail merging process generally requires the following steps:
- Creating a Main Document/Template.
- Creating a Data Source.
- Defining the Merge Fields in the main document.
- Merging the Data with the main document.
A common usage is for creating "personalized" letters, where a template is created, with a field for "Given Name", for example. The templated letter says "Dear <Given Name>", and when executed, the mail merge creates a letter for each record in the database, so it appears the letter is more personal. It is often used for Variable Data Printing. It can also be used to create address labels from a Customer Relationship Management database, or for mass emails with pertinent information in them, perhaps a username and password.
- Word processors
- Variable data printing
- Desktop publishing
- Digital printing
- Dynamic publishing
- Mass customization