OpenOffice Writer: Mail Merge

Direct marketing exists more or less from direct communication with the customers. If advertising letters are to be sent for this purpose, a letter generally needs to be created and printed. The required form letter can be easily created with OpenOffice Writer.

The OpenOffice Writer includes a mail merge wizard to link an existing or a new document with address data for the purpose of creating a form letter. It can be found in the 'Extras' menu and it guides the user through the following eight steps to create a form letter:

  1. Select starting document: You will probably select 'Use the current document'.
  2. Select the document type: Since we want to create a form letter and not an email message, we select 'Letter'.
  3. Insert address block: In this step, you have to select the table with the addresses you want to use, and match the data fields to the address blocks. You will find more information on this step further below.
  4. Create salutation: If you want the letters to have a personalised salutation, e.g. 'Dear Albert Einstein', you have to indicate the required information in this step: In addition to the 'General salutation', you can also create a 'Personalised salutation’, which you can choose freely. With the latter, you can create a different salutation for men and for women, if needed. To do this, OpenOffice has to be able to differentiate between male and female recipients based on the address data. Indicate the column in which the salutation / gender has been stored and the field value for female recipients used there, for example 'F'.
  5. Adjust layout: In this step, you can adjust the position of the address block and the line with the salutation on the document.
  6. Edit document: Here, the form letter can be verified and adjusted if necessary. You can find the corresponding preview in the main window of OpenOffice Writer. It is also still possible here to remove individual recipients from the mailing list, but it makes more sense to do this by editing the address list.
  7. Personalise documents: In this step, you can create a personalised document for each recipient on the address list. For a one-page starting document, the whole form letter then consists of a personalised page for each recipient. However, since postal services generally require that all letters be identical except for the address block and the salutation in order to take advantage of cheaper postage rates for sales letters, this option should not be used.
  8. Save, print or send: In this last step, both the starting document and the form letter can be saved, printed or sent by email.

When creating a form letter, the third step, ‘Insert address block', is the most important. This step can be divided into the following three subsections:

  1. Selecting the address list: By using the 'Select different address list' button, you can select an address source for the form letter. When the data source is not displayed in the list with the available data sources, it can be inserted by using the 'Insert' button. The options here include, among others, Excel files (XLS). In doing so, make sure that the Excel file includes column headers in the first row, otherwise the columns of the address list cannot be matched with the individual components of the address block. You can read more about how to complete the column headings in the article 'Excel: Inserting column headings'.
  2. Selecting the address block: Here, you can determine whether the form letter should have an address block or not, and if yes, how you want it to look. You can select among a whole series of pre-defined address blocks by using the 'More' button. If you do not find a fitting address block among the pre-defined address blocks, then you can create your own address block with the 'New' button. However, the OpenOffice Writer is not very flexible at this point: If the addresses contain more than one row for the company name, unfortunately you cannot simply insert another address element into the address block for the second data field of the company name. Since you cannot create any new address elements, one of the existing address elements has to be converted for this purpose. Of course, this may lead to errors, since the designation of the address elements no longer reflects what it is actually used for.
  3. Matching the fields: Finally, the columns from the address list have to be matched with the address elements from the address block and the salutation.

You can read more about how to use the DeduplicationWizard to prepare address lists optimally to generate a form letter in the article 'Preparing direct marketing campaigns with the DeduplicationWizard'.

Author: Thomas Hainke