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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. It can be used to make any type of document which merge data field into a common document. The feature is usually employed in 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 Mail merge. 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.
The mail merging process generally requires the following steps:
- Creating a Main Document or and the 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.