OOo Off the Wall: Fielding Questions, Part 4 - Mail Merges

It takes a while to get the hang of mail merges, but OOo 2.0's new Mail Merge Wizard helps make them easier to use.
Designing Mail Merge Source Documents

Writer includes separate tools for designing business cards, labels and envelopes. These tools include functions that make doing a mail merge easier and offer a specialized set of options. However, Writer also includes a generic mail merge tool that can be used for other purposes. In fact, many users prefer to use it instead of the envelope tool. Because the generic tool can be set to use different envelope sizes, it is at least an adequate substitute and many feel it is far less confusing to use.

Whatever your purpose, to design a generic mail merge source document:

1. Format and write the source document.

2. When ready to add the fields, do one of the following:

  • Select View > Data sources or press the F4 key. The data source window opens. If the window blocks part of the source document that you need to see, select the Stick icon to dock it to the upper portion of the editing window.

Figure 3. The Data Source window displays a registered data source in Writer's editing window.

  • Select Insert > Fields > Other > Database > Mail merge fields.

Figure 4. The Mail Merge fields is another way of showing a registered data source.

3. Place the mouse cursor where you want the first field to go.

4. In the data source window or on the Database tab of the Fields screen, select the database and the table to use. Remember that for spreadsheets the table is the sheet. Similarly, for Mozilla address books, the table is the Named address book [x-ref].

5. Expand the tree view of the data source so that the individual fields are visible.

6. Select the field you want to add to the source document. A field is a column, regardless of what type of data source.

7. Drag the field into the source document with the mouse. A placeholder field is created with the name of the field inside it.

8. After the last field in a consecutive set--for example, after the last line of an address--add a field from the Database tab of Insert > Fields > Others to set the record in the database to be used next. In most cases, you probably want Next Record. (See below for more details.)

No matter which Database field you choose, notice that it is visible only as a gray background. In most cases, it contains no information, because it is simply an indicator and holds no specific data.

Figure 5. Placeholder fields in a mail merge source document.

9. Continue steps 6-8 until all the placeholder fields are entered. At this point, you either can save the source document for future use or apply records and print it. If you save, remember that the source document needs the data source or one with the same fields in order to be used. If you are going to be using the source document frequently, you may want to save it as a template using File > Templates > Save.

Controlling Mail Merges with Database Fields

Database is a tab available from Insert > Fields > Others. The fields on this tab all are related to mail merges. With the possible exception of the Database name field, they are not designed for any other use.

If you are designing labels or business cards, you can add the markers to the first label or card and then select the Synchronize button to have the fields added to all the other labels or cards. In any other mail merge, you can use the database fields to control which records are used in which order.

The Database tab fields are instructions about which record to use next. They are easy to miss on the screen, because they show up as only the gray background that indicates a field. Without them, however, a mail merge fails.

The following table describes the mail merge fields that are available:

Field (Insert > Fields > Others > Database)PurposeComments/Instructions
Any recordAdds the record specified to the next group of mail merge fields.Place the marker before the group of mail merge fields it applies to. Records are numbered from the top of a data source table. If all items on the table are selected, the header row is counted, so the first record with data is 2. Use this field to control the order in which records are used in the target document. If the condition is not true, then the previous record is used instead.
Database nameAdds the name of a data source. 
Mail merge fieldsAdds mail merge placeholders to set up a mail merge's source document. During the merge, the placeholders are replaced by the record's entry in each field. Fields are added at the current cursor position either by selecting the Insert button or by dragging and dropping them from the Database Selection pane into the document. When the Data Sources floating window is open, you also can drag and drop column headers into a document to create mail merge placeholders.
Next recordsAdds a marker that signals the mail merge should add the next record to the next group of mail merge fields.Place the marker at the end of each group of mail merge. If the marker is not added or if the condition for the field is false, then the contents of a group of mail merge fields is the same as the previous one.
Record numberAdds a marker that inserts the record number after each record in the target document.Place the marker before any group of mail merge fields.

The field is blank until the mail merge is done.


-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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And mail merge to Thunderbird Please!!!!

Anonymous's picture

This feature would help so many people. It's been driving me crazy for months trying to do this.

Thunderbird Addressbook Connection

Darren V. Hart's picture

I have seen in mentioned on several places on the web that you can can use a Thunderbird addressbook in OO. I haven't been able to get that to work. In OpenOffice2 (1.9.129 - Ubuntu Breezy):

File->Wizards->Address Data Source

There is no option for a mozilla/netscape/thunderbird addressbook.


Under connect to an existing databse there is no mozilla/netscape/thunderbird type.

Under OpenOffice 1.1 (1.1.5 - Ubuntu Breezy)
File->Template->Address Book Souce - just real database and textfile types
Tools->Datasources - Same as above

Tools->Mail Merge
From this document
Address Data Source AutoPilot

There is actually a Mozilla/Netscape option here! I select it, click next and get this error:

The connection could not be established, Please check the settings made for the data source.

Clicking more has several fields:

Information - The connection could not be established.
Details - Please check the settings made for the data source.
Error - The connection to the external data source could not be established. No SDBC driver was found for the given URL.
SQL Status - "
Information -
Details - sdbc:address:mozilla

Is there an external sdbc driver I need to find and install or something? I haven' seen it mentioned in these tutorials anywhere.

Now if the OO developers coul

Anonymous's picture

Now if the OO developers could just create a mail merge function that didn't crash when doing large merges !!!!

Re: Now if the OO developers coul

Anonymous's picture

How large is large?

I've done mail merges that produced 500 copies.

Possibly, the number of merges you can do depends on system memory.

- Bruce Byfield

email output from mail merge

DebbyK's picture

Any chance there is a way to create an email output from this instead of sending to printer or a file? That's what I really need to do!

Debby Kilburn
Cerro Coso Community College

OOo's mail merge

Satish's picture

the article is very informative and use full
thanks a lot
NIIT Computers