Using Word Mail Merge to Print an Outlook Contacts List

Outlook presents a number of printing problems that users can find difficult to resolve. For example, printouts of custom forms don't look anything like what you see on the screen: Fields appear in a predetermined order that you can't change, and any custom fields are listed at the end in alphabetical order. The best custom form-printing solution I've found is to program an Outlook form to push its data into the fields in a Microsoft Word template.

Outlook printing dilemmas aren't limited to custom forms. When people who have amassed many lines of notes in individual Contact items try to print multiple contacts from the Address Cards view, they find that Outlook truncates those notes. The problem is that printing from any folder view is strictly a matter of what you see is what you get. Folder views never show the full text of the Notes or Message field, only a maximum of about 250 characters, so you can't use a folder view to print those notes in their entirety.

The solution built into Outlook is to use the Memo print style to print individual contacts. This technique doesn't produce a neat listing that looks like the Address Cards view, but the Print dialog box displays a "Start each item on a new page" option that you can leave unselected to conserve a little paper. Outlook's rules determine which fields are printed—typically, all those in which you've entered data.

When you need a compact printout of just a few key fields plus your notes from the Contacts folder, the solution-–just as with custom forms-–is to use Word. Unlike the custom forms solution, though, you don't need to write any programming code. Instead, you can use Outlook's integration with Word's Mail Merge feature. You need Outlook 2002 or Outlook 2000 to make this method work.

The trick is to start the merge from Outlook, not Word. Make sure the Contacts folder view is displaying the fields you want to print in the order you want them printed. Then, choose Tools, Mail Merge. Under "Fields to merge," choose "Contact fields in current view." Under "Document type," choose Catalog. Click OK to start Word and launch the merge process.

After Word starts, use the Insert Merge Fields button on the toolbar to add a placeholder for each Contact field to the merge document. (In Outlook 2002, that button is to the left of the Insert Word Field button.) You can format the merge document any way you like and insert additional text as needed. For example, you might highlight the FullName field with bold text or shading or preface other merge fields with labels such as "Email:" and "Notes:" to duplicate the look of the Address Cards view.

Be sure to include one or two blank lines after all the merge fields to provide separation between entries. If you want the printout to duplicate the multiple-column look of the Address Cards view, choose Format, Columns to select the number of columns. You might want to use File, Page Setup to switch the page from portrait to landscape orientation if you plan to display more than two columns.

After you finish editing the merge document, click the Merge to New Document button and choose to merge From 1 To 10 as a test. Examine the resulting document, then go back to your merge document, make any necessary changes, and test again. When you're satisfied, click the Merge to New Document button one more time, and choose All. Depending on the number of contacts and the complexity of your layout, Word might take a few seconds or a few minutes to perform the merge. After Word completes the merge, you can do additional formatting and cleanup before printing out your customized contacts list.

The one thing you lose with this method is any formatting in the notes section (printing in Outlook's Memo style preserves this formatting). That loss is a small price to pay, I think, for the much greater control that you gain over the layout.

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