How to preserve formatting in an MS Word Mail Merge?
January 8, 2014 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Vast quantities of mail merging, need to maintain some semblance of spacing/formatting/tabs/breaks. Help?

In my role as case manager, I'm responsible for ~500 people worth of forms, each packet is ~10 pages long. Some people have short names "Jon Smith" and some people have long names "Margaret Wzczaczhouszki". (Neither of those are real but are length-appropriate.)

That's just a start. City names, county names, etc. HUGE variances. Here's a sample document of one of the two-page forms.(.doc, no merge fields preset.) Certainly most of the fields will NOT be merged on this one, it's just an example.

I have never been able to figure out how to insert the merges in a fashion that maintains approximate spacing and readability. Do I have to do tables or something? Columns?

posted by TomMelee to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
I don't understand how it would affect the readability of that form if you have a short name or a long one. I think this is due to most elements being on their own line. Can you provide some post merge data with fake elements of varying length that illustrate the issue?
posted by soelo at 9:12 AM on January 8, 2014

this is just a stab in the dark but is the formatting that you're having problems with coming from the data source document--which i'm guessing is a spreadsheet?
posted by lester at 9:43 AM on January 8, 2014


Lester- I merge from three sources, actually, as dumb as that is. One is an empty, ugly spreadsheet. The second is an access database (so a spreadsheet), and the third is done via our online, web-based client tracking system. It lets me upload template .doc's with appropriate merge field names and then it fills them in. But no, I'm not getting continuity issues w/ changing fonts, etc.


So here's a super simple example. This looks ok, this is the name fields separated by ~5 tabs. However, if the name is long, it'll dump the Last Name field onto the next line.

Here's the same document w/o any tabs between names.

In my brain, I feel like I should be able to maintain relatively hard spacing, tab independent. Like I always want Last Name at position XX, instead of "X tabs past."

Also, the fields are underlined. Don't ask me, they just are. So I've got "John" underlined, and there's no running empty line, unless I add it before or after the merge field (at which point it doesn't line up.) What I want it to look like is: ___John______, not John, but doing that hard coded really just is a disaster, as "Margaret" needs a lot fewer trailing __ than does John.

That last part there is pretty much optional. We're working with some pretty interesting disabilities here from time to time (client and administration), and when things start looking different it causes some real headaches.
posted by TomMelee at 9:56 AM on January 8, 2014

ugh. that form is EVIL for mail merging. stop using it NOW. part of the problem is all those underlines. unless your text is overwriting the underlines, it's just pushing the underlines further over. also, if your first name is REALLY long, it's going to push the last name field over, etc.

oh man, and all those number things floating in text boxes? no. not for mail merging.

if you are not ACTUALLY merging this into an email, and are just merging to print or merging to save as individual doc files, this is what i would do:

make a new doc with a big invisible table. put each field in its own cell. and i mean "first name" is in a cell and then the space for writing first name (or the merge field for it) is in another cell. it's going to look a bit inelegant, but it's going to solve a lot of your formatting problems for the most part.

if your ARE emailing this, i hate to say it, but put every damn thing on its own line. longer form, but who cares?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:59 AM on January 8, 2014

on follow up:


Also, get rid of the underlining, for exactly the reason you state. stuff like this needs to be SIMPLE and not over designed.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:02 AM on January 8, 2014

Tabs are, indeed, a terrible way to do this. But if you must, at least learn how to add tab stops:

So let's say you want the "Last Name" bit to start at 3". Go up to the ruler at the top, and click on the 3" symbol. A little black L should appear there. This is your tab stop! Now go to the end of the first name, and hit tab once -- it should do 1 tab and jump to the tab stop. Now no matter how many characters are there -- as long as it's not longer than the whole area -- you're good to go as far as pushing things over.
posted by brainmouse at 10:03 AM on January 8, 2014

Thanks all. The only portion of these forms that's actually going to get merged are the primary demographic info---name/address/telephone, because I HAVE To be able to read those values. The rest are filled out by the individual...and they're basically always snail-mailed.

I can drop the underlining on the merged fields though, that's a good idea. I need to leave them for the parts we don't fill it automatically. stop. That's the term I didn't know. I couldn't remember that from old school word-perfect with the markup on the green monitor. ;-)
posted by TomMelee at 10:09 AM on January 8, 2014

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