Let's face it, for most people, there just aren't that many reasons to print out letters these days, but there are still lots of reasons to use the mail merge feature in your favorite word processor (making labels, flyers, invitations, etc). It's sort of a dying art, but it's still important to know how it works, in case you ever need to use it. I would bet, actually, that if more people knew how easy it was to process a mail merge, more people would use it.
Before we dive into how it works, let's talk about what it does (for those who aren't familiar with the concept). For the sake of keeping it simple, we'll use a standard letter in our example (although you can use this for anything... even elaborate documents). Mail merge allows you to compose a single document, and when it comes time to print, customize that for a large group of recipients, each with their name, address, etc. That personal information can be retrieved either from the OS X Address Book, or other sources (such as an Apple Numbers file).
In this example, I want to send a quick note to each person who attended a recent family birthday party. I begin the process by composing the letter itself. Instead of including their personal information (i.e.: name address, etc), I will insert a placeholder (a series of underscores), as shown below:
The next step is to replace the underscores with the variable information that is currently stored in Address Book (i.e.: family contacts). First, I will highlight the first set of underscores where the name will go, then I will go to Insert > Merge Field > Name > First Name, as shown below:
When it comes time to printing tis document, that set of underscores will be replaced with each person's first name. Next, we will select the second set of underscores and do the same thing, only this time, we will choose to insert the person's home city, as shown below:
Now that we've added the variable fields to both sets of underscores (and you can add as many as are appropriate for your document, there's no limit), it's time to create our new mail merge document. To do this, we will go to Edit > Mail Merge...
At this point, we are prompted to provide the source of our information. As mentioned earlier, we can either choose to use information stored in our Address Book (even specifying a particular group/distribution list), or we can choose a Numbers file to use. In this case, I will use a distribution list in Address Book containing a list of family members with their information, as shown below:
We can also choose whether we want to create a new document with this information, or to send the resulting pages directly to the printer. In this example, I will create a new document after the mail merge. We can also expand the "Merge Fields" section to reveal which fields will be used and with what information from Address Book.
Now that we have selected the source and destination for the new document, it's time to merge. This is, obviously, done by pressing the "Merge" button. The resulting document will look like this:
The above screenshot shows the original template (background) and the new;y merged document (foreground). At this point, I can print the document, save it, mail it, save as a PDF... whatever I want.
Again, I don't use Mail Merge very often, but this is a very simple approach to a process than has a tendency to be overly complicated by many other mainstream word processors.