Do have a need to mail the same letter (perhaps a 'Season's Greetings' letter)  to multiple addressees. Do you want to create a series of envelopes to clients or customers in your Instant Database records? Perhaps you have a collections practice and need to send the same demand letter to multiple debtors.

   That is what 'Mail Merge' is all about.

Note: Pathagoras uses the same 'Mail Merge' engine that Microsoft (Word) provides, but the set-up processes involves 2 significant differences.

1.  Word's mail merge requires you to insert fields (those grey boxes) into your document. Pathagoras does not. Rather, Pathagoras uses 'plain text variables.' The same letter you wrote for a single client can be used as your mail merge base. (Just make sure the document variables match up with the column titles of your data source.)

2.  There is no need to permanently link the form to the data source. With Word's mail merge, every time you open the document, you are asked to confirm a link back to a specific data source. With Pathagoras, you link only when you are ready to merge. And Pathagoras allows you up to 4 'instant' data sources to which you can quickly link when you are ready to merge. (Further, in addition to 4 data sources, if you maintain separate data in different worksheets in an Excel workbook, each worksheet can be viewed as an independent source. So source data and sorting capability is practically unlimited.)

   Pathagoras provides an easy way to accomplish your Mail Merge tasks, and it can all be done with plain text. (We believe that Pathagoras is the only program on the market to offer "plain text" Mail Merge. It is really quite a remarkable tool.  

   You source of names can be from one of several sources. You can use your current Instant Database records. Just make sure that the variable names in your record marry up to the variable names in your Mail Merge document.

   If you plan to draw names and addresses from an external data source, you must point Pathagoras to at least one external database in the External Database settings. See the Setup section of this chapter. (You can set up to three external sources from which to draw on.) As with Instant Database source, you just have to make sure that the field names in your data record match up to the variable names in your Mail Merge document.

   To begin a Mail Merge session, display on your editing screen the document you wish to use as the Mail Merge template. (The document can be an existing document that your recalled to the screen, or it can be a document that you just now assembled. So long as it has [bracketed variables] that will pair up with your data, you are ready to go.)

   Next, press <Alt-D> to bring up the Instant Database screen. Click the Power Tools button to display the Power Tools options (image below).


Click to enlarge.

   If you have not previously set an external database link, do so first (the button indicated by the upper arrow).

   If you have set the link, or are going to use your Instant Database records as your data source, click the Mail Merge button at the right. A screen will appear asking you confirm that the on-screen document is the proper mail merge letter.

   Say "Yes" and the following screen will appear. Click the radio button next to the source of the Mail Merge data and then press Next.


   Pathagoras quickly reads the data source and presents a checklist from which you can select the record(s) you desire. You can select a single record, all records, or any number in between. Regular list selection controls (click, Ctrl-click, shift-click) will work. When you have completed your selections, click the Merge button. Pathagoras will generate one letter per selected record. The results are presented on-screen for review.

  Please note the following:

   Variables in headers, footer and textboxes add processing time. If you are processing more than, let's say 30 records and you need header/footer data, you may wish to 'fake' the header/footer. Do so by changing the top and bottom margins of your document and place the same text at the in the same relative positions of your document. Use headers and footers for letterhead, page numbering and other 'non-variable' information. (If you have fewer than 30 records to process, don't worry about the above. It will still take longer to process, but it is only a matter of a couple of seconds. It becomes significantly noticeable when you have more than 100 records.)

   Blank fields: You have a choice about where to delete blank fields. If you do not delete blank fields keep in mind that any fields that do remain will be 'called' the same thing. This works great when the remaining field is, let's say, a court date that will be the same for all records. Just scan the resulting mail-merged result, put in the date and all [Court Date] variables will be replaced with the same value. If you need different values for any of the remaining fields, perhaps mail merge was not the correct technique. (It also works great when the database is a listing of, let's say, doctors and hospitals from whom you regularly might request records. That database won't contain your client's name. But if your 'Request for Records' cover letter contains variables for, let's say, your [Client Name], [Client Address] and [Client DOB], you can produce the mail merged letters to the hospitals/doctors in step 1 and quick finalize the letters with the client's information in step 2.,

   "Good" blank fields vs. "Bad" blank fields: What if, after the initial Mail Merge, you have variables such as [Court Date] (which are probably okay, since you want to assign them later) and also variables such as [Address Line 2] which are present simply because you chose not to delete empty variables in the initial mail merge?

   Actually, IDB as a post-merge editing tool works quite well for this situation. After you have run the Mail Merge, call up the Instant Database screen. Click Scan. You will see [Court Date] (the 'good' variable) and [Address Line 2] (the 'bad' one). Complete the former with a date,and leave the latter blank. Make sure you check the "Delete if Blank" box at the top of the Instant Database screen.

   When you click the Next button, [Court Date] will be replaced throughout the document with the date provided, and all instances of [Address Line 2] will be removed. (The assumption here is, since the initial mail merge process did not replace [Address Line 2] with a value, that no such value exists. Running a 'regular' IDB process against the document will remove those variables if the "Delete if Blank" selection made .)

   <<Document Calls>> Unlike merges using just Word's merge tools, Pathagoras can call in entire blocks of text into your merged document. It actually is a two step process, but when it runs, the two steps are seamless. The first step is the replacement of variables set out in a document with the values assigned to those variables in the data source. So typically [Client Name] with be replaced sequentially with each "Client Name" in the data (John Q. Doe, Robert R. Roe, etc.).

   With Pathagoras Mail Merging, you can replace variables with more than just names and addresses. You can replace variables with <<document calls>>, and thereby signal Pathagoras to insert external documents and snippets into the document. This is the 'second step. (Before making the most of this feature, you should fully understand that when Pathagoras sees <<document name>> in a document, it will hunt down the named document and insert that document's text in place of the call. See this page of the Manual for more information.)

   So, if you set the value of a variable to a 'document call' (e.g., "<<signature block>>" or "<<product X description>>), after Pathagoras runs the Mail Merge, it will immediately perform any 'document calls' that remain.

   Here's another example. Let's say that special text is needed in a mail merge document for customers over 55. In the data source, perhaps you have a column that you have titled "AgeText". You have set a formula in the appropriate row to insert "<<Age55 Letter>>" if the customer is 55 or older. Otherwise, the entry is blank. (Of course, be sure to compose test called "Age55 Letter.docx" and save it in a folder where Pathagoras will find it. See Hunt Path for more info on that.) The actual sequence is that, as the Mail Merge is taking place, either "<<Age55 Letter>>" or a 'blank', as appropriate, replaces [AgeText]. When the first step of the merge is done, Pathagoras immediately calls step 2 and begins to process the document, replacing <<Age55 Letter>> (if it appears in a particular client's merged document) with the text of the document called "Age55 Text.doc". It's all pretty remarkable and very fast.

   Separate documents: The classic Mail Merge results in a very long document. Each individual letter is separated from the others by a page break, making it easy to print, save or delete when the need is complete. If you want to save the individual letters as separate files, insert <<Break/Field>> at the very end of the base document (so it will appear at the end of each letter; the colors are optional and for emphasis here). 'Field' would typically be the sorting field used to select your individual letters. E.g., <<break/last name>>. It is used to name the individual document. If, in this example, there are multiple records with the same last name, use either another field with a unique value that you will recognize, or concatenate 2 adjacent fields. E.g., <<break/last name+first name>>. Caveat: If concatenation is indicated, the fields must be in adjacent columns. They must also appear in the same order they appear in the database.

   <<*Repeat(merge)*. . . >> is an alternative approach to plain text mail merge. It allows 'intra-document' merging of data. Read more about merging with the 'Repeat(merge) command at this link.



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