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Opening Only a Merge Document

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Opening Only a Merge Document.

Word includes a power mail-merge feature that allows you to create relationships between a document and a data source, and then automatically pull information from that data source for use in the document. When you open the document, Word automatically opens the data source so that it can access the data necessary to the relationship. It is obvious that opening the data source takes time, even though it is done automatically. If the data source is an Access database or an Excel workbook, particularly if it is on a network drive, opening the data source can be very slow.

An easy way to solve this problem would be for Word to provide a way to open only the document, and to not open the data source. Unfortunately, there is no way to do this—Word automatically opens the data source regardless of your desires. (You can, of course, break the relationship between the document and the data source, but that would mean that you would later need to reestablish the relationship if you wanted to do an actual mail merge.)

Word does allow you to turn off automatic updating of links when a document is opened (Tools | Options | General | Update Automatic Links at Open), but testing shows that this control doesn't affect mail merge relationships. Apparently the "link" between a document and its data source is not considered a link, in the traditional meaning of the term.

One possible solution to stop the data source from opening is to make a copy of the document before setting it up as a mail-merge document. Thus, you would have two copies of the document—one that is defined for use in the mail merge and another that is not. You could open the one when you wanted to actually do a mail merge and open the other when you wanted to do some other editing task. The downside, of course, is that you now have two versions of the document to maintain.

Another potential answer is to rename the data source. Then, when you open the mail-merge document and Word cannot find the data source, you are asked if you want to define a new data source or to revert the document to a regular document. This, essentially, means that you are severing the relationship between the document and the data source, which (as commented on earlier) may be too drastic of a step to take all the time.

Finally, you could also use the Insert File feature of Word to "open" a merge document. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a new, blank document.
  2. Choose File from the Insert menu. Word displays the Insert File dialog box.
  3. Use the controls in the dialog box to locate and select the mail-merge source document.
  4. Click on Insert.

Word inserts the file within the blank document, but does not open the data source that was associated with the original source document. While this approach allows you to quickly examine the contents of the source document, there may be a few little differences you notice. For instance, if the blank document you created in step 1 has different margin settings than the source document, then the formatting on the inserted file (the source document) may look a bit askance.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1533) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Opening Only a Merge Document.

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Comments for this tip:

Steve M    24 Jun 2016, 18:26
to add, i am trying to insert the file programmatically. inserting it manually seemed to work ok.
Steve M    24 Jun 2016, 18:20
i tried to insert a file that's prompting for the data source and word still prompted me. i'm on word 2010. are these instructions for an older version?

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