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: Mail Merge and Data Source Documents become Unattached.

Mail Merge and Data Source Documents become Unattached

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated August 10, 2019)
This tip applies to Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


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Don creates quite a few mail merge documents in Word. The data source is invariably a Word document with the merge data in a table. Don can set up the mail merge document and the data source document very nicely, and everything works fine until he e-mails both documents to his clients. If the client opens the mail merge document, the data source document is no longer "attached," and the client has to go through the process of again letting Word know what to use as a data source. It doesn't matter how many times the client opens the main document; he must hunt for and "re-attach" the data source's file every single time. When Don opens the same mail merge document on my system, the data source is still associated, just as it should be.

This problem is probably related to the location of the data source document relative to the mail merge document. In earlier versions of Word, the program would assume many things about documents. For instance, if your mail merge and data source documents were in the same folder as each other, then Word would not store the full path name of the data source document with the mail merge document. Instead, it would simply store the file name of the document and leave it at that.

Later versions of Word have apparently changed what is saved. Now, instead of just saving the file name of the data source document, Word apparently saves the full path name to the document. This means that when you send the two documents to a client, the mail merge document won't be able to find the data source document unless it is in the same path structure that it was on your original system.

One place this becomes obvious is if, for instance, you store the data source document and the mail merge document in the My Documents folder on your system. When the files are sent to the client, if they are then stored in the client's My Documents folder, then there will be a problem. Why? Because the path to the client's My Documents folder is different than the path to the My Documents folder on the original machine.

To get around the problem, try storing both the mail merge document and the data source document in either the root directory of the C: drive, or in a folder within the C: drive. The client can then store the two files in the exact same location, and the connection between the two should remain intact when the mail merge document is opened.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (366) 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: Mail Merge and Data Source Documents become Unattached.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is two more than 9?

2020-01-06 21:57:07

Steven in Santa Fe

Thanks so much! This problem has been plaguing me for years and has put me off several attempts to upgrade my old Word merge documents. Could not figure out why my new docs did preserve the links to their headers like the old docs, no matter what I tried. Now all the merge docs that broke in development on the Desktop work fine when I put them in the same folder as the old header(s) or visa versa. So simple. So basic. One might think such a rule would be prominently featured in the official merge instructions from MS. But this is the first I have ever seen it mentioned.
Although not the first time I have found helpful tips on this site.
Thanks again.


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