Using Ask Fields in a Word Mail Merge
Sometimes you need to run a mail merge and include information that
isn't included in your data source. You don't want to go to the bother of
adding new fields to your data source and entering the information for
each record, so it would be convenient to enter the data at the time of
the merge. There may be a reason that you can't or don't want to include
the information in the body of the merge document itself. Perhaps it is
different for each addressee, or changes each time you run the merge.
There are two easy ways to do this… If the piece of information is to be
entered only once in each document you should use a Fill-in Field.
If the information is going to be repeated several times in each document,
use an Ask Field.
About Ask Fields
An Ask field is a field you place in a mail merge document when
you want to add some information that isn't contained in your data source.
Ask fields are used in conjunction with Bookmarks.
You place the Ask field near the beginning of your merge document. When
you perform the merge the Ask field prompts you to enter some text that it
then inserts into each merged letter in the place (or places) where you
have created Bookmarks.
Step 1: Inserting the Bookmarks
Place your cursor (point and click) in the space where you want to
insert the information in the document. In my example (below) I am
inserting some information in the middle of a sentence. You are going to
create a kind of field called a bookmark. Word will use this
bookmark as an indication of where it should insert the new information.
TIP: Remember to type two spaces when you leave a space
for your bookmark. This ensures that your inserted text has a space both
before and after it in the finished document
There are two stages to creating a bookmark. First press Ctrl+F9
to insert a pair of field characters (curly brackets) at the location of
Now type a name for your bookmark so that it appears
between the field characters. Use this method to create as many bookmarks
as you need, giving each the same name.
TIP: Keep your bookmark names short and meaningful. This
helps avoid errors and confusion if you have several different ones in a
document. A bookmark name can be up to 40 characters long with letters,
numbers, the underscore (_), but no spaces.
Step 2: Inserting the Ask Field
Now you are ready to insert the Ask Field. When
Word encounters the Ask field during the merge it prompts the user for
some information that is then inserted into the document at one or more
points denoted by the bookmarks you have just created. The location of the
Ask field itself is not important (you will not see it in the finished
document) but it should be placed before the first of the bookmarks to
which it refers.
The Ask field will be inserted wherever you cursor is
located. In this example I placed my cursor in the empty line under the
text "Dear Customer" near the beginning of my document.
the Mail Merge toolbar choose Insert Word Field > Ask… to open
the Insert Word Field: Ask Field dialog box.
TIP: You could have gone to the main menus and chosen
Insert > Field and chosen Ask from the Mail Merge category. Doing it from
the Mail Merge toolbar is easier because you get a dialog box to help you
define the field.
The dialog box has four sections (Fig. 5)…
The Bookmark: box. Type the name of the
The Prompt: box allows you to type a message
that will appear when the merge runs. In my example I typed the words "Enter
the date of the next open evening".
The Default Bookmark Text: box lets you specify
some text that will be inserted automatically if the user doesn't type
anything else. I have added the words "the last Friday of this
The Ask once check box gives you the choice of
inserting the same text into all the documents at one go. The user is
prompted for some text when the merge starts and that text is used for
all the documents. That is what I want to do so I have ticked the box.
Point at the different sections of the illustration
below to see a description of their function...
TIP: If you want to make a different entry for each merged
document you will need to add an additional instruction to the Ask field.
Refer to the tutorial on Fill-in fields to find out how to do this (see:
Modify the Fill-in Field).
When you finish completing the dialog box click <OK>.
Word displays a sample of the Ask prompt as it will appear when the merge
This shows the Ask dialog box displaying the chosen
Step 3: Checking Your Work
Use Alt+F9 to display the document's field codes.
This shows the instructions that Word uses during the merge. You can check
for any mistakes you may have made in the previous step and edit them
directly from here. Simply change the text within the code itself. This is
also useful if you run the merge at another time and you want to have
different text for the prompt or the default entry. It saves you having to
create the field again from scratch. Here's what it looks like...
Use Alt+F9 again to hide the field codes. You don't
have to do this but Word remembers the command from document to document.
If you leave it switched on you may be confused tomorrow when you see
field codes where you were expecting to see something like a date or a
page number. You can also access this command from Tools > Options
Step 4: Running the Merge
You are now ready to run the merge as normal. You can
either return to the mail merge helper by choosing Tools > Mail
Merge or you can click the appropriate button on the mail merge
As the merge runs Word pauses when is comes to the Ask
field and prompts you for some text. If you checked the Ask once
option it will do this only once, and put the same text in all the merged
When the dialog box appears type the desired entry (in
this example the date of an event) into the text box and click <OK>.
This is how the Ask prompt appears during the merge...
TIP: Save time! Instead of using the mouse to click the
<OK> button press Tab then Enter. Tab moves the focus to the
<OK> button and Enter presses it.
If you chose the Ask once option the mail merge
will continue without prompting you for additional information.
Your finished documents will now display a personalised
entry in the appropriate place(s). Here's the completed merge...