WARNING! Microsoft Office Mail Merge ‘Gotcha’ ‐ Avoid Having To Make a ‘Mail Merge Apology’.

I recently had the nightmare scenario of having to apologise for sending a number of emails addressed to the wrong person ‐ talk about embarrassing! Not something one wants to do, let alone repeat, so how did it happen?

Despair and stress for spam e-mail

Well, it took a while to work out what went wrong, but having discovered the cause, I want to share it with you and hopefully save you having to endure the same acute embarrassment as me.

As often happens, we needed to contact lots of people by email in one go. Whilst each email was very similar, I wanted to make it as personal as possible, but due to time pressure, I asked one of our admin team to setup a small Microsoft Office mail merge to be sent to the attendees at an event we were organising. So far so good, a few minutes later all the emails had been sent, but it then came to light that whilst most of the emails were fine, some were addressed to the wrong person… Nightmare!

What on earth could have happened, and why were some emails correctly addressed and other not?
Not only was I acutely embarrassed, I needed to know what had happened to make sure it can never happen again.

Having investigated, we are now older and wiser, so allow me to share our new knowledge…

  1. If there is a row in a mail merge spreadsheet that does not include an email address, e.g. as per the list below. Microsoft then shifts one row, so it went wrong on the line highlighted in yellow.
  2. Microsoft does not start at the top and work down, it starts at the bottom and works up, so everyone above Linda, received an email addressed to the wrong name – nightmare!
  • Karina received an email addressed to Linda
  • Richard received an email addressed to Karina
  • Jonathan received an email addressed to Richard and so it goes on…


I wish it had not happened, there was an element of user error for which we must take the blame. Clearly, we cannot undo what has already been done, we can only ensure it is never repeated.

I have written to all those concerned to apologise and beg forgiveness. However, the Microsoft Office mail merge tool is a very useful way to send personal email to a number of people in one go. If you do use it, please learn from our mistake and make sure an email address included in every line of your mail merge source file.

I hope this is useful to you and that you can learn from and smile at my acute embarrassment.

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