Checking a Word mail merge for bad names or test strings

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In the UK there’s been a lot of laughs and some red faces about a money raising letter ‘signed’ by the Conservative Prime Minister to a ” Mr Youmustbe F*ckingjoking ” and sent to a pensioner.

It’s easy to laugh but anyone who has done large mailings knows that it’s a case of “There but for the grace of God …”.

It’s the sort of thing that any professional mail manager should check for.  We’ll show you a simple way to check in Word for mail and email merges.

Source: Twitter

How did the swear words get there?

There are various ways the prank name could have got into the mailing list.

It could have been a developer or staffer.  Or perhaps someone filled in an online form and it was added to the database automatically?

It’s quite common for test items to be added to a database.  Sometimes bored developers use ‘fruity’ language or unusual strings like ?? %% etc.

How it got on the list is irrelevant, stopping such things getting sent out is our focus.

Check your mailing list in Word

Any large list or database should have code or procedures in place to find and remove bad entries but there’s a way to check in Microsoft Word.

Find Recipient is available on the Mailings tab and also on the last page of the Mailing Wizard.

It has a very useful option to search all database fields, not just the name.

The Find is case-INsensitive, for example Find ‘joking’ will catch records with ‘Joking’, ‘joKing’ and ‘joking’.  Sadly no wildcards are available.


Using that feature you can search the mailing list for any, shall we say, key phrases.

  • F_ck and variations like F#ck etc.
  • Sh_t and variations
  • WTF
  • We’ll leave other swear words to your imagination …
  • ?? is commonly used in test records.
  • %% can also appear in test items.

Checking for pointed and curly brackets should detect accidental HTML code or misplaced merge fields (eg {firstname} ).

  • <
  • >
  • {
  • }

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