Comparing 4TOPS Document Creation with Word Mail Merge

If your data are stored in Microsoft Access, you can initiate a Word Mail Merge which is commonly used to produce output while merging Access data into a Word mail merge document. Here we compare this built-in feature with the 4TOPS Document Creation Microsoft Access extension. I begin with a summary of the found differences, this is followed with by a differences table with more details.

Word Mail Merge: print output or send emails

Word Mail Merge is particularly good at what the feature originally was designed for: personalized mailing a set of contacts, either using print output (letters, labels, envelopes) or by sending emails. Its focus then is recipients whereas with document creation it is data in general. Word mail merge does not support data merge into other document types such as an Excel spreadsheet or the creation of a Pdf document. The whole mail merge process definition process can be saved as part of the Word document in which it was created, allowing for later reuse.

Document Creation: Word, Excel and PowerPoint

Contrary to Word Merge, 4TOPS Document Creation makes plain Office documents. It supports Word, Excel and PowerPoint (Outlook is in the making). While Word mail merge only allows the use of simple text fields, in DC the documents can be of any complexity, possibly containing tables and checkboxes. It is easy to indicate for which records you want to create the documents for using the current record or record selectors in the open Access object. You can automatically save documents in a required format and have them easily found and reopened within the MS Access application.

To save or not to save (distinct documents)

Word mail merge considers it’s output as transient (prints, sent email) – editing a document and subsequent saving as a distinct Word document has to be done manually – as an afterthought. Processing a selection of the records in the data source is not easy as one needs to know the begin and end number of the selection. A mailing (print or email) once started can only be stopped the hard way using task manager.

Integration in your MS Access application

While Word Mail Merge is a built-in feature, allowing no adaptations, 4TOPS Document Creation produces a complete system built in VBA that as such is both adaptable and can be fully integrated in the Access application.

External data providers (SQL Server and SharePoint)

Both Word Mail Merge and 4TOPS Document Creation using Microsoft Access can be connected to (and provide services to!) many different external data providers such as SQL Server and SharePoint. The former via odc files, the latter via linked tables.

4tops document creation using Microsoft Access
Word Mail Merge in MS Access

Differences table

Features 4TOPS Document Creation Word Mail Merge
Supported applications Creates Word documents, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentations – Outlook email is currently in the making, support for direct
printing will be added.
Print Word, send Outlook email.
Supported documents Both simple and complex can be such as invoices, reports, contracts, etcetera Primarily concerned with mailings: Letter, email, envelope, label, directory
Supported file types Pdf, HTML, csv, etcetera – all types supported by the application used. Saving not supported
Supported data elements In addition to text and numeric values (optionally formatted) tables, lists and checkboxes. Text representing a value
Supported data source Table, Query
Form (also split-, sub-forms and datasheets) – allowing for defining a complete View for the data that need to be merged into the document,
Table, Query
Determine records to process Directly from the active data source: All, current record or selected records Basically all records will be included in the merge. Filtering beforehand in Access is not supported.
Abort processing Progress meter with Cancel button not supported
Template editing environment Native application (Word, Excel, …) with Template Designer add-in – except for emails which use a dedicated editor. Word is used both for Word documents and emails
Preview merged document supported supported
Editing the filled document Created documents are editable by design Edit individual letters… makes them available as editable documents.
Saving documents Extensive capabilities for automated document naming and storage The documents after Edit individual letters… can be manually saved
Recording data for saved documents In case of automatic saving of documents, date, author and a hyperlink to the document are recorded in a Documents table – if required. Not supported
(Summary of the comparison. For details follow the hyperlink to the corresponding section.)

4TOPS Document Creation using Microsoft Access – screenshots

adding bookmarks for a table in word template designer
Word Template designer
automatically save documents, possibly as another file type
Select features for saving documents…
automate the creation of all documents in your organization
Many uses for document creation
mail merge to pdf
Save as your required format. e.g. Pdf

Filtering the data source

When wanting to create multiple documents from a some list, it is not uncommon to want to apply the process to a subset of the records, e.g. send a mail to only employees working for a certain department.

If you apply a filter the Access data source and then try to start Word Merge, you get a message ‘The object must be saved before Mail Merge can begin‘. This is a serious usability problem, as you generally don’t want to have the object saved – which is AKO altering the system – just to have the filter applied – filtering should leave the database objects untouched.

4TOPS Document Creation automatically creates the documents for the filtered set. You can even define processes to create for the current record or selected records only.