OpenOffice.org, Mail merge and footnotes

Yesterday, Dutch digital rights fighter Bits of Freedom requested help with OpenOffice via Twitter. As I consider myself a advanced user of OpenOffice.org (I have used it and its fork LibreOffice for many years now), I thought I could perhaps help out.

The problem

BoF needed to send a letter to multiple receivers. Using Mail merge, you can create personalised letters, containing name and address from a data source such as a spreadsheet. The problem here was that the letter contained multiple footnotes (identified by 1, 2 and 3) and when using mailmerge, the numbers continued counting – the first letter has footnotes 1, 2, 3; the second 4, 5, 6; the third 7, 8, 9 etc.

I tried reproducing the problem starting from a simple document containing three footnotes. As I had forgotten the keyboard shortcut for inserting footnotes, I inserted them from the “Insert” menu, choosing automatic numbering. From there, I started the mail merge wizard from the “Tools” menu. The wizard manual actually recommends a different method, but for this problem I don’t think it matters which method is used to create the form letter. I followed steps 1 through 6 as described in the manual.

In step 7, the source document is replaced by the merged documents, one merged document per page. The issue indeed reappeared: page 1 had footnotes 1, 2 and 3 and page 2 had 4, 5 and 6!

Two solutions

I tried two things to get rid of the problem: saving each letter as an individual document and using manually created footnote numbers. Both worked, but they both have some drawbacks.
In step 8 you have several options for finishing the wizard. To save each letter as an individual document, I chose “Save merged document” and “Save as individual documents”. When you click “Save Documents”, you are asked to type a ‘base’ file name and choose a folder/directory to save the documents. After you click “Save”, all documents will have the base file name and an index number. In each file, the automatic footnote numbering starts with 1, so the footnotes are 1, 2, 3 in all letters.

The second solution is changing the footnotes to manually chosen characters. In step 6 of the wizard, you can edit the source document by clicking “Edit Document”. In the context menu of the footnote characters in the text, there is an option “Footnotes/Endnotes”. One by one, I changed the automatic numbers to manually chosen footnote characters 1, 2 and 3. After clicking “OK” and returning to the wizard, I went to step 7. Again, the document is merged with data from the address source. But now footnotes on every page are 1, 2 and 3.

The drawback of these solutions is possibly doing more manual work. By saving the merged document as individual documents, you have separate files and – assuming you want to print them all to send by mail – unless you have some way to send them all to the printer, this may take some work. (But wait a minute… Dragging the files to the printer queue results in a dialog asking if I want to print all documents!)
Having to choose footnote characters is not too much work, unless you have many footnotes of course.

It looks like instead of using the Mail merge wizard, you can follow the instructions for creating a form letter (although written for OOo 2.3, it appears to be very similar in LibreOffice 3.3) and (step 7) choose “Print” from the “File” menu and click “Yes” to get to the Mail Merge dialog which offers more or less the same options as step 8 of the wizard.

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