Thursday, August 1, 2002

Using distribution lists


By Diane Poremsky

When you need to send an email to a group of people, many people select each email recipient, one at a time, using the address book or by typing the names (or parts of names) into the To field. It's usually easier to select the contacts from the Contacts folder, either by using a group by view and selecting the group header or holding shift or control as you select multiple contacts. Once you have selected the contacts, use the Actions | New message to Contact menu to create an email to all the contacts.

If you often send messages to the same group of people over and over, you should be using a distribution list. To quickly create a distribution list from a group mailing, select the names in the address field and open a new distribution list form. Click on Select Members and paste in the Add to distribution list box on the right side of the dialog. When you receive a message addressed to people that you'd like to have on a distribution list, select the names in the To field and paste into the Add dialog on a new distribution list form.

Creating distribution lists is easy enough, but it could be easier if only you could drag and drop contacts to the distribution list window. Another annoyance is that once the distribution lists are created, you can only use them for sending email, not mail merges. Changing the distribution list for a one-time mailing, such as to remove one person from the distribution list before sending, requires editing the distribution list. One possible workaround: if the distribution list is all contacts, you could assign a category to the members of the distribution list, so each member can be easily found using Group By Category view. Select the members you want to send to (hold shift or control as you select them with the mouse) and then use the Actions | Send new message menu to send to the members you selected.

There are a some other things to keep in mind when using distribution lists: they don't export well and don't always work if you try to send a distribution list to another Outlook user. If the other user doesn't have the distribution list members already in his contacts folder, the distribution list may return errors when he uses it. Unfortunately, distribution lists can't be used for mail merges and currently there is no good way around that.

Even with the current limitations and problems with distribution list, they can save you a lot of time and effort. I do expect to see improvements in the handling of distribution lists (and the address book in general) in the next version of Outlook. It's too bad we have to wait until next summer to use it.

Diane Poremsky is the president of CDOLive LLC and a Microsoft Outlook MVP. She's coauthor of Word 2002: The Complete Reference (Osborne, 2001) and Beginning Visual Basic 6 Application Development (for Wrox Press). For questions or suggestions for future columns, write her at