I love getting Christmas cards! But sending them can be a chore1. Fortunately, there is Tableau, a sophisticated-yet-intuitive-to-use rapid data discovery/analysis/visualization/story-telling platform which I will now use for mail merge2. That’s right, just get a list of contacts, a stack of envelopes and a printer, and fire up Tableau. Your days of laboriously hand-writing addresses are just about over3.
Step 1: Collect the data
This step is easy.4 The ultimate goal is a simple list of names and addresses like this5
Step 2: Create the view in Tableau
This step is also easy.
I’ve placed every address field on Text. Spacer is a calculated field which is hard coded to a bunch of spaces. Return Address is a calculated field that allows me to use a return address entered via parameter. There are several other key things to notice about the view:
I removed row and column dividers (because who wants to see that printed on the envelope?). To do this, I simply selected Format à Borders from the menu and then selected None for Row and Column dividers.
Name has been placed on the Pages shelf. Pages is one of the most under-used aspects of Tableau. It can be used to create amazing motion charts. Here, I’m using it to define a printed page. A “page” defined by the Pages shelf is not always equivalent to a single printed page. For example, a long text table may have a single “page” that spans multiple printed pages. But the “page” defined by the Pages shelf gives a page break. Here, my view is not large enough to worry that it will take more than 1 printed page to print a “page”.
I edited the text (click on the Text shelf). You’ll notice the Spacer calculated filed which gives consistent spaces (I could have just entered them manually) and the Return Address calculated field (which I could have also entered manually):
Step 3: Setup the Page and Print
From the menu select File à Page Setup. The page setup is specific to a single view and allows you to set various options such as what elements of a view are included in the print, the layout, and print scaling. The key here is to include only the view and make sure the option for printing all pages from the Pages Shelf is set. On the Print Scaling tab, set the scaling to no more than 1 page down and 1 across and the page orientation to landscape.
You may have to fight a bit with your printer – but at least the Tableau part was easy!
Actually, my wonderful wife does most of the work. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude!
I recently asked on Twitter if there was anything that shouldn’t be done with Tableau. I got back some great responses. Look for a blog post soon with my answer – but in the meantime, no one specifically said, “Don’t use it for mail merge.”
I know. It was really over in 2004 when everyone started sending e-cards.
Do it however you like – use Alteryx, export to CSV from your CRM, do some web-scraping, type it in by hand, etc…
The names are real, but the addresses are clearly fake. I use the real ones every year but haven’t gotten any responses. If you have any updated contact information, please let me know. But I’m really hopeful that since I’m using Tableau this year that Data will respond. Data always responds to Tableau.
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Joshua Milligan is a three-time Tableau Zen Master. His passion is training, mentoring, and helping people gain insights and make decisions based on their data through data visualization using Tableau. He is a principal consultant at Teknion Data Solutions, where he has served clients in numerous industries since 2004.
Joshua served as technical reviewer on several Tableau titles and is the author of the book Learning Tableau.