In my college English 101 course I was assigned to write a persuasive essay. Initially, I wanted to write a paper about the purpose of technology. I started doing research, but couldn’t find anything helpful. So I abandoned that and picked a different topic. Lately, I’ve been thinking again about it. In my role here at FITS, I try to find ways to make technology help our office do tasks smarter, faster, and more efficiently. These tasks often take me back to tried-and-true technologies from Microsoft.
One of my projects lately has been working with the Global Learning Experience team, preparing for the upcoming Global Learning Conference in October. This was my first time being on the development side of a conference; let me be the first to say that it is no easy task. My role was specifically on the technology end.
My first task was to migrate the proposal form to an online solution. My previous job was at Calvin College working at the Center for Social Research. One of my favorite roles there was working with Qualtrics, both creating and designing surveys. So when our conference team gave me their proposal form as a Word document I set it up in the survey system. Over the next couple of months, proposals rolled in. After the deadline passed it was time to collect the proposals for review.
- The Challenge: Qualtrics doesn’t export the data in a convenient format for blind reviews.
- The Solution: Custom documents filled with responses using mail merge.
If you check out the sample documents I’ve linked above, you can see how the data looks different. The first document, the Qualtrics version, is hard to read and contains all of the information in the survey—even those questions not shown to the participant and the text of each question in its entirety. For the review team looking at each proposal, this view is hard to read and includes information about the presenters—information we want hidden in order to keep decisions as unbiased as possible. This is why you’ll see that the second and third versions—created using mail merge—are built for easier readability. The second document is an example of our “blinded review.” It contains only information about the presentation, excluding all information about presenters. The third document is an example of an internal copy that we can use to reference proposals after they have been reviewed and scored by the committee.
By using merge fields, we were able to format and control where information showed up in the document. By using IF rules with the merge fields, we were able to control when information appeared. For example, if the applicant indicated that they didn’t have a remote presenter, our form didn’t need to include the follow up questions. However, if they did, we wanted to see all of the questions. In order to only have to create one paper, we used IF statements to hide certain questions that didn’t apply to applicants.
I’ll be frank: these were not the easiest templates to build. The IF statements really made the process challenging to ensure that data was showing correctly each time. But, when all was said and done, it made the process quick and easy. By doing the “heavy lifting” in the beginning, each time we had to update our spreadsheet with new proposal information from Qualtrics, we were able to press a couple of buttons and have gorgeous PDFs of each proposal.
If you find yourself itching to try mail merging to print documents or send emails, I encourage you to try it. As far as time-savers go, this is one of my favorites. It makes sending many emails or printing personalized documents quick and easy. If you find yourself wanting to try out some of the more advanced features, like IF statements, check out some of these resources:
- Also, YouTube and Lynda are treasure troves of knowledge for those of us more visual learners.