Posey's Tips & Tricks

Merging Contacts in Outlook

Multiple e-mail accounts for the same person makes organizing your contacts a pain. Here's a few tips on how to alleviate this situation.

One problem that I have found to be especially frustrating lately is that of duplicate contacts. It seems that everyone has multiple e-mail accounts, Facebook accounts, etc. these days and this can lead to contact information being scattered across multiple duplicate contacts.

There are at least three situations in which it might become necessary to merge Outlook contacts. One such situation occurs when users get in the habit of dragging an e-mail message to the Contacts folder as a way of getting Outlook to automatically create a contact for the sender. While there is nothing wrong with creating contacts in this way, problems can occur if the user later decides to manually create a contact for someone for which a contact already exists. If the user uses exactly the same spelling for the new contact's name then Outlook will open the existing contact and let the user add data to it. However, if the user misspells the contact's name or enters it in a different way then Outlook will create a second contact for the same person. For example, in my own address book, I had two separate contacts for my sister. One used her married name and the other used her maiden name.

Another situation in which duplicate contacts can be created also occurs when a user drags e-mail messages to the Contacts folder. The problem can occur when the sender sends messages from multiple e-mail accounts with different spellings. For example, I have one e-mail account where I am listed as Brien and another e-mail account in which I am listed as BPosey. If someone were to create contacts based on messages coming from both accounts, they would end up having two separate contacts for me.

Finally, duplicates can occur at the organizational level when multiple address books are maintained. There is nothing stopping the same contact from appearing in several address books.

The problem with having duplicate contacts is that often times the information that the user needs is spread across the duplicate contacts. For example, in the case of my sister's contacts, her address and phone number were listed in one contact, but her cell number was in the other one.

Regardless of how duplicate contacts happen, a lot of confusion can be avoided by simply merging the duplicate contacts. Unfortunately, Outlook does not have a mechanism for merging contacts, and contact merges are not something that Microsoft officially supports. Having said that, there are at least two different ways in which contacts can be merged.

Linked Contacts
If you have users who use Windows Phone 7 then it is possible to merge contacts through the phone. This method has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage to using this method is that you aren't just limited to merging duplicate Outlook contacts. You can also merge Facebook accounts, Windows Live Accounts, etc. When you link contacts and accounts together, Windows will aggregate the information from all of the linked accounts and display it through a single contact. The down side to using this technique is that the contacts are never truly merged. Windows Phone 7 treats the contacts as if they have been merged together, but Outlook will continue to display duplicate contacts.

To link contacts using Windows Phone 7, just open a contact and then tap on the Link icon at the bottom of the screen. When you do, the phone will display a list of potential duplicate contacts and accounts that you might want to link the account to. Just tap the contacts that you want to link.

Merging Contact Through Outlook
As I mentioned earlier, Outlook does not have a Merge Contact function and merges are not officially supported, but there is a way to do it. The first step is to pick a set of duplicate contacts that you want to merge. One of these contacts will have to act as the primary contact while the others act as secondary contacts. The primary contact should be the one that is the most complete or the one in which the contact's name is spelled correctly.

Once you have selected a primary contact, open it and then select the contact's name. After doing so, press Ctrl+C to copy the contact's name to the clipboard.

Next, open one of the secondary contacts. Highlight the contact's name and then press Ctrl+V to replace the name with the one that you copied from your primary contact. Now, go ahead and save the contact. You should now have two contacts with exactly the same name.

Close the secondary contact and then right click on it and choose the Copy command from the shortcut menu. After doing so, click on the secondary contact one more time and then press the Delete key. Outlook will delete the secondary contact.

Now, click the mouse in the empty area to the right of the contacts and then press Ctrl+V. When you do, Outlook will display a dialog box giving you the opportunity to use the information that you are pasting to update an existing contact (in this case your primary contact). The information that will be added to the primary contact is displayed in orange.

Even though Outlook doesn't have a true contact merge function, this trick seems to work really well for merging contact information and getting rid of duplicate contacts.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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