How to Use Contact Categories as Distribution Lists in Outlook

An alternative to groups and distribution lists

Social network concept on digital display with email sent to multiple contacts

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Outlook distribution lists are handy for sending email to a group of people quickly. One way to create a flexible email distribution list is to categorize contacts using Outlook mail merge. Outlook assigns any number of categories to your contacts. Then sort your address book by category to create a versatile distribution list.

Instructions in this article apply to Outlook 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, 2007; and Outlook for Office 365.

Use Contact Categories as Distribution Lists in Outlook

To create a distribution or mailing list with categories in Outlook 2019, 2016, 2013, and 2010:

  1. In Outlook, select People. Or, press Ctrl+3.

    Outlook Contacts listed.
  2. Highlight the contacts you want to add to the distribution list. To highlight multiple contiguous entries, press Ctrl and select contacts. To select a range, press Shift, then select the first and last contact in the range.

    To add people who are not in your Outlook contacts, press Ctrl+N to create a new contact.

  3. Go to the Home tab.

    Multiple contacts are selected in Outlook.
  4. In the Tags group, select Categorize.

    Selecting categories in Outlook contacts.
  5. Select All Categories.

    Selecting all categories in Outlook contacts.
  6. In the Color Categories dialog box, select New.

    Color categories is displayed in Outlook contacts.
  7. In the Add New Category dialog box, enter a name for the distribution list.

    Creating a new category in Outlook.
  8. Select the Color dropdown arrow and choose None or assign a color.

  9. Select OK.

    A new category is created titled friends in Outlook.
  10. In the Color Categories dialog box, verify that the new category is selected.

  11. Select OK.

Add Members to a Distribution List

To add new members to the distribution list at any time:

  1. Go to People.

  2. Highlight the contacts you want to add to the list.

    Two contacts are highlighted in Outlook.
  3. Go to the Home tab.

  4. In the Tags group, select Categorize.

  5. Select the list's category.

    Choosing a contact category in Outlook.
  6. If the category does not appear in the menu, select All Categories, select the list's category check box, then select OK.

Send a Message to Your Category Distribution List

To compose a new message or meeting request to all members of the category distribution list:

  1. Go to People.

    Outlook Contacts listed.
  2. Select Search Contacts or press Ctrl+E.

    Searching Contacts in Outlook.
  3. Go to the Search tab.

  4. In the Refine group, select Categorized.

    Selecting a category to search in Outlook.
  5. Select the desired category.

    Searching for a friends category in Outlook.
  6. Go to the Home tab.

  7. In the Actions group, select Mail Merge.

    Selecting mail merge within Outlook.
  8. In the Mail Merge Contacts dialog box, select All contacts in current view.

  9. Select the Document type dropdown arrow and choose ​Form Letters.

  10. Select the Merge to dropdown arrow and choose Email.

  11. In the Message subject line text box, enter the subject for the email.

    Viewing the mail merge contact dialog in Outlook.
  12. Select OK.

  13. Compose the email text in Word. Go to the Mailing tab to use the tools in the Write & Insert Fields group to customize greetings for each recipient and insert other address book fields. Select Preview Results to view your fields and rules in the email for each recipient.

    A mail merge letter in Word.
  14. Select Finish & Merge Send Email Messages.

    Selecting to send the email message mail merge.
  15. In the Merge to E-mail dialog box, select the To dropdown arrow and choose Email.

    Mail merge to email dialog in Word.
  16. Select the Mail format dropdown arrow and choose Plain text or HTML.

  17. In the Send records section, select All.

  18. Select OK.

  19. If prompted, select Allow.

Use Contact Categories as Distribution Lists in Outlook 2007

To create a distribution or mailing list with categories in Outlook 2007:

  1. Go to Contacts.

  2. Highlight the contacts you want to add to your new distribution list.

    To add new members later, assign to them to the appropriate category individually.

  3. Select the Categorize toolbar button. Or, select Actions > Categorize from the menu.

  4. Select All Categories.

  5. Select New.

  6. Enter a name for the distribution list.

  7. Select the Color dropdown arrow and choose None.

  8. Select OK.

  9. Verify that the new category is checked and select OK.

Send a Message to Your Category Distribution List in Outlook 2007

To compose a new message or meeting request to all members of the category-run distribution list:

  1. Go to Contacts.

  2. Select View > Current View > By Category.

  3. Select the desired list category's heading.

  4. Select Actions > Create > New Message to Contact or Actions > Create > New Meeting Request to Contact.

  5. Select OK if Outlook notifies you that your action will apply to all items in the group.

  6. Select the To field or the Bcc field. For list messages, consider adding addresses to the​ Bcc field to avoid revealing every contact's address.

    If a contact has multiple email addresses, Outlook adds each address. Delete unneeded addresses to avoid sending a duplicate email to your contact.

  7. In the To field, enter your email address.

  8. Compose the message or meeting request.

  9. Send the message.