How to Create a Contact Group (Distribution List) in Outlook

Contact list windows in Outlook for Windows 10

You can create contact groups in Outlook so sending an email to a group of recipients is much easier.

Mail Many People with Ease in Outlook

When you have just become a new grandmother, signed a contract with a major label or found an ancient engraving trying to plant a tree, do you not want to tell as many people as possible?

Getting the message out, that is what mailing lists are for. In Outlook, such lists are (quite appropriately) called contact groups or "distribution list." Using such an Outlook distribution list, you can send an email to a group of people with ease.

First, though, let us find out how to set up a mailing list in Outlook—easily (that goes without saying).

How to Set Up a Distribution List in Outlook

To set up a contact group in Outlook for list email:

  1. Make sure the Home ribbon is active and expanded in Outlook.

  2. Click New Items.

    New Items
  3. Select More Items > Contact Group from the menu that has appeared.

    Contact Group submenu item in More Items

    You can also press Ctrl+Shift+L.

    In Outlook's People section, click New Contact Group or New ItemsContact Group in the Home ribbon.

  4. Type the name of the distribution list under Name:.

    The list name is what you will use to address messages to the list.

    Office Group as name of new Contact Group in Outlook
  5. Click Save & Close in the Contact Group ribbon.

    Save & Close button in Outlook Contact Group editor

You can add members to the new group right away, of course; see just below.

Add Members to an Outlook Contact Group

To add people already in your contacts to a distribution list in Outlook:

  1. Click Add Members on the Contact Group ribbon tab.

  2. Select From Outlook Contacts from the menu.

    From Outlook Contacts submenu in Add Members button
  3. Use search to find the desired address book entry or entries and make sure all the contacts you want to add to the group are highlighted.

    You can search not only for names and email addresses but also for other criteria to add multiple recipients at once.

  4. Click Members.

    Members button in Select Members Contacts dialog
  5. Double-click the group in Outlook People if it is not already open.

To add recipients not yet in your Outlook address book to a contact group:

  1. Click Add Members > New E-mail Contact in the Contact Group ribbon.

    New E-mail Contact submenu item in Add Members button
  2. Type a name for the contact under Display name:.

    If you have but an email address, you can use the email address, for example, or something like "Newsletter recipient."

  3. Enter the email address you want to add to the group under E-mail address:.

  4. If you want to stop Outlook from also adding the new address as an individual contact to the address book, make sure Add to Contacts is not checked.

    Unchecked Add to Contacts button in Add New Member dialog

    Click OK.

    OK button in Add New Member dialog
  5. In either case, click Save & Close to save the changes to the distribution list.

    Save & Close button in Contact Group window

Set Up a Distribution List in Outlook 2003 and 2007

To create a mailing list in Outlook 2007:

  1. Select File > New > Distribution List from the menu.
  2. Tip: You can also press Ctrl+Shift+L (think list).
  3. Type the desired name under Name:.
  4. The list name is what you will use to address messages to the list.
  5. Now, you can add new members immediately using the Add New and Select Members buttons.
  6. Click Save and Close.

How to Share a Contact Group in Outlook

Once you have created a distribution list in Outlook, others need not set up the same group again on their own. Instead, you can share any contact group by sending its contents for others to use.

To share an Outlook contact group by email:

  1. Go to People in Outlook.

    People tab in Outlook
  2. Find and double-click the group you want to share.

  3. Select Forward Group > As an Outlook Contact from the Actions group on the Contact Group ribbon tab.

    Ad as an Outlook Contact in Forward Group button

    The Outlook Contact format lets others using Outlook import the group very easily (see below).

    You can also choose In Internet Format (vCard). This will attach the group member's names and addresses in a simple text file, not vCard format. People not using Outlook may still be able to extract the addresses and rebuild the group, but it will not be a straight-forward process.

  4. Address the message to the person with whom you share the list.

    To: field filled out with Example Man to share Contact Group
  5. Click Send.

To import an Outlook contact group that has been shared with you by email:

  1. Open the message that contains the attached Outlook Contact file for the group.
  2. Click the downward-pointed triangle next to the Outlook Item attachment.
  3. Select Open from the menu that has appeared.
  4. Click File in the group window that opened.
  5. Make sure you are on the Info sheet.
  6. Click Move to Folder.
  7. Select Copy to Folder… from the menu that has appeared.
  8. Now make sure your Contacts folder is selected.
  9. Tip: You can choose any address book folder, of course.
  10. Click OK.

Now you can close the group window and delete the email that contained it, if you like.

Mail Your List from Outlook

With your distribution list in place and ready, you can start sending messages to its members.

Categories as Distribution Lists

If you find Outlook's distribution lists a bit unstable, arcane and separated from your main list of contacts, you can use contact categories to form elegant mailing lists.

Better Outlook Email Marketing

For more advanced list mailing that allows for each recipient's address to be in their message's To: field and personalization, you can turn to an email marketing add-on that integrates with Outlook. Outlook's built-in merge to email function is another, albeit a bit clumsy, option in Outlook 2002 and Outlook 2003.