Last reviewed on August 14, 2012   —  7 Comments

A Contact Group , or Distribution List (DL) as it was called in previous versions of Microsoft Outlook, is a list of Contacts who have similar interests, such as team members or book club. When you want to send to the group, you select the contact group instead of each contact individually.

Anyone can create a contact group in their mailbox or personal folders.

Additionally, Exchange server uses may have access to distribution groups in the Global Access List (GAL). Exchange Server users need to ask their Exchange administrator to create distribution groups in the GAL. If software is installed that allows end-users to create DL in the GAL, the administrator will be able to instruct users how to create distribution groups.

When available, a distribution list in the GAL is preferred over creating one in the mailbox or local data file. When a DL is stored on the server, the list is not expanded by Outlook and the group name is in the To field. When a personal DL is sent, the DL is expanded by Outlook as the message is sent.

Create a personal contact group

Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010

To create a personal Contact Group in your Outlook Contact's folder, open a Contact Group form using the New Items > More Items command on the ribbon or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+L.

  1. Click Add Members button, From Outlook Contacts.
  2. Double click on a contact to add it to the Contact Group or click the Add button.

Outlook 2010 CONTACT Group

To add addresses to a contract group that are not in your Contacts folder, you can use Add Members, New E-mail Contact and type in a name and email address, or use From Outlook Contacts and type or paste the address into the Members field. If you have a list of addresses, either one address per line or semicolon delimited, you can copy and paste the list into the Members field to add all of the addresses at once.

Outlook 2003, Outlook 2002, and older

To create a personal Distribution List in your Outlook Contact's folder, open a Distribution List form using the New > Distribution List command on the toolbar or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+L.

  1. Click Select Members button.
  2. Double click on a contact to add it to the Distribution List or click the Members -> button.

To add addresses to a contract group that are not in your Contacts folder, use the Add New Member dialog or you can type the email address in the Members field of the Select Members dialog.

To add a list of addresses where the addresses are either one address per line or comma delimited, copy and paste the list into the Select Members > Members field to add all of the addresses at once.

Remove Members from a DL

When you want to add or remove people from your contact group, open the group and select the person's name then click Remove Member button (Outlook 2007 and up) or Remove (Outlook 2003 and older).

Please note, the Delete Group button in Outlook 2007 and up deletes the group from your Contacts folder, it does not delete members of the group. If you made this mistake, look for the group in the Deleted Items folder and drag it back to Contacts.

Updating a Contact Group

Create a contact group

When you update a contact's address, any personal distribution lists they belong to are not updated. You will need to update each DL yourself. To do this, open the DL, select the contacts then click the Update Now button.

When the group member's icon resembles a rolodex, it means the member is not associated with a contact. These members will not be updated. When the icon is a contact icon, and their contact was updated, the group will be updated.

After updating a group you should delete the group name from the autocomplete list. The autocomplete list is not updated automatically and will use the old contact data. To delete it, open a new message form and begin typing the group name in the To field. Select and delete it when it comes up.

Sharing a DL

When you want to share your DL with others, you can Forward the DL to them as an Outlook Contact or In Internet Format.

When you forward as an Outlook Contact, the recipient needs to be using Outlook.

When you for the group using Internet format, a text file listing the names and email addresses is attached to a message. The recipient will need to copy the rows of names and addresses and paste into the Members field of their own Contact Group.


  1. Mike Phillips says

    I have contacts who are members of multiple contact groups. When a property of the contact changes, it is difficult to find all the contact groups in which that person is a member and then update that contact group. Is there a simple way around all that?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You can have as many as you want in a Contact Group... but you are limited to the number that your mail host allows you to send to in one message. Depending on your email account type, Outlook might also limit you to around 100 in the To field.

  2. Aaron says

    Is it possible to add people to a contact group directly from an email? For example, if I have an email I have sent to several people, can I go into the sent folder, select those emails, and put the recipients into a group? Is there any way to avoid adding members manually? I have emailed several hundred people who I want to consolidate into a group. Please save me the trouble of going through and adding them one by one!

  3. Shannon says

    It seems I am limited as to the amount of people I can include in a Contact Group in Outlook 2010. Have you ever run into this?

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