replying to an e-mail

There are several ways people reply to e-mails, and I have yet to settle on the preferred solution. I can think of three main ways to handle the text to which you are responding:

A. Remove all the text of the previous e-mail.

B. Leave all the text from all previous e-mails.

C. Leave just the text from the most recent e-mail, snipping the rest.

If you use B or C you can place your reply in different places:

1. Reply at the very top of the old e-mail.

2. Reply at the very bottom of the old e-mail.

3. Reply to each section throughout the text of the old e-mail.

I’ve done all of them, but of the first three, I usually prefer A and occasionally C. B can make the length of the e-mail unnecessarily large.

I used to use 3, but that caused several people to become confused, so I’ve either done A or if I include the e-mail, I use 1.

Another issue to consider is the difference between e-mail list etiquette and personal e-mail. I reply differently to a personal e-mail as opposed to a list because lists are often converted into digests or have archives somewhere, so it is easier to follow if most of the cruft is removed. I especially dislike seeing 10 15-line signatures or those annoying corporate disclaimers stating that whatever the person is saying has nothing to do with the company’s official policies. Those are prime candidates for being snipped before I reply.

What are your thoughts?


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  1. I totally agree. Personally I like using method C since I tend to have dificulty with structurin my message and this provides structure for me and stops me from meandering too much.

    Comment by Stephen Urich on October 12, 2004 @ 3:25 pm
  2. For Gmail users, I like A. They don’t need it anyway, it’s a conversation!

    Comment by Meredith on October 12, 2004 @ 3:32 pm
  3. Good point. I almost always remove the previous e-mail when I’m writing to someone with a Gmail account.

    Comment by dan on October 12, 2004 @ 3:36 pm
  4. Hi, can you please spare me a Gmail invite. I think it will solve most of my bulk mail problems. Thank you in advance

    Comment by Christine on October 13, 2004 @ 6:22 am
  5. It depends upon who I’m responding to. If it’s a friend or family member, especially my mother, I respond with either a completely new e-mail or with my response at the top. In professional e-mail, I usually cut out as much of the cruft as possible and place my responses under each question or topic. I think it makes the e-mail flow like a conversation that way.

    Comment by jason on October 13, 2004 @ 8:41 am
  6. Work, I leave everything. Gmail, I was under the impression I don’t need to delete off the old because it seems to handle that for me if it’s a back and forth conversation. Personal, my biggest dilemma is if I reply to the sender or to reply to ALL when I reply with the Snopes link and a kindly note telling them to research before forwarding virus threats, petitions, urban legends, etc.

    Comment by Renee on October 13, 2004 @ 11:29 am
  7. Christine: I just sent you one.

    Jason: That’s true, it depends on who you’re sending it to.

    Renee: Gmail does handle it by hiding the reply text, but it’s just easier to delete it entirely (cuts down on the size of the e-mail). I used to send back responses correcting people when they forwarded incorrect things, but then they usually stop sending anything and sometimes what they forward is amusing. I now ignore most of the things they send, and hope for an occasional funny one.

    Comment by dan on October 13, 2004 @ 12:28 pm
  8. It’s so much easier to just not respond.

    Actually, if the email is short, I’ll respond at the bottom. If it is more lengthy and several topics are discussed, I’ll snip out the unnecessary stuff (heavily in threads) and reply below the appropriate part. However, most people outside of Geekdom don’t understand this method.

    Comment by Cameron on October 13, 2004 @ 1:31 pm
  9. I learned that when I replied to every paragraph and the person responded asking why I had only replied to the first part of the e-mail.

    I’ve since stopped doing it because it confused people so much.

    Comment by dan on October 13, 2004 @ 2:32 pm
  10. I generally respond at the top of the old email or I might just start a whole new email. Most people respond to my emails in the same manner; but, I have noticed that if there are several things to be addressed many people will miss certain points unless they respond throughout – line by line. It does make the email lengthy, but at least all points have been covered.

    Comment by Babs on October 13, 2004 @ 8:07 pm

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