Guide To Reply All Email Etiquette

Let’s take a step back: “reply” performs a different function to “reply all” or “reply to all”, which sends your response to every recipient who was CCed on the original email. The extent to which this is a faux pas rather depends on how many people received the original email and in what context it was sent; if you’re alerting a handful of friends that their proposal for brunch has been received and registered, fine, no harm done.

But most workplaces communicate through distribution lists, with one email address standing in for any number of others: you just don’t know. And here’s where two buttons that ostensibly perform much the same function have a crucial difference – one that a lot of apparently quite tech-savvy people don’t seem to get.

And if I – as just one of many hundreds, sometimes thousands, of faceless recipients – feel such aversion, I can only sympathise with the sender who must sit helplessly by as their straightforward request or notification is derailed by a non sequitur, a misunderstanding or, worst of all, a bad joke.

Every company has their own “replyallpocalypse” tale to tell. The Wikipedia page for “email storm” lists stories dating back 20 years. An archetypal example is the legendary horror show of winter in 2014, when the Columbia journalism school sent a mass email inviting the press to a career fair. Hundreds of reply-all responses followed the original alert, many of them instructing others not to reply all, then answers from an occasional troll would trigger a further deluge.

In 2015 a Thomson Reuters employee known only as “Vince” sent an email to what a company spokesman termed “a large group” – reportedly as many as 33,000 individuals. In September last year an email meltdown at the New York Times prompted the paper to publish its shortest-ever story.

It’s the final wave I take the most issue with. Replying all to ask the sender that you be removed from a mailing list reveals a lack of technological savvy that is understandable and easily rectified. Replying all because you think your gag is good enough to be delivered directly to quite possibly thousands of people is another matter.

What does reply all mean in an email? The reply all function means that you email your response to both the sender of the previous message and everyone who received the original email.

What Reply-All E-mail Would Feel Like in Real Life | Shorts & Murmurs | The New Yorker

When to choose reply all

Below are some work situations in which reply all is the most efficient communication option:

1. You have relevant questions

Use reply all if you have a question that other contacts in the thread might have as well. Asking this type of question through reply all lessens the possibility of the original sender issuing multiple replies with the same answer.

For instance, if you wanted to ask your supervisor about changes announced via email to the companys PTO policy, reply all streamlines the communication process between your supervisor and coworkers.

Reply all is also useful if a supervisor sends an email containing logistical discrepancies. Including everyone in the message thread to correct dates and deadlines ensures that all employees update their calendars correctly.

2. Your response could have a direct effect on others

Replying to all is the most efficient option when you have important information for the majority of the people included in the message thread.

If your response would only affect a smaller number of recipients, then edit the list of contacts in the “To” field so that you are only communicating with those affected.

For example, it would be most effective to reply all if you know that a piece of information from the previous email is no longer true. Reply all is also usually acceptable when youre working on a company project and need to update fellow project participants on your progress.

3. Youre scheduling a meeting with a small group

Reply all is a considerate option when the preceding email is inviting you to or trying to coordinate a meeting with, fewer than ten people. If a supervisor or coworker is attempting to coordinate with a small group of people, then they likely require most or all of the email recipients to be there.

Replying to all in this scenario helps to quickly find a time that works for all or most contacts. Both the recipients and the original sender remain informed about everyones scheduling conflicts and available time blocks.

What does reply all mean in an email?

The reply all function means that you email your response to both the sender of the previous message and everyone who received the original email. Contacts in both the “To” field and the “cc” field of the preceding messages receive your email.

When to reply to an email with a different method

If an email contains information unnecessary to some recipients of the original message, then a different response type would most likely be better. The following are scenarios in which you should use an alternative to reply all instead:

1. Your response is only pertinent to the sender

If your response is relevant only to the original sender and not everyone on the message threads contact list, then send your email only to that person.

For example, if the original sender asked for a confirmation reply, you can reply with your confirmation only to that individual. Replying only to the sender is also usually the most appropriate choice in the workplace if you need to reveal personal information, such as salary or a social security number.

2. You want to reply to a few people in a listserv or discussion group

Listservs or discussion group email threads at the workplace might contain the contact information for a group of clients, several departments within your company or the entire company. Listservs are subscription-based email threads in which sending an email to a group address sends out the email to every individual members email address.

Supervisors usually encourage employees to stop replying to company-wide emails and listservs on a regular basis so that they can focus on their most important emails instead. Unless your email asks a question that others might have, has a direct effect on the majority of recipients or involves scheduling a meeting with a small group, it would be best to find a more effective communication method.

For example, if a listserv message goes out offering congratulations to a coworker, it is most considerate to reply only to that individual to offer congratulations rather than the entire thread.

If you wish to write a joke in response to a listserv message, consider posting the joke in a more acceptable location, such as an instant messaging channel dedicated to more casual workplace conversations. Alternatively, you could create a new email and send the joke only to a few friends.

3. The response is only appropriate for select people

Some internal company email systems default to reply all. Checking the recipients in the “To” and “cc” fields before you send a response is always a smart decision, especially when your email has content that would be inappropriate for some recipients.

For example, its normal to sometimes talk about your concerns at work. However, its best to direct those types of email responses to a few select friends instead, ideally outside of the companys internal emailing system. If you have a legitimate work complaint, send your concerns in a new email thread directly to a HR representative or other company contact who can help you address the problem.

Alternative choices to reply all email

Understanding reply all etiquette also requires understanding when neither the reply nor reply all function communicates the necessary information to the correct people. Knowing when to use alternatives to reply and reply all can help you make sure that you get important information to the correct inboxes.

1. Forward

Forwarding an email sends the message to a contact not included in the original “To” field.

Choose to forward an email instead if the contact receiving the forwarded message does not need to receive future messages in the thread, and if the previous recipients do not need any content you have added to the forwarded message.

2. Cc

An email cc, or carbon copy, is similar to forwarding in that the preceding message thread gets sent to a new recipient.

Contacts who are carbon copied on an email are usually affected by the message, but the sender has directly addressed the email content to a different group of people. Carbon copies are preferred when a recipient needs to be kept informed of the correspondence thread without personally contributing, such as to observe compliance or be notified that a business transaction is underway.

Employees sometimes use reply all and carbon copy together. You might use reply all with carbon copy if you notice that an employee who should have been in the previous message correspondence was not listed in the “To” or “cc” fields. This method both notifies current recipients of the new contact added to the thread and ensures that the new recipient receives future responses.

3. Bcc

When you add a contact to the bcc field, or blind carbon copy, the email thread conceals their email address from the other recipients.

Blind carbon copy emails are useful when a new employee joins an existing message thread, but others dont need to be notified of the new contact or send the new contact future content related to the thread.

Bcc is also a safe choice when youre sending an email to people who do not need to correspond with one another about the message topic in the future. Blind copying multiple contacts can be especially helpful when sending mass emails out to a list of clients, contractors or the full company.


How do you address an email to reply all?

Email Etiquette: Using Reply All
  1. Are you sure you want to send this?”
  2. When a sender specifically states, “reply all to this email,” it’s safe to say you should reply all to that email. …
  3. Sometimes replying all is important to ending an email chain for everyone.

How do you reply to multiple recipients in an email?

When you use reply all, there’s a chance you’re including people who no longer need to be included in the email chain, wasting their time with each new email. Sometimes someone on the chain has a side thought about the conversation.

Do you reply all to a thank you email?

If you’re replying to an email and you add recipients to the thread (either in the “To” or “CC” field), be sure to call this out at the beginning of your email reply, e.g., “+1 Baochi” or “adding Baochi.” This is a courteous alert to your recipient(s) that additional people have been added to the conversation.

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