How to Use Email, Part 4: How to Reply to an Email Message (part A)

If you reply to an email, only include the portion of the message to which you are replying. If someone sends you a message that is a page long, and you are only replying to things said in the first paragraph, delete the rest of the message. This is not difficult! Just spend 10 to 20 seconds and clear out stuff that is not necessary. For example, if I reply to you, there’s no need for me to include your signature file in my reply because I’m pretty sure you already know how to contact yourself.

If you do reply, be sure that your comments are clearly distinguishable from the original message. Here’s a sample:

Original message:


Hi Peter,

Would you and Anne like to come over for a BBQ next week? Please let us know if you can make it, and whether you can bring the wine or the dessert. Looking forward to seeing you,

Chris


My reply:


Hi Chris,

>Would you and Anne like to come over for dinner next
>week?

Absolutely! We’d love to come.

>whether you can bring the wine or the dessert.

I have a fine bottle of Merlot that’s been sitting in the cellar for 10 years, so we’ll bring that. We look forward to seeing you there! — Peter


See how easy it is to distinguish my remarks from the original message?
Now, let’s take a look at how NOT to do it…

The Bad Way:


Hi Peter,Would you and Anne like to come over for a BBQ next
week? Please let us know if you can make it, and
whether you can bring the wine or the dessert.
Looking forward to seeing you, Chris Yes that sounds like fun we’d love to come over.
I have a fine bottle of Merlot that’s been sitting in the cellar for 10 years, so we’ll bring that. We look forward to seeing you there! — Peter


See how you can’t even tell where his email ends and my reply begins?
If your email client does not insert markers by default (“>” in my example) you can change it to do so. In Outlook 2003, the settings are located under Tools | Options | Preferences | Email Options, then choose “Prefix each line of the original message”). If you don’t know how to do this, ask a friend or your resident IT expert.

Continued in Part 4b.