The dreaded “reply all”

 I love Outlook…I really do. I cannot imagine what it would be like to do my job without it. I’ve developed little tricks (like, when I see something I want to check out and don’t have time, I drop it in a mail, close it and it gets saved in drafts…love that).  I love contact manager and the ability to drag an e-mail into it and have it create a new record.


But something is bothering me. Well, it pretty much always has, ever since I started using Outlook. It’s the “reply all” feature. And really, it’s not so much the feature, but how people use it. I wish that when someone even hovered over the “reply all” button, it would set off an alarm, ask them if they really wanted to reply ALL and then asked them again.


We simply get an abundance of mail here. And as much as people think we get tons of mail from the outside, we get more from inside these here walls. And with each unnecessary click to open a mail that says “thanks!” or “me too!”, my enthusiasm for life and e-mail wanes a bit. I’ve tried to determine whether it’s self importance that motivates this activity, but I think it’s actually just carelessness, frenzy, something. But I pray that it does stop one day.


Perhaps people should have to re-type the distribution group aliases if they truly want it to go to everyone. And with each keystroke, they can think about whether every person needs to receive the mail.  I’d gladly take Clippy back if we could do away with “reply all”.

Comments (20)

  1. Mark Tookey says:


    I wholeheartedly agree. The number of times one has to trawl through a million replies to a company-wide email or the like that have been sent to everyone, and add absolutely nothing – it saps the will to live (Hence the need for coffee!!).

    I’ve long thought that one way to reduce the incidence of "reply all" junk email is for Outlook to not install the button at all as a default function. That way, the extra effort involved finding it might cut down use to mostly only those who actually had something useful to say!

    I think you might be right about carelessness and the like being part of the reason, but I don’t think you can underestimate the self importance aspect. I think some people just love to envision their name at the top of everyone’s Inboxes, and I think oftentimes they reply to some great announcement in the belief that by so doing, they are somehow associated with the triumph (or whatever the reason for the original email was).



  2. Steven R says:

    I would also like to vote to get rid of the read receipt functionality. Do people that reply all really need to know that everyone read their "thanks!"? I also hate it when people turn on read receipts and leave it on, every time they email you they send a frickin read receipt.

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    Mark-it’s everywhere, isn’t it?

    Steven-I totally agree. I don’t understand what is being served by them knowing when I read the mail versus when I respond (of course, I click "no" in the box that asks me if I want to send them the read receipt). At best it seems nosy, and at worst, paranoid. It doesn’t reflect well on the sender…maybe suggesting that people don’t usually respond to their mail…meaning what?

  4. Irada says:

    Ditto here!

    On a similar note here is a thought. I used to be in a position managing a large department, all remotely, and that during M&A process. Crazed by multiple e-mails, I suggested to my team the following rule: address those who are expected to respond and/or take an action in the "to:" line and those who just need to be informed in the "cc:" line. I know it’s a little bit different than what you are saying, but it helped a bit. At least, the "cc:-ed" people knews they could read it later. We also included "Your action/reply/review/feedback/whatever is requested" right in the subject line and flag it with the due date.

    Thought I would share. Although knowing you, you have you own and much more effective tricks to manage the Outlook monster -:)

  5. vbNullString says:

    I use reply all all the time. Please don’t do away with it. You guys work for big company, so you may not use it much, but for those who work for small companies, it’s very useful. Or even when you communite with a few people via email, it’s useful.

  6. StevenG says:

    I can e-mail you the Outlook template that was mailed to me when I worked at MS. It creates a wonderful e-mail that removes the "reply all buton". Other than that it looks like every other mail.

  7. Eusebio Rufian-Zilbermann says:

    I must be really weird…

    * I find the reply all quite useful and not annoying (but I haven’t received a "me too" reply all for a looong time)

    * I have my automated return receipt processing turned all on and find that very useful too (for those who believe that email is reliable, well… it is not)

    * I do like the Office Assistant and I find it "friendlier" than a dialog box (although I prefer Saeko Sensei to Clippy)

    On another topic: Heather, your summaries for the Apprentice were very enjoyable. I’m glad you’ll be commenting the Martha Stewart episodes too 🙂

  8. HeatherLeigh says:

    So Eusebio must be the one sending all the "reply all" responses. Naughty! ; )

  9. The problem has two parts from my point of view. The first is repurposing e-mail with mailing lists. E-mail is not designed for mailing lists but for one-to-one or one-to-few communication. The content found on mailing lists should be left to actual newsgroups which ironically Outlook Express supports and Outlook does not.

    The second part of the problem is groups like AOL and MSN allowing easy online access without effectively teaching netiquette. Back before AOL and MSN, such netiquette issues only came up in August/September when students first get network access when they go to a university. Now, online services allow easy access anytime so that rate of incomming users surpassed the ability of existing netizens to communicate netiquette.

  10. Rebecca says:

    Amen! "Reply all" is one of those options you should only get access to after passing an email competency test! 🙂

  11. Hi Heather. I agree that getting all these messages just saying "me too" or "I agree" are annoying. Also, when several departments are involved, it can be useful to be copied at some point, but when it gets to discuss libraries or highly technical aspects, I have no interest for this. Working in Europe for a US company makes it even worse, as piles of messages arrive during the night, and you have to read everything to make sure about what is relevant or not.

    But my main point was to say that we (the company I’m about to leave BTW) used to have a CEO who was very much encouraging this practice of "reply all" and copying as many people in Senior and middle Management as possible He was saying that we should not think we are annoying anyone and that more people than necessary should be copied rather than missing the one who would have a valuable input. Obviously, that added to the confusion, and everyone wanted to make sure he/she was complying with the executive order, so in a few days the "reply all" feature led to a complete overflow of emails. And to separate serious matters from the "me too" category actually took weeks. I guess all this is a question of balance and being responsible when copying people and/ or using the "reply all" feature.

  12. TracyBN says:

    Agree completely with "reply all"…count to 10 and think it through or resist the urge. "Read receipt" seems to be getting a bad rap. Before MSFT I was in an company where people did not read/respond to email within a reasonable amount of time, so read receipt was quite useful for following up after a time. I don’t think the reader clicking to confirm the read receipt is in older Outlook versions–I recall it being automatic and having no reader involvement–so I discovered when I came to MSFT, used read receipt and received a gentle smackdown to discontinue…which I did immediately finding that people here DO read their email and respond appropriately. The necessity of each function depends on the organization and the people.

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    Brant-perhaps more companies should be using these newsgroups internally. And I second the proposal for required netiquette courses. WRT read receipts, I really only get them from people outside Microsoft. I think "hey, you don’t know me well enough to doubt my responsiveness!"


    Jean-Bernard…tht truly sounds like my worst nightmare. I was speaking with my co-workers yesterday about reply all and what else encompasses the ultimate annoyuance scenario for me. They proposed throwing a surprise party for me in my office with confetti and karaoke and everyone would "reply all" to the invitation and ham would be served. I would surely have to go home sick that day.

    Tracy-great points. I don’t think that read receipt should be done away with altogether. But it should only be used when the recipient of mails has a history of unresponsiveness. Then they are useful. And it’s incumbent upon the sender to judge whether it’s needed. But sometimes there’s just noo reason. Great points of clarification.

  14. Steve Levy says:

    Good reply all – when you really must let everyone know about something ("That’s 8 PM at The Road Kill Grill for dinner not 8 AM at Eggselent for breakfast")

    Bad reply all – when the superego takes a holiday and you respond to your Group VP’s biz msg by sending an email to your friend down the hall with a profanity laced assessment soliloquy interspersed with references to the GVP’s mother and ancestry; sometimes fun to read except when you’re the one you pressed "Reply All" (typically followed by the person who sent the email uttering something like "I am so out-of-work now…")

  15. Ian says:

    Hey Heather,

    After reading this post, I was reminded of an email I wrote a while ago to students who were careless with the "Reply All". People found it pretty funny.

    Instead of copying the whole thing here, It was easier to write my own "Reply All" entry. Enjoy! 🙂

  16. Bob says:

    I would like to suggest a way to stop all this sillyness. Send the emai to yourself and put everyone else in the Bcc: field. That way the reply all button will work like a reply alone to sender button. On the issue of disabling the reply all button you can create an Outlook form to do that as mentioned above.  Found on the Microsoft website at:

    Paste the above into your browser

    Trainer Bob

  17. Giovanna says:

    I have to say for work reason the Reply all is a very good option.  We have muliple people working out of an e-mail box and when we get a request and reply to all that is was completed it keeps work from getting done twice.  It is very efficient.

    Giovanna Watson

  18. Harvey says:

    Dear Heather et al-

    Found this blog while trying to discover a way to continue to use Reply All (I agree with everyone that it should be generally abolished but with an escape clause when one really needs it) but if you need a Reply Receipt it only goes to the primary email recipient, not cc:s.  Anyone know that trick?


  19. Rich says:

    How about an enhancement to Outlook that would bring up a dialog box if the number of recipients on a Reply All exceeded a predetermined threshold count.  (The value of the threshold could be changeable and stored as an option.)

    The dialog box would give the option of going forward or cancelling the Reply All.

  20. Tim says:

    With problem with idiots who don’t understand the reply all feature goes both ways. I am often left out of a communication that has action required notes because some elitist uppity b!tch doesn’t think I need to know. Information is power, and some cunt$ I work with do it to exclude people, even at the expense of the project!

    O.k. I feel better now!

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