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Reply vs Reply All

This week I got an email informing me that the power in the building would be off this Sunday from 9:00am until 12:00 noon. Building? What building?

It turns out that the email came from Paul, the facilities manager of the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland. Paul meant to send the email to current students and faculty but, by mistake, sent it to the school’s alumni.

Most of the alumni recipients did what I did: realized the error and deleted the email. No big deal.

Other alumni were less thoughtful. Feeling the need to comment on the error, they hit “Reply All,” sending their responses to all the original recipients. And, ironically, some alumni used the “Reply All” feature to request that everyone stop using the “Reply All” feature. It was madness.

If you don’t understand this madness, let me explain.

  • When you “Reply,” you are sending your response to the person who sent the email to you.
  • When you “Reply All,” you are sending your response to the sender and to all the other recipients of that email. This can be one — or one hundred — additional people.

As a general rule, choose “Reply” when you wish to respond to an email. Only choose “Reply All” when it is appropriate for the other recipients to see your response. Otherwise, your email to “all” will be a real annoyance and will reflect badly on you.

Despite Paul’s error and the excessive alumni responses, I am grateful for a perfect example of poor email etiquette — one that i hope you will avoid. Now you know better!

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