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Tips for Replying in Email

While teaching business writing in South Carolina this week, I learned two tips for better replies in email. With thanks to Mandi and Amy, here are their two good suggestions.

1. When you reply, do not introduce a new topic.
Illustration: In Mandi’s work, she often sends an email to many people. When they reply, she files their responses in a folder she has created for that purpose. She doesn’t read the replies thoroughly as they come in; instead, to be efficient with her time, she files the replies until she is ready to review them as a group.

Unfortunately, if someone introduces a new topic–for example, a request for supplies–Mandi will not see it until she reviews all the replies. By that time, the person needing supplies may be desperate for an item.

Moral of the Story: When you are writing about a separate topic, send a separate email.

2. When you reply, be efficient. Save time for others.
Illustration:  When Amy writes a request within her group, she may email several people at once because she is not sure who has the responsibility or the time to respond. (For purposes of the illustration, let’s imagine that Amy writes to Bill, Jill, Phil, and Will.) Sometimes Amy will get a response that creates more work for her. In it, someone–for example, Phil–will respond to Amy, telling her that the job is Jill’s. Then Amy will have to write to Jill, explaining that Phil suggested she write to her.

But to be efficient and eliminate the need for more messages, Phil himself might have written to Jill (with a cc to Amy, Will, and Bill) to confirm that Jill will complete Amy’s request. After all, Phil is sending an email anyway. Why not get the job done by communicating with Jill and informing the others?

Email Etiquette Tip: Responding is good. Responding in a way that saves work for others is even better.

Many thanks to everyone in Fort Mill and Charlotte for your good suggestions and ideas on business writing.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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