Reply to All: Do They Need It?

In business writing seminars, I often ask people about their pet peeves (dislikes, complaints) in the writing they receive. Yesterday I heard an unusual pet peeve. An attendee said he disliked it when people did not Reply to All in email. I assumed I had misheard him, since people nearly always complain that they get far too many Reply to All messages.

It turns out that he did not like being left out of an email conversation. He said something like this: "I want to know when a project is finished. If I don’t get that reply, I keep my files open, not knowing the project has been completed."

It makes sense. He wants the writer to use Reply to All when he needs the information.

That’s the key: Use Reply to All when everyone who received the original message needs your reply.

Let’s look at typical situations. Join me in thinking about whether each of these merits a Reply or a Reply to All.

Situation 1. In an internal email, Laszlo writes to 30 managers to ask whether they have anyone to send to a training program in business writing that his department may schedule. When the 30 people respond, should they Reply to Laszlo or Reply to All?

Situation 2. In an internal email, Pamela writes to six people in the office, asking who can cover the front desk while the receptionist leaves for an appointment this afternoon. Should the six Reply to Pamela or Reply to All?

Situation 3. In an internal email, Jon writes to eight people on the team, asking them for their feedback on a presentation a vendor just made to them. Should the eight Reply to Jon or Reply to All?

Situation 4. In an external email, Lisa writes to her four contacts at a new client company. She asks whether she should copy the other three of them whenever she communicates with one of them about the project. Should the four Reply or Reply to All?

Have you decided? Here are my views:

Situation 1:
Reply! Only Laszlo needs the responses. Once he hears from most people, he can decide whether to schedule the training and then let people know about it. A Reply to All in this situation would be a waste of everyone’s time.

Situation 2:
I say Reply to All. People need to know whether the front desk has been covered. As soon as one person replies that he or she can sit in for the receptionist, the others need not respond.

Situation 3:
Reply. Jon should instruct people to write to him only since he is the only person who needs the information now. That way, people won’t be influenced by the opinions of others before they express their own opinion. Jon can collect the responses and report a summary to the team.   

Situation 4:
Reply to All. Everyone needs this information. It would be best if the project lead would Reply to All first, outlining his or her views and asking others for their input.

What do you think? Please reply to me!