Skip to content

Community Service: No Replies to All

In the United States, it is a national holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Inspired by Barack and Michelle Obama, many individuals and organizations will perform community service in food banks, shelters, and other places of need. When I finish this post, I will spend my day with elderly and sick friends. It is a day of connection and community.

Wherever we are, a simple but essential service we can perform for our business community is to avoid unnecessary Reply to All email. Reply to All is frequently a meaningless, time-wasting sham of connection that shuts down productivity and gluts email servers. Last week the Associated Press reported on a flood of sudden email replies at the US State Department ("Reply-all e-mail storm hits State Department") that virtually crippled communications there.

Although not focused on the sick and needy, avoiding Reply to All would indeed be a service. In every Email Intelligence class I lead, participants rant about the senseless, aggravating email they receive–much of it Replies to All.

When should we Reply to All? I answered that question in "Reply to All: Do They Need It?" But we can also look to the days before email, when people sent photocopies of memos and letters through interoffice mail. Each copy had to be printed, placed in an envelope, and addressed. So here's a guide: If you had no email, would you copy the message, put it in an interoffice envelope, address the envelope, and drop it in your outbox for pickup? If the copied message would not be worth the effort to send that way to each recipient, don't send it Reply to All.

If you have other ideas about reducing Reply to All email, please share them. The State Department (see above) is threatening unspecified "disciplinary action" for those who abuse Reply to All.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Read my "Pursue Peace" entry for ideas on improving the world one message at a time. 

Syntax Training

Posted by Avatar photo
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.

5 comments on “Community Service: No Replies to All”

  • In my professional life I am actually thankful for reply to all and think that in many cases it should be required. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been dropped out of the loop on something by people who didn’t hit reply to all. That little button would have given me more notice or final decisions on many things. This certainly isn’t the case for everything, but it definitely has a purpose.

    As a side note, it would be helpful would be if your RSS feed contained the full post, not just a brief excerpt.

  • Hi, Nicole. Thanks for presenting the other side. In the classes I teach, comments run about 50 against Reply to All abuses for every 1 wishing to have been included. The solution is for writers to think about who NEEDS the information.

    Regarding the blog feed, it comes various ways. You might want to check the link on the lower right to see if you can have the feed delivered a way that works better for you.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Yes, Reply to All can be annoying and a waste of everyone’s time.

    But you must admit, when someone clicks that button by accident, the results can also be pretty hilarious. 🙂

  • The email sender should take precautionary measures to avoid causing issues for their email recipients. Placing email addresses in the bcc line removes the option of replying all (intentionally or accidentally) to an email.

Comments are closed.