Like the vast majority of you reading this blog, I receive and reply to a great number of emails every day.
We each have our own ways of organising our inbox. What works for me will most likely not work for you and vice versa.
Without a doubt there is no such thing as a universal set of rules for emails. However, during the time I’ve spent working at companies both big and small I’ve picked up a few pointers that I would classify as best practices.
1. The Reply To All button is your friend
The Reply To All button is designed to ensure everyone on the original email receives your reply as well.
If someone has sent you an email and specifically gone out of their way to include additional people it is a clear indication that the sender wants these people kept in the loop as well. In this instance I highly recommend you use the Reply To All button.
In general, if you see others on the email, press Reply To All.
When would you not use the Reply To All button? One example that comes to mind is when you’ve received an email due to your address being on a pre-created mailing list. These emails are normally in the form of an announcement or require a personal response. Unless the sender specifically asks for you to reply to all, I’d recommend against it. Maybe add in a couple of additional people who you feel may benefit from knowing your response, but certainly don’t bother the whole company with your lunch location preferences, or whether you’ll be attending 5 o’clock drinks.
2. Text based email signatures are still important
At most places you will work at, you will be required to display the company signature in your emails. Most email signatures are largely image based to ensure the company’s branding is reflected. This makes perfect sense.
Below the image though, I would highly recommend re-typing the important details such as your name, email address, website URL and phone number(s). The reason for this is as we all know, quite a few emails we receive (especially in Outlook) come through in plain text format. When you reply to these it is common for image based (and sometimes HTML based) signatures to be dropped off. Without the text based signature being there, you’ll be left with little to no signature on your email. Sure, you can turn it back on, but having the text based version appear automatically is a huge time saver when you’re trying to reply to a large volume of emails in what is often the quickest possible time-frame.
This also assists when people are viewing your emails. By default, most smart phones (and many desktop email programs like Outlook) view emails with images turned off for security purposes. Many people turn them back on, but for those who do not, the only way someone may see your phone number or website URL may be if your email signature has a text based alternative.
3. Bullet point or number your questions
We’ve all experienced the immense frustration of receiving a large email stuffed full of important questions. You want to answer the questions to keep the sender happy but the time it will take you to extract the questions and then reply in a way that actually makes sense makes you want to pull your hair out.
If nothing else good comes from this situation, be sure to learn to never put the recipient of your emails in such a frustrating position. When sending your emails, structure your questions in a bulleted format, that makes replying below your questions as simple and easy as possible. Not only will the person you’re emailing love you for this, you’ll also get a reply a lot quicker too.