Why You Should Not Default to "Reply All"

Do you really need to reply to everyone in a group message?

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If it's good to reply, it should be even better to reply to all. Right? 

Not always. If the reply is really important to all the recipients, then a "reply all" should be used.

Some reply all scenarios are due to mishaps where one recipient doesn't realize they clicked or tapped that option. Most, however, are likely due to the fact that the person doesn't realize when to send reply all messages.

Either way, it's generally annoying to the other people involved in the group message.

This is why it's best to use Reply to All cautiously.

When to Reply All

Use your email program's Reply to All feature only when:

  • Your reply will be necessary to know for the original sender and all people in the original email's To: and Cc: fields.

Do not reply to all when:

  • Only the original sender needs to know your reply,
  • Your comments will be crucial to know for the original sender and a few other recipients,
    • Do a normal reply in this case, and then add the select other recipients manually. You can copy their addresses from the original email if that helps.
  • Your message is simple like "Thanks!" or "Me too:"
    • Thank you notices might be just fine to send, but don't send them to every other recipient. Only the sender really needs to be aware of how you feel about the message, not every other person in the group.

Reply all is reserved for special cases only. It should only be used if you need to send the same message to every single recipient in the group.

Otherwise, if you don't need to do that, you should reply to only the relevant individuals, even if that might mean that you're just replying to the sender.

As an example, consider getting an email asking if you'd like to come to a retirement party this weekend. Pretend it was sent to 30 other people and you're asked not only if you're going but if you can bring some food or help out in some other way.

It's not usually appropriate in this situation to send a reply to everyone else and explain that you can't go because you have to work this weekend and that your child is sick anyway, so it's not a good weekend for you. Those details are relevant to the sender but probably not to everyone else that was invited.

There are, however, times when you should reply to all and when you're expected to reply to all. Maybe it involves a group discussion about a work project, or something else that directly involves the other recipients.

No matter the case, you should always think it through before sending a mass email out to others. It's even worse when a few people are sending reply all messages one after the other, and you get a dozen emails in the span of a minute or two. Those are not only hard to keep track of but also annoying if you have no need to read them.