1

Whether or not to reply inline in emails, is something to disagree on.

When I write an email, I aim at producing a text with a beginning and an end, complete with greetings and other politeness forms. After all, if I meet a colleague at the coffee machine, I also greet politely before starting to discuss, and when leaving I greet again (said colleagues do the same). So why not do the same in email?

Now, when a colleague responds inline in an email, I end up reading my own words mixed with their answer, completely destroying any line of reasoning in both my original mail and their response. I rather see that they respond in multiple paragraphs, at the beginning of each they concisely summarise their understanding of my point that they refer to. This serves a great purpose: at least I can verify if the first communication (from me to them) went without noise.

Moreover, even though modern email readers attempt to give different colors to the old email text at different levels of indentation / quotation, inline answering produces an unreadable mess of voices and colours. As if we are all talking at the same time and interrupting each other at the same time.

It happens to me often that I miss comments that colleagues injected into my email to them.

Do not understand me wrong: this fashion of responding that I advocate does not at all have to produce very long emails. It can be as brief as: "Regarding your point about x, ...."

Now, how do I raise my colleagues without pointing them to this very stackexchange question, which is too lengthy to attach to any email and which would be a very arrogant thing to write to begin with ("Let me teach you some manners, because I have the authority to do so.")?

  • 5
    Not all companies encourage such formality in their emails; is this your own preference or a company rule? Also, do you have an instant messenger you could refer them to use instead? – user34587 Jun 12 '18 at 8:23
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    When you say "Let me teach you some manners, because I have the authority to do so.", do you have that authority? – DonFusili Jun 12 '18 at 8:47
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    "It happens to me often that I miss comments that colleagues injected into my email to them." If your time is so valuable that it can't be spent showing your colleagues the minimal courtesy of reading what they wrote, you should be in a good enough position to hire an assistant to pre-screen your incoming correspondence and distill it down to a format you like. Calling your colleagues Philistines is arrogant no matter how politely you do it. – Blrfl Jun 12 '18 at 12:13
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    What is your role in the company that allows you to dictate how other people write their emails? – cdkMoose Jun 12 '18 at 13:02
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    Many people find it easier and faster to read when the comments are inline in a complex email. You are never going to get people to change this way of doing business because it is the most effective way to keep from repeating the points you are addressing repeatedly. It ensures all points are addressed, it prevents people from having to scroll around repeatedly to find the point you are commenting on. It puts all parties' discussions about a particular point in the same place making it easier to understand. It is, by far, the best way to handle responding to complex issues. – HLGEM Jun 12 '18 at 13:16
4

You could say something like:

Would you mind not responding to my e-mails in-line? I find it much easier to work with uninterrupted responses.

And really this is about as far as you can go, your own personal preferences not withstanding in-line responses aren't an unreasonable approach to writing e-mails in general and unless you have some authority over the responder as their supervisor/manager/etc then you can't really insist that people stop doing it. Even then I wouldn't recommend doing so - it could very easily be perceived as pure pettiness and that's not really a good impression to give as a manager.

I wouldn't mention your preferences for having them "concisely summarise their understanding of my point" because you are then placing an additional workload on them that while small is recurring and cumulative. Also to be frank it carries undertones of insult: "I think your too stupid to understand what I wrote unless you prove it back to me for every single point", which I'm sure is not what you intend but is a likely interpretation for them to come to regardless.

Finally I'd bear in mind that while you may be able to get your colleagues to respond in your preferred way (or insist that your subordinates do so) this is not going to fly with those above you in the hierarchy or third parties so I think you are going to have to deal with a certain amount of inline responses ongoing.

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    I'd go even further with the statement, something along the lines of "I have a hard time absorbing all the information when it's scattered in between the words of another email." It's okay to make it clear that it's a problem on your end which you're asking to have help with. – Cronax Jun 12 '18 at 9:54
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    Sorry, when one has to handle hundred+ emails a day, the style of response varies. Such a well-crafted email as OP requires is invested in highly critical, fragile or sensitive situations - not in a regular information exchange. John Doe's time as writer is no less important than OP's time as reader. They will use whatever seems practical at the moment. – Captain Emacs Jun 13 '18 at 1:25
13

I can only speak about my own experience. You be the judge whether this applies to your colleagues.

Personally, I don't usually reply inline, but when I do reply inline, it's because the email I am replying to is very long to begin with and I want to make sure I don't forget anything.

So to encourage me not to reply inline, I would recommend you compose shorter emails, break up larger emails into multiple messages, reduce the number of recipients per email (when it makes sense to do so), and/or when you find yourself enumerating a list of things to talk about, I would recommend you use an online project management tool like Asana instead.

When it comes to assigning tasks, reassigning tasks, forwarding tasks, requesting updates, and requesting approvals, using a tool like Asana should also help in reducing the number of back and forth emails, which should then reduce the number of levels in the nesting of replies.

And along the same lines as KlaymenDK is suggesting, numbering your points or paragraphs should help too, but ultimately, you should also keep your points short if you want to mitigate against the overflowing of those points onto new lines when there is too much nesting.

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    I do the same, in part also to say "this point of mine relates to that point of yours". Compared to a verbal dialogue, communication by writing lacks certain elements (namely, the chance to interject and address things point-by-point; also other things such as inflection). If you don't want the recipient to use an "interjection" style reply, at least number your paragraphs / talking points to allow better "addressing" by the recipient. – KlaymenDK Jun 12 '18 at 12:39
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    @KlaymenDK, thanks, I've incorporated some of what you said into my answer. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 12 '18 at 23:45
  • If an email needs to be that long you should write a properly structured document instead. – Neuromancer Jun 13 '18 at 0:10
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    These are very useful points, I wish I could accept two answers. The answer I accepted addresses the communication on the meta level, communication about the style of communication. That answers the real question, but your answer is at least as helpful. – wessel Jun 13 '18 at 7:41
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Here is a way to test whether your request is both polite and has a chance to be effective:

Rewrite it as a request to respond in-line, point-by-point, so that you can see exactly which points the writer is responding to. Consider whether you would be offended by it, and whether you would be influenced by it to change the format of e-mails to accommodate someone making that request.

How you would feel about a similarly presented request to change your style to suit a recipient's preference will be a good guide to how your correspondents are likely to react to your request.

0

This depends on the intent of the email. What are you looking for in return?

I respond in-line when presented with a bulleted or numbered list in the email. In this case this it helps to keep each response with the particular line item in the list. I will do the same with paragraphs that each need a response. In these cases the response will be in a different color (red) and font to emphasize that this is a response instead of the original email.

For all others, responding after the original text is the clearest (at least to me).

Example:

  • List item

  • List item2

  • List item3

Response (colors not working in chrome but you should get the idea):

  • List item

    Blah, blah.

  • List item2

    Blah, blah, blah.

  • List item3

    Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

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