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I recently had an experience where I had to send multiple reminders to someone in another part of the company for an answer they said they would provide. My last reminder included the fact that contract start date agreed to by them is no longer possible due to the delay in getting this answer. I finally got an answer from them today with about 8 emails in the chain debating their answer. Looking back through the email chain to see what the hold up was I noticed the line about the consequences of them not acting was removed from my email at the base of the chain.

Is it in line with business etiquette to edit content out of an email prior to forwarding it?

I can see a case for removal of sensitive info should the chain go outside of the organization but this was fully internal resources and that was not sensitive information.

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    I've given a suggested answer below, but your question made me think -- I receive a lot of "forwarded" emails and in general I just assume they are sent verbatim, in good faith and I don't really question what might have been deleted. (Maybe I ought to give more thought to this going forward!) ... I'm an intelligent and fairly savvy person as I'm sure most email recipients are, so I bet most people similarly wouldn't be questioning "what's been deleted" from all email they get forwarded which is framed as verbatim. (Sometimes the person doesn't read it all; sends something they shouldn't.) – seventyeightist May 25 at 18:15
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TL;DR: In summary if you "forward" an email it should be a verbatim copy (or else you are essentially mis-quoting the original writer). Otherwise you could summarise and rephrase the email and ask the question again to the onward recipient, but then you wouldn't be mis-crediting words to the original email-writer.

Longer answer:

No, in the case you described (forwarding on an actual email chain) it isn't acceptable to "edit out" parts of emails being forwarded -- because it is then a mis-representation of what the person who wrote the original email said. (In opposition to something like copying and pasting parts of someone's email into your own 'proposal' document.)

If there are parts that are sensitive which the recipient shouldn't see, they could be replaced by something like "[redacted by John Smith for privacy reasons]" (where John Smith is the person forwarding the email), but they shouldn't just be deleted without comment.

Ideally though, if the original email was sent "in confidence" (implicitly or explicitly as it may be) it shouldn't be forwarded-with-deleted-parts but rather the person forwarding it should write their own email with the things they actually want to (and can) say.

Possible exception (which I don't think applies in your case, but more for general information):

  • Deleting the "tail" of the email chain (a bunch of earlier emails) so that the earliest email being forwarded is the first one that's actually relevant to the recipient. There is still a need to be careful with this though, if it removes context that would change the meaning for the recipient of the forwarded message.

  • Redacting (as mentioned above), or indeed adding something into the original if it's clear you are adding it and it isn't part of the original. (e.g. if the email refers to "that meeting" and you add "[John Smith: this is referring to the strategy meeting about the Y project]" or similar.

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    Yep. Always good from a confidentially standpoint to start with a blank email, and copy in the things that should be visible, not attempt to delete things. Most of the time it's better to forget to add something, rather than forget to delete something. – Gregory Currie May 22 at 6:54
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I think it's reasonable to edit an email's contents before forwarding to remove irrelevant information to the recipient, so long as it doesn't impact the meaning of the email to the person receiving it. What impacts the meaning, though, is hard to judge sometimes.

An example might be, in something like your situation, if I am the project manager for a project, and you've emailed me saying you need this information and include the consequences to the project if you don't get it, it would be appropriate for me to forward your email to a subject matter expert asking them to provide the information. In that case, I might remove the consequences as they aren't relevant information for the SME - they don't necessarily need to know what happens if we don't provide that information; especially were this to be more like legal consequences. I probably should mention to them what the deadline is for providing the information (or, "ASAP"), of cousre.

Now, if I were forwarding a message to my supervisor, I shouldn't remove that information - as it is relevant information for them.

None of that is to say they don't bear the consequences of their choice, if it delayed the ultimate answer; and none of it is to say you wouldn't be right to point that out to their supervisor (or yours, or other relevant person up the chain) if you're asked why you're behind schedule. It's not black and white, though, as to whether it's appropriate to remove information from an email - as in some cases, it clearly is.

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