Eons ago in internet time, in the year 2005 A.D., Merlin wrote a 43 Folders classic: Writing sensible email messages. Among its many useful tidbits – and aplenty there are – he recommends interleaved, or in-line, email replying:

Power email users will quote and respond to specific sections or sentences of your message. You can facilitate this by keeping your paragraphs short, making them easy to slice and dice.</p>

Despite the antiquity of this electronic text, it’s still very much relevant today. I’ve managed to ingrain the in-line reply in my email workflow in the last year or so, and it’s bestowed the following benefits:

  • It makes my replies more concise.
  • It’s by far the best way to respond to multi-question emails.1
  • Because in-line replying makes your response much clearer in relation to the sender’s questions, you get fewer replies and follow-ups.
  • It prevents me from rambling or adding superfluous information. If I’m constrained to reply in-line, I’m more likely to limit my response to the questions asked.

As I’ve said before, people read email for information, not pleasure -- especially in a business setting. Keep it lean, keep it relevant, and hope others learn by example.

  1. For example, I teach online seminars to actuarial students, who often send me emails with multiple, often unrelated, questions. Replying in-line is without a doubt the easiest way to handle these, and I think they appreciate it, too. Much easier to relate my answers to their questions.