Replying and Forwarding

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You hit Reply to answer a messages you received – simple right?

Well yes but as usual there is more that is worth knowing about, even in this simple email feature.

There are options to “Reply” and “Reply to All” plus there’s “Forward” and we’ll talk about all of them in this article.


Clicking on Reply should create an email going to all the addresses in the FROM field of the selected email.  It doesn’t add the CC addresses from the selected message.

Once the reply is created, it is a standard outgoing email – that means you can edit the FROM, TO, CC and add BCC’s if you wish.  You’re not limited to the addresses inserted by your email program.

Your email program will change the subject heading to add ‘RE:’ (or equivalent in other languages) to indicate a reply.  Years ago an extended exchange of emails would result in subjects growing with each reply ‘RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Picnic Lunch’ but these days most email programs are cleverer and you rarely see that.  The single RE: can be deleted manually from each message if you find it annoying.

You can manually alter the subject but keep in mind that most programs track message threads according to the subject line (ignoring ‘RE:’).  Improved desktop search programs make the subject less vital to finding a message as it used to be.

Depending on the choices you’ve made in your email client, the reply can include the text of the original message.  The formatting of that can be configured in your email program.

We prefer to include some or all of the text from the original message in the reply.  This helps your correspondents follow the ‘thread’ of the conversation without the need to find earlier messages.  I know some readers don’t agree with this and stick with ‘bare’ replies – the choice is yours.  We feel that most people get a lot of email and it’s polite to make it easy to follow the disjointed conversation.  For business correspondence by email, keeping the full history within an email can be an important record if there is a subsequent dispute.  Some users are anxious that such a habit uses excessive disk space, however most emails use little space and the cost is minuscule.

Email programs will normally reply using the same format (HTML vs plain text) as the incoming message.  Usually you’ll stick with that – occasionally though you might want to switch a plain text reply to HTML.  For example if your reply is long then some better formatting (headings, lists etc) will make it easier to read.

In some email programs (like Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007) replying to a message will automatically put the FROM address into the ‘safe senders’ list meaning that future messages from that address won’t be considered as spam, regardless of the content.

Watch the reply address

Normally your reply will go to the address the original message was sent from – but there are exceptions.

Many people have multiple email addresses and may not consistently check the mailbox it was sent from.  This can often happen when people are travelling and use webmail accounts (like Hotmail or Gmail) instead of their usual mailbox.

Email messages from mobile phones or PDA’s might deserve a reply to the standard email address for that person, not the special address for the small device.

As an anti-spam measure some people use fake or amended FROM addresses which you have to manually change to get a valid reply address.

For example:

[email protected]  might send messages from [email protected]

and expect people to remove the ‘DELETEME.’ before replying.

That’s fine if there’s a clear warning in the email message like:

Please remove the ‘Deleteme.’ from the email address before replying.

But we’ve seen too many messages without that note, expecting the correspondent to notice the fake address and take the time to fix it (usually after the initial reply comes back as undeliverable).

Reply to All

Reply to all means the reply will go to all the addresses in the FROM and CC of the original message.

You can click Reply to all, then remove and add addresses to the messages.

Aside from the addresses automatically added into the draft reply, there is no difference between Reply and Reply to All.


Forwarding a message is just another way of creating a new email message with some elements pre-populated for your convenience.

Forwarding will copy the subject and message body into a new message, ready for you to add some TO, CC or BCC addresses as you wish.

Naturally you can also add comments to the forwarded message, and edit it or highlight passages.

The sender of the original message is normally shown in the body of the forwarded message. You may want to remove their email address or other personal details from the forwarded message for the sake of privacy.

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