Stop embarrassing template or stock phrases in Outlook emails

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A UK politician got caught sending an email with optional stock phrases and guides still in the message.  Is there a simple way to stop that happening?

Most organizations have standard wording and stock phrases which is understandable but there’s a risk those helpers are left in an email or document that goes out to the public.

MP Anthony Mangnall fell into the trap of leaving some template text in a email.

And what an embarrasing thing to leave in the message:

“[Insert if there has been a bereavement: May I add my condolences to the recent loss of your family member. The current situation has made the ability to mourn the passing of loved ones all the more difficult. I send my best wishes to you and your family.] “

Oh dear …

British politicians have been dealing with an unprecedented number of emails about the conduct of a senior adviser to the Prime Minister.  Those messages haven’t been the usual orchestrated ‘copy and paste’ campaign but individual messages from angry voters.  MP’s and their staff have had to reply to each message.

Some people have been hard on Mr Mangnall but we’re inclined to say “There, but for the grace of god, go I”. In other words, it could happen to anyone.

Sadly, there’s nothing straight-forward in Outlook or Microsoft’s Exchange Server to prevent these mistakes. There should be but, as we’ll see, the possible checks on outgoing messages don’t support this situation.

The aim

What would prevent template text going out are some simple checks on the body text of a message when the Send button is clicked.

For example, template/optional text should have some unique identifier. That makes it easy for humans and computers to find.  A text code that’s not going to appear in a regular email like   ##   or @#  as in :

[## We’re sorry about the mistake. It was our fault entirely. One of our techs is working on a fix now and will contact you within the hour. ##]

Getting Microsoft’s email systems to check for that text string is another problem entirely.

Outlook Mail Rules

Outlook for Windows has rules which apply to outgoing messages. It’s often overlooked because most mail rules check new messaging arriving.

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Sure enough, you can create a ‘rule on messages I send’ which checks for text in the body of an outgoing message. But there’s nothing helpful or appropriate in the actions list.

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The closest thing is ‘defer delivery by a number of minutes’ but that’s little use without a warning message.  Incoming messages can display a custom message but not outgoing ones.

There’s no action ‘stop sending this message’.

Outlook on the Web (for Office 365 hosting or Outlook.com) doesn’t even have outgoing message rules!

Mail Tips

What about ‘Mail Tips’ those messages that appear above draft messages with Exchange Server?

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Mail Tips can be customized by mailbox admins and would seem a perfect place to check and warn about email problems.

Close, but no cigar.

Mail Tips only checks the recipients of messages, but even custom mail tips can’t be configured to check the message content.

Outlook VBA option

Using VBA, a message can be checked to make sure it obeys certain rules.  We’ll look at the code in a future article.

That will only apply to Outlook for Windows – not Outlook for Mac, Apple, Android or the web interface.

Microsoft needs to act

What’s really needed is a server-based feature that can check any part of an outgoing message and warn the sender or even prevent the message being sent at all.

That would let customers set rules and prevent email mistakes.  That would help everyone, politicians and real people <g>.

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