Reply All? Email Etiquette Tips

We had a neighborhood potluck dinner the other night. We all got email assignments about what to bring. My friend Tina (cheese and crackers, veggies and dip) showed up with two big platters — and was shocked to see that the host had already laid out a spread of the same stuff.

“I thought you said I should bring that,” Tina said.

“But you never replied to my email,” the host said, understandably confused, “so I didn’t even know if you were coming.”

Some people respond to every email immediately and obsessively. They’re the ones you see walking down the street like zombies, staring at their cell phones instead of the live world. And then there are the correspondents who procrastinate — like my 22-year-old daughter Zoe, who is just finishing up her bat mitzvah thank you notes (if you’re reading this, Ms. Frisenda, she really did love the necklace!).

The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle. Some people send email once a day, as if the stuff in their Inbox was delivered by a postman in one bundle. Some people write informal, chatty notes without punctuation. Others are as proper as if they were writing with fountain pens on their best monogrammed stationery.

I, for one, am haphazard. Sometimes I write back right back right away. Other times, I’m jarred awake in the middle of the night by the memory of an email that I should have responded to a week ago — but somehow it floated to the bottom of my Inbox.

Is a response always necessary? What are your email habits? Do you answer every one, including email that is clearly just a courtesy reply? And if you don’t, how do you avoid looking rude? Or showing up at a party with duplicate appetizers?

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