Fighting the top reply David 19 Apr 2006

103 comments Latest by Dan

I used to be a staunch defender of proper reply styles, even for casual emails. Insert your replies below the relevant paragraph and trim the exchange to be just about the matters of discussion. But as the volume of email goes up, I’m finding it harder and harder to fight the uphill battle.

The thing is that very few email clients are geared to work with “proper” reply styles. Both Mail.app and GMail just dump you at the top of the email with everything indented and that pesky “On Apr 19, 2006, at 3:47 , Somebody wrote:” header fixed in. It’s edging me on to be bad, be lazy, just top-post my reply, and get on with it.

So if I want to be good, there’s a lot busy work to be done. You have to delete the time header every time, you then have to insert yourself in the quoted material and delete around you to make space, and then you can do something about it.

How about someone made a filter to Mail.app that would kill the header, make room for your reply under each paragraph, and more easily allow you to kill paragraphs that are not relevant for the reply.

Actually, I’d be a happy camper if we could just start simple and kill the header, make the quoted text start all the way at the top, and insert my cursor below the quoted. Then we can get clever from there.

Perhaps this is a round about way of saying “I’m sorry” to everyone receiving a top-posted reply from me these days.

103 comments so far (Jump to latest)

8500 19 Apr 06

The stigma of top posting seems to be an artifact of newsgroups. Everyone top posts these days and to do otherwise is actually confusing to me in the context of e-mail chains.

Jon Maddox 19 Apr 06

One of the first things I noticed when I put people on Thunderbird was the cursor being placed below the content on reply. I thought it was very smart. But almost every person I knew that used it, hated that the reply was below the content.

I tried to explain that after 3-4 back and forths, you then have a readable conversation read top down, rather than having to read it bottom up.

Every user hated it and changed it back to the way 90% of email clients work.

Here’s to conformity.

jerome 19 Apr 06

Man, I always type my reply at the top. It’s all about avoiding the scroll bar for me so it just seems natural. I get bugged that I can’t have my reply & signature both automatically be injected at the top in Mail.app or something. I will only bottom reply when I’m responding more specifically to sections of the email.

Tom 19 Apr 06

Agree with 8500 - 90% of the email I get - via work or at home is top-posted. The only people who don’t top post are uber geeks.

Add to the fact that as you state, email clients work in a top post sort of way… it’s kind of a worthless battle.

Frankly, I don’t mind a relevant response above a trimmed and quoted e-mail. The two are right on top of each other for ease of reference. I’ve pretty much moved to top-posting altogether now and don’t see going back.

Dave S. 19 Apr 06

I used to meticulously quote the proper way when replying to email. Then two things happened.

1) I realized it’s easier to gloss over points you don’t want to specifically address when top-posting. The twinge of guilt deleting someone’s text when they’re asking a specific question evaporates, because nobody top-posting ever replies to everything.

2) I realized I had better things to do with my time than worry about bloody email formatting.

Peter 19 Apr 06

Couldn’t you just do a little applescript and use it as a rule or something? I don’t do much scripting, apple or otherwise, so I couldn’t give you an example, but I do know that Mail.app supports scripts in the rules (I don’t know if this applies to drafts or not, though).

Jesse Blomberg 19 Apr 06

I don’t mind top-posting in Gmail as long as I’m communicating with other gmail members who also top-post.

Then, the conversation threading works quite well, and I can just “expand all” if I want to read the conversation from the top down.

Dave Bobak 19 Apr 06

I agree with jerome. Avoiding the scroll bar is a huge advantage. I have always hated it when someone replies on the bottom, probably because I’m used to having new stuff at the top, like blog or news posts. Also, I am assuming the new reply is more important then the old content, so why not put it first?

Justin Perkins 19 Apr 06

Anti-top posting is too idealistic for me, it’s just a flippin email. I’ve never ran into problems comprehending top-posted replies in my inbox. Sometimes I feel like quoting material before my reply, but it’s hardly a frequent occurence.

Scotty Allen 19 Apr 06

So, it’s not really an answer to your specific question, but if you select a portion of the email you are replying to, and then hit the reply button, Mail.app will only quote that section of the text, and leave out the rest. Very handy for trimming the text down to the part you’re interested in responding to.

It doesn’t solve the “cursor on top” or the header, though.

--Josh 19 Apr 06

I have always preferred a straight top reply over bottom or inline replies, and I especially dislike inline replies. It’s just too much work to pick out the new content from the old.

Besides, if the conversation is written succinctly you should know what the context is and no additional construct should be needed. Think of the top reply as the Less Software approach.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

Dave S and David hit the nail on the head here-

emailers don’t have (or want to take) the time to properly quote/reply. You just want to fire off your message and be done with it.

A better solution would be for the reader- to have the ability to parse the email out to- reverse the order into conversational view. So the email client would start parsing based on headers or something and reverse the order of the emails.

Still not proper- but un-intrusive to the sender, there only if the reader wants it to be. I think it’s an easy compromise if it’s feasible.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

I’m not sure what those “-” characters are doing in my prev post.

Jamie Tibbetts 19 Apr 06

Amen, brother!

M.e. 19 Apr 06

I strongly disagree with the notion that inserting your text between relevant topics and removing excess information should be considered the universal “proper” reply style. It is simply impractical for regular email communications. It definitely has it’s place when responding to messages with lots of topics or inquiries, but it is as time consuming to reply in this style as it is to read, as it necessitates that you re-read the relevant pieces of the original message.

Having a time-stamp and reference to the original message in its original context is not only more useful, but can save your ass if something is deleted or. It’s saved mine countless times.

Anonymous Coward 19 Apr 06

“strongly disagree”

Kjes 19 Apr 06

I just feel like I’ve gotta jump in here and stand up for the Bottom reply. I’ve used bottom reply for as long as I can remember, and thunderbird luckely has that as default. (Althoug you can change it easly)
It just makes more sense to me to reply at the bottom.

“Besides, if the conversation is written succinctly you should know what the context is and no additional construct should be needed.”

This to me sounds like I’ve gotta write an essay every time I write an email.
Stripping a mail for useless things like signatures only takes 4 seconds. (ctrl-shift-arrow up) Getting a reply and reading the relevant info before the reply just makes sense IMNHO.

Julian 19 Apr 06

I’m not dumb, and I assume that people I’m writing to are neither. So I always have in mind what the person was previously writing, there is no need to have the original text directly above the current repsonse… just calm down

Kjes 19 Apr 06

“So I always have in mind what the person was previously writing, “
Sure, thats one way to look at it.. But! At work I often write mails with 2-3 or even 4 people.

Luis 19 Apr 06

there is no need to have the original text directly above the current repsonse… just calm down

Unless an email has been forwarded to you, from a conversation that had excluded yoiu up to that point.

chaz 19 Apr 06

I like the idea of interspersing replies directly with the relevant content, but the reality is that corporate email has chains and chains of messages with many parties and new people are added every other message that need to come up to speed. This means that deleting context that isn’t important for the immediate reply could lead to questions or misinterpretations. Emails are as much about documentation as they are about communication.

However, the flip side is that 90% of the time, I know what the context is already and I just need the latest reply, and I’d like to avoid using the scrollbar to get to the bottom of the chain to find out what that is.

I will break this occasionally and intersperse answers for messages with several embedded questions. Sometimes I will use numbered bullet points in responses.

Amazing Rando 19 Apr 06

I used to be a staunch defender of proper reply styles, even for casual emails. Insert your replies below the relevant paragraph and trim the exchange to be just about the matters of discussion. But as the volume of email goes up, I’m finding it harder and harder to fight the uphill battle.

This is an issue of form vs function, where form is the placement of reply verbiage and function is the actual communication taking place.

The location of a reply is less important than the communication. Depending on the content of the reply, place it where it will make the most sense to the reader(s) or word it so that you’re rephrasing what is being replied to.

And if there is concern about reading an email conversation “in order”, then I suggest that the *emails* be read in order. ;)

topfunky 19 Apr 06

With Mail.app you can select a part of a paragraph and hit “Reply.” It will make a new reply with just the selection quoted.

I also use the preference to put my signature below the quoted text, which gets you halfway there.

Jeff L 19 Apr 06

I’m not really sure why some people hate top-posting. The first time I read about this issue I thought it was a joke.

Top posting just makes more sense. Why the hell would you want to scroll to the bottom of every email you receive to see what people had to say? If you top-post, the response is right there for you to see, and if you need a refresher of the prior conversation, you can just scroll down.

Travitron 19 Apr 06

The problem with bottom replying is that if you have a thread w/ multiple recipients, then some of the thread is bottom replied and most other people are top-replying, so it makes the readability flow of the email totally useless & confusing.

I prefer top replying, it’s faster for people to read replies and frankly, it’s the de-facto standard, whether we like it or not.

Filip 19 Apr 06

Why - ever - delete the attribution header?

JF 19 Apr 06

Why - ever - delete the attribution header?

I always do. We both know who the email is from — we’re talking to each other.

Mark Imbriaco 19 Apr 06

I find replying in-line to the relevant quoted section much faster than top posting. If I’m replying to a message that brings up multiple issues for me to respond to I can quickly insert my response on an issue by issue basis rather than having to rehash what the original message said for each point in my reply in order to provide context.

Like David, though, I find myself being lazy far too frequently and just using the path of least resistance.

Gayle 19 Apr 06

I too used to always reply directly to sentences/topics inline. But since my job now entails writing upwards of 100 emails per day, and since it is essential to document time, date, and so forth, and since most of my students get confused if I write inline, AND since there’s no possible way I can remember hundreds of conversations, I just delete out all signatures, leave the last email in the conversation intact, space my reply nicely at the top, and hit send.

It ain’t great, but it works for now.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

For you lazy in-line repliers-

How about an email client that did something like:
1)as you read the original email, you select (like double click or hotkey) a “flag” point. You can set as many flags as you want.

2)You hit reply- it goes straight to the first flag, and attributes you somehow.

3)You type your reply inline

4)(hotkey to) go to next flag

3)Profit!

WmD 19 Apr 06

I guess apps that “just dump you at the top of the email” are like PHP, at every turn they try to make you do the wrong thing.

Probably not bad enough to can them the devil just yet, well at least not for this feature.

Jeff Coleman 19 Apr 06

What’s wrong with having a header saying who wrote the quoted text?

Jeff

Dan 19 Apr 06

I always put a “See my comments below” at the top when I inject my comments in the sender’s message. I make it a different color too. That helps.

I find that sometimes replying at the top is nice, and sometimes replying in-line is. It depends somewhat on the length of their questions/comments that need responded to.

Replying at the top is kind of handy when i’m looking at really old emails and try and get the history of what was discussed and what happened.

Often, having the newest thing at the top is nice because when dialogue is flurry-ing, i can just scan the top part instead of scrolling. I’m lazy too.

But, sometimes when doing the responding for me, replying in-line actually forces me to read what they said a bit more and I respond in a clearer more targetted manner.

Note: blogs like this usually post newest replies at the bottom… i remember a previous discussion about changing that here on SvN.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

I think, apart from the inline repliers- the burden should be on the receiver to choose which order (top down/bottom up) they wish to view the email.

That’s why I think the mail client should be able to reverse them (if possible) based on headers or something along those lines.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

clarification- the “internal” email will be as it always is- likely a top-reply/latest at top approach. The mail client will reverse the order only as a facade to faciliate reading from bottom-up. Replys/forwards would still be outbound in the traditional/accepted format as not to confuse others.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

eh- that was supposed to be “facilitate reading top-down..”

Rimantas 19 Apr 06

Be it top-posting or bottom posting both require proper trimming.
Especially top posting - it usually results in long tail long of writing no one reads any more. Every new reply caries whole conversation - and I hate that. Gmail keeps track of the conversation so these tails look bad and feel bad…
I bottom post I try to be careful about leaving only relevant bits, but yes, that’s not popular :(.
Some may say it does not matter, but I somehow fell it does matter. Talk “broken windows”, or something

MonkeyT 19 Apr 06

What I want is a an email reader that can render properly quoted material as collapsible text, even multi-layer quotes (color coded to show how deep it’s stacked, maybe.). Top, bottom, middle no longer matters so much. The top level of quotes get a one line marker, and if the recipient wants to read it, they can unwrap it. Anywhere you have quotes, you get an offset byline with a disclosure triangle. Click to display.

If a rebuttal is relevant, my memory is generally good enough to remember the argument, so I leave it collapsed and I don’t get slowed down by my email client cluttering up the screen with four pages of excessive back and forth quotation.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

Rimantas- Good point, I like what Gayle said- delete all but the last email (so the reader has a reference to your specific response).

This is important- I do this “grooming” when I know I’m emailing to a mobile device, but it does bother me as well (in general)

Justin Perkins 19 Apr 06

> I always do. We both know who the email is from — we’re talking to each other.

Yet you can’t remember what the other was saying without a direct quote, that’s pretty funny.

Kjes 19 Apr 06

MonkeyT: I agree. A mail client like that would be great. Now just to find one that’s cross OS :-)

I like what Gayle said- delete all but the last email (so the reader has a reference to your specific response).

Propper editing and grooming of emails is really important, having 4 pages of reply, just because your to lazy to remove crap is just stupid.

Anonymous Coward 19 Apr 06

Justin, were you born a jerk or did you have to work at it?

Anonymous Coward 19 Apr 06

We both know who the email is from — we’re talking to each other.

Just to repeat myself; At work i often reply on the same mail to multiple people. But often different things in the original mail.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

Kjes-

While I agree with you, I think you mistake convenience for intelligence. Why the hell can’t software “groom” the email for us in some kind of basic format.

An email client should be able to compare your thread with whatever is already in your inbox and groom it accordingly I would think.

These are rough ideas, not fully thought out- but I think your client should/could save some of the pains of grooming the kruft.

I don’t think people that don’t do it are stupid. It’s just more convenient, even if it really is only:
1)highlight junk
2)press delete


Mark Imbriaco 19 Apr 06

It’s just laziness. If the person I am corresponding with can’t be bothered with properly formatting the message they’re sending me, I am less interested in reading it.

Alex Ezell 19 Apr 06

On Windows, The Bat! email client allows you to create excellent templates including any kind of reply style you want.

This includes placing the cursor at any point in the email you wish. As well as including or removing and time header you wish. People at my last office were frustrated with me when I first started replying in line, but I fought the battle anyway.

Now that I am forced to use Outlook, it’s nearly impossible to even wage the battle.

Bill de hOra 19 Apr 06

It depends.

For public mailing lists, top posting destroys the archive - I have a tendency to tell people to sort out their style on lists like atomprotocol and atomsyntax and if they won’t I’ll tend to killfile them as they’re wasting my time. The same for point to point technical conversations. The thread of conversation is very important in technicial fora. I have countles hours sunk into reading IETF and W3C archives doing reasearch on issues fro Atom. Dealing with top posting would have doubled my time. If you don’t think keeping public mail archives clean and beautiful is any less important than clean and beautiful public source code, please don’t get involved.

For business/commercial email, it’s different. Top posting tends to makes sense. since crafting a civil or contextual reply is secondary to just having replied at all. Blaming the mailers is a bit weak. First, there is a civility issue with top posting - it’s essentially a rude style of discourse. Second, business emails come wth inane disclaimers and sigs which have to be cut out of the reply if you use bottom posting. Third, business mail tends to be mostly grunting approval or disapproval and is all about pushing the costs of response and comprehension onto someone else, on the basis you’re too busy to optimize anyone’s time but your own.

Eddie 19 Apr 06

assuming we talking about the more conventional “newest reply at top,” how do you even notice that it’s not groomed?

I’m not saying it’s not lazy not to delete all the old email that’s not relevant- I’m just saying why can’t the email client peel that stuff off?

Here comes the sarcasm:
If the person I am corresponding with can’t be bothered to write a hand-written letter with stamp and mail it to me, I am less interested in reading it.

More reasonable:
If the person I am corresponding with can’t be bothered to type a signature block to let me know name/position, I am less interested in reading it.

oh! how about if the client can auto-magically insert it!

Justin Perkins 19 Apr 06

> Anonymous Coward 19 Apr 06
> Justin, were you born a jerk or did you have to work at it?

I’m bummed that you honestly cannot see the humor in what I was trying to point out. It wasn’t supposed to be jerky, but a real observation.

Keep it real, we’re talking about email. Something grandmas, kids, moms, dads and your mechanic uses. ctfo.

Shane 19 Apr 06

I reply based on the original e-mail. If it is terse, I top-post. If the original e-mail is lengthy or requires a “proper” reply to each paragraph, I do that. I don’t find it tedious or wish the mail clients did anything different, I just work with it.

Alan 19 Apr 06

Outlook users who are interested in being “good email citizens” should check out Outlook Quote Fix.

Joe Clark 19 Apr 06

It would be nice if people in this thread, perhaps accidentally betraying even greater misunderstanding of E-mail than their own top-posting does, could cease to suggest that the cure for top-posting is bottom-posting. The cure is threaded posting with neatly-trimmed original text, as some contributors have noted.

Why, though, have none of the defenders of top-posting included all the preceding comments in this thread at the tail of their posting?

Sage 19 Apr 06

David: I’m totally with you on this. I post a lot on forums, so it feels “right” to use inline-style when emailing, and I can’t stand how much Mail.app facilitates top-posting. I also delete the header and then re-format the paragraphs so that I address each point. The only time I use top-posting is when I’m trying to be evasive, so that I don’t have to directly answer somebody’s question.

Gary R Boodhoo 19 Apr 06

While I’ve participated in more than my share of email chains with multiple recipients/senders at work, I’ve come to realize that:
+ email is a monolog
+ while not inherently so, in practice, email isn’t an appropriate medium for archiving ideas & decisions

Regardless of format, after a thread reaches a certain length, it begins to lose value. Just reading and parsing the monster thread becomes an effort. I tend to advocate usage of discussion forums or wikis for the types of exchanges that generate “undying email threads” If only so that a history of decision making is preserved.

Jason Cale 19 Apr 06

Im not gonna enter the debate too much, I top post because its easy and i have enough problems writing the email in the first place.. anyway.

Whenever I try and cut into the quoted text in Mail.app im always battling with the formatted blue (w/ pipe character) formatting it puts in, I can never get it to break out so i can write something between with normal formatting..

That battle has made me top post with or without the real argument in mind.

Friðrik 19 Apr 06

Heh, is there a free copy of Getting Real involved? :P

Chris Carter 19 Apr 06

Top posting isn’t inherantly evil - as someone else mentioned a major benefit of it is bring someone new into the conversation. They can see the entire scope of what’s been discussed without needing 50 emails to do it.

And don’t compare message boards and blog comments to email, they’re different mediums with different goals.

I use e-mail for quick communication that can be archived and gone back to later, if necessary. I stress quick because breaking apart another email to quote specific sections is time consuming (especially if you have many different recipients and send a lot of e-mail) and I have better things to do than spend my time formatting e-mail.

Jack Mottram 19 Apr 06

I’m with Shane here - more than half the emails I get in a working day are one or two lines, and in that context I just fire a top-post mail back.

When it comes to longer more complex mails, I can’t help but do it ‘properly’ - it’s just much easier to keep track of everything you need to address if you quote-and-reply through the entire mail (judiciously deleting awkward questions, of course!). So for me it’s less a matter of good form, more a matter of laziness - the ‘proper’ reply style makes it quicker and simpler to reply. I don’t really need the client to help me do it, either.

As a side-note, I think this is a generational thing, so to speak - people who’ve been emailing since, I dunno, the 1990s and earlier, are more likely to do it the ‘proper’ way (I’ve even had people relatively new to email ask me how I thought up this ‘new’ clear style of replying, which suggests top replying is prevalent by a good margin).

Friðrik Már Jónsson 19 Apr 06

To kill the attribution (leaves one open line at the beginning though) do the following:


  1. Launch good old Terminal.

  2. Type: sudo vi /System/Library/Frameworks/Message.framework/Versions/B/Resources/English.lproj/Delayed.strings

  3. Enter your password.

  4. Hit return until this appears on the bottom:
  5. Type /ATTRIBUTION

  6. Hit “i” on your keyboard (must be lower case) and place the cursor on top of the O in On.

  7. Delete everything until you reach the second quote mark. You should be left with the line:

“REPLY_ATTRIBUTION” = “”;

  • Hit your ESC button.

  • Type :wq!

  • Restart computer.

  • You now have no attribution message, and all you have to do to have no message at all, is when you reply, hit Fn + Backspace

    Lau T. 19 Apr 06

    I’ve had problems with people being confused about bottom replies.

    Some times top replying seems more appropriate. Or even stripping out all quotes. Snail mails don’t have quoting either, and that works.

    For communication between 2 people, it doesn’t matter as much as it does on usenet, mailinglists or forums.

    Sometimes email is used like a formal a snail mail letter, sometimes on mailinglists, sometimes almost like IM, with oneliners. Each of those have their place. I don’t think there is one right way to structure an email, that covers all those different contexts.

    Jason Cale: Yeah, Mail.app is too clever about figuring out when you are in reply mode, and when you are not. It’s like word with invisible formatting. When WYSIWYG doesn’t work. What You Don’t See Is How The WYSIWIG Editor Is Going To Get In Your Way When You Are Typing. WYDSIWTWEIGTGIYWWYAT…

    Friðrik Már Jónsson 19 Apr 06

    Some slight refusal in my HTML right there.

    Friðrik Már Jónsson 19 Apr 06

    http://frimjon.backpackit.com/pub/552754

    scott brooks 19 Apr 06

    Email is broken.
    It doesnt work right.

    We have evolved beyond what email can do for us.

    Cheers

    Scott

    Dan Boland 19 Apr 06

    (If someone else already said this, note that I didn’t read any of the replies.)

    The top-posting reply problem can be undone by merely adjusting the focus of the e-mail to the most current portion of text. Think about it, the reason so many people (including myself) sent top-post replies is because the first thing you see, both when you’re doing the replying and receiving an incoming reply, is the top of the e-mail, regardless of what e-mail program you’re using. This setup only encourages people to top-post, even it makes the overall thread backwards.

    By the way, Entourage lets you bottom-post replies.

    Mark Ostroth 19 Apr 06

    What Scott said.

    I have a modest proposal: No quoted replies, ever. What a waste of bandwidth, passing the same characters back and forth. Can’t email programs put the conversation together anyway?

    /tongue_in_cheek

    Calvin Spealman 19 Apr 06

    The real problem here comes down to a core issue with the email system, that there is too much binding between the digital structure of the email and the visual presentation of that email. From the early days we should have worked in some kind of headers that describe seperate well defined parts as “Original Text” and “Reply to that Text”. We should not have to care where we are typing in the visual relation to the original email, as that location should be the preference of the viewer, be he the replier or the receive of the reply.

    Is it too late to acheive this kind of goal? Gmail is a start with the way it collapses quotes, I suppose.

    curiousgeorge 19 Apr 06

    How many emails do you typically receive/send in a day? It would be interesting to see if this really does determine one’s top posting preference.
    At work I typically receive/send approx 150-250/50-100, and I top post almost exclusively (as do those with whom I communicate). I frequently use numbered lists to address multiple points and occastionally use comments inline or bottom post…

    curiousgeorge 19 Apr 06

    How many emails do you typically receive/send in a day? It would be interesting to see if this really does determine one’s top posting preference.
    At work I typically receive/send approx 150-250/50-100, and I top post almost exclusively (as do those with whom I communicate). I frequently use numbered lists to address multiple points and occastionally use comments inline or bottom post…

    curiousgeorge 19 Apr 06

    How many emails do you typically receive/send in a day? It would be interesting to see if this really does determine one’s top posting preference.
    At work I typically receive/send approx 150-250/50-100, and I top post almost exclusively (as do those with whom I communicate). I frequently use numbered lists to address multiple points and occastionally use comments inline or bottom post…

    curiousgeorge 19 Apr 06

    How many emails do you typically receive/send in a day? It would be interesting to see if this really does determine one’s top posting preference.
    At work I typically receive/send approx 150-250/50-100, and I top post almost exclusively (as do those with whom I communicate). I frequently use numbered lists to address multiple points and occastionally use comments inline or bottom post…

    Caleb Buxton 19 Apr 06

    David,

    Thanks for taking the time to not top-reply to my email.

    Kjes 20 Apr 06

    David, Thanks for taking the time to not top-reply to my email.
    Mm, a thanks from me to for the bottom reply I got.
    How many emails do you typically receive/send in a day? It would be interesting to see if this really does determine one’s top posting preference.
    Recevie/send approx 50-100/50-100. If i Forward a mail, I write a short summary at the top, if I reply to a normal mail I edit away crap and just leave in the relative information, and reply at the bottom. (As I’ve said before:))

    Danno 20 Apr 06

    Gmail has made me lazy.

    Unless someone acts like a big jerk and changes the topic of the email that I’m replying to them with, it just gets sorted out so that it flows the proper way.

    Ditto for replying to paragraphs, I don’t even bother citing things, I just assume that the last few messages are right there at the click of the button.

    jacob 20 Apr 06

    Use TextMate for your emailing needs! It’s a simple Cmd-Ctrl-E away!

    Steve 20 Apr 06

    I like your idea. How about instead of a way to automatically add room for a reply, the sender could have the ability to mark a certain portion of the e-mail as a question. This way, not only would replies be coherent, but those replying would also have a way to know exactly what the sender wants answers on.

    John 20 Apr 06

    Personally I find obsessively quoted replies annoying and mildly pedantic.

    random8r 20 Apr 06

    What you really need is the creator of TextMate to either:

    a) create an email plug-in

    or

    b) create a web app that does mail

    Or to create a rails web app hehe. ;-)

    mr_stru 20 Apr 06

    So, in summary what people are saying is that they like top posting becuase their time in replying to the mail is more important than that of the person reading the mail?

    This encouragement of lazyness is my big issue with top posting. It encourages bashing out an answer at the top of the mail without bothering to consider the mail you are replying to fully and then letting the person recieving it piece together the context of the reply.

    It also seems to encourage forwarding on huge trains of conversation that occur in the reverse order rather than just the salient bits of the conversation. The reader then has to pick their way through all of this pulling out the relevant information.

    Yes, it might take a little extra time to trim and reply in context but don’t you think the person you’re replying to deserves that little bit of attention and consideration?

    Sebhelyesfarku 20 Apr 06

    Bottom reply is dead. Get over it.

    Chris Eidhof 20 Apr 06

    I totally agree that that top-blank-line is very irritating. I personally don’t care if people reply at the top or bottom of their e-mail.

    I use Mail.app, although I’ve always used mutt. Mutt allows you to type your mail in vim, that’s really great. Very good syntax-higlighting, quick navigation and copy-pasting, quick reordering, and a very quick bottom-reply-mode. The one big problem with vim/mutt is that you can only edit text, the html won’t be rendered.

    This is a big issue, as people write html-mails all the time, and also attach pictures all the time. Those pictures won’t be displayed in vim either.

    By the way, I think I’m hear a new 37signals product, it’s shouting: “I’m an e-mail client! I’m an e-mail client” :p.

    Jim 20 Apr 06

    Email clients should work like Gmail. The previous message should be on top, but shrunken down.
    Scrolling is annoying and replying at the bottom of the previous email is almost as pointless as the “On April 20th, Jon Doe wrote:”
    Note that I said, almost. Your point about breaks for paragraphs is great, but plain old spaces isn’t enough (and may be too much if you don’t have a reply for that paragraph).

    Email is just a message back and forth. What you are talking about is more of a living document. Its a conversation where the end is written before the reply. Its difficult to converse that way and it lends itself to vebosity the same as written letters.

    Maybe you need a Campfire account? ;)

    Nicole 20 Apr 06

    It would be nice if people in this thread, perhaps accidentally betraying even greater misunderstanding of E-mail than their own top-posting does, could cease to suggest that the cure for top-posting is bottom-posting.

    I would say it’s a bit arrogant to condemn email top posters (or bottom posters) as having a fundamental misunderstanding of email. What’s to misunderstand? It’s a communication tool.

    But, why must we agree on one “best” way? Isn’t it really about what is most productive and efficient within the context of one’s work and co-workers? If you and the colleagues you email with daily find bottom posting to be the most efficient means of communication, do that. If you prefer top posting, great. Am I saying it doesn’t really matter? I think I might be.

    Although, I think Dan Boland hit the nail on the head:

    Think about it, the reason so many people (including myself) sent top-post replies is because the first thing you see, both when you’re doing the replying and receiving an incoming reply, is the top of the e-mail, regardless of what e-mail program you’re using.

    If the mail client was smart enough to jump to the most current part of the conversation, then people might be more inclined to bottom reply.

    Kenneth 20 Apr 06

    Viva la inline email! Viva la plain text!

    Death to the html email dogs of oppression.

    Emacs/VM will release the shackles of the Outlook Oppressor.

    scott brooks 20 Apr 06

    Email….sucks dirty donkeys.

    How about this….

    I am a project manager for a marketing / interactive firm.

    On a typical day i touch 5-10 clients each one having a number of projects on the go at any one time (lets say 5)

    Each one of those projects wether it be a logo, website, cdrom, printed peice …requires feedback and sign off from our clients before we move forward to roduction or move to more changes .
    So typically i will send an email for each client and each project.
    that email then gets forwarded from my client contact to thier internal approval chain …that might be 5-10 people. some of those people might look to departmental feedback so that could potentially go to 3-4 more people.

    Now once it is time to get feed back back we have responses upon responses, different formatting …..essentially a jumble of information that is fed back thru the chain …and eventually to me.

    I have to weed thru this and make heads or tails of it. then feeding back to the creative director who then diseminates to his design department.

    What an incrediblly ineffective method …..

    There must be a better way to share …..

    cheers

    Scott

    Cade Roux 20 Apr 06

    If it’s that important that everything is addressed - it probably shouldn’t really be done in email - it should be done in a Wiki or other collaborative tool.

    That email document is not really a good living document.

    Chris Carter 20 Apr 06

    Try teaching middle-aged men and women how to use “other collaborative tool” and then get back to me.

    Everyone uses e-mail, nearly everyone knows how to use e-mail. Its a ubiquitous form of communication that while not the BEST form of communication, it gets the job done for everybody.

    Like it or not, people will top-reply and send long conversations because that’s the way their version of Outlook works and that’s what they’ve come to understand.

    Dying to know 20 Apr 06

    So what’s the answer? What is the “right” way to reply?

    Michael Croft 20 Apr 06

    I agree with Calvin Spealman. What I’d like to see is a separation of the data layer from the presentation layer. With extensive and smart use of metadata regarding what is in reply to what, the app could present the data in whatever format the user desired. Plug it into an MIME text/xml part and it could even be backwards compatible with older mail clients.

    Sheldon Kotyk 20 Apr 06

    I wish I could’ve top posted this rather than ready what everybody else said.

    As for emails… do people actually read emails still?

    Jeepers, if someone needs me, they can usually find me at Starbucks.

    Anonymous Coward 20 Apr 06

    Yeah.
    ——
    I used to be a staunch defender of proper reply styles, even for casual emails. Insert your replies below the relevant paragraph and trim the exchange to be just about the matters of discussion. But as the volume of email goes up, I’m finding it harder and harder to fight the uphill battle.

    The thing is that very few email clients are geared to work with “proper” reply styles. Both Mail.app and GMail just dump you at the top of the email with everything indented and that pesky “On Apr 19, 2006, at 3:47 , Somebody wrote:” header fixed in. It’s edging me on to be bad, be lazy, just top-post my reply, and get on with it.

    So if I want to be good, there’s a lot busy work to be done. You have to delete the time header every time, you then have to insert yourself in the quoted material and delete around you to make space, and then you can do something about it.

    How about someone made a filter to Mail.app that would kill the header, make room for your reply under each paragraph, and more easily allow you to kill paragraphs that are not relevant for the reply.

    Actually, I’d be a happy camper if we could just start simple and kill the header, make the quoted text start all the way at the top, and insert my cursor below the quoted. Then we can get clever from there.

    Perhaps this is a round about way of saying “I’m sorry” to everyone receiving a top-posted reply from me these days.

    nico nuzzaci 20 Apr 06

    A lot of people here mention that it’s about “avoiding the scrollbar”.

    In most email clients, all you need to do to is to hit the space bar.

    I bottom post/reply.

    Jordan T. Cox 20 Apr 06

    I am a big fan of bottom posting. I enjoy when each of my e-mails can be read and understood in full - when I’m looking back at them with no idea what context they were in.

    My clients are not big fans of bottom posting, and frequently got confused by my posting replies at the bottom. I can’t count the number of times I’d get a reply that says “I got your reply, but there was nothing in it.” - because they hadn’t scrolled to the bottom. Now, I top-post. There’s not much of a choice when you’re trying to actually communicate with someone.

    sjk 20 Apr 06

    I agree with Calvin Spealman. What I’d like to see is a separation of the data layer from the presentation layer.

    I certainly agree and even wrote up a few design ideas for it, geeze, around ten years ago. A bit of déjà vu on my first visit here with you and Calvin mentioning that now. :)

    I’m off to read “Top-Reply in Emails and More-Than-Text Body Formats” on Calvin’s blog, perhaps posting a comment there instead of piling on to the fizzling-out discussion here.

    PS: Whoever admins this weblog might consider adding comment previewing.

    JW 21 Apr 06

    I like bottom posting over top posting. It makes an e-mail much more easy to overview, and although you have to scroll, everything is much more clear, especially when forwarded.
    However, I’m proposing not to include any quote at all. I mean, if you write a good text, the receiver should be able to recall what he wrote. Normally, when mailing, you’re discussing something. It’s obvious you both have an opinion, and I think the receiver should be able to know what he thinks about the issue, without quote.
    That makes it also easier to talk about something, you both write down what you thought after you read the mail. If it’s in a well-formed text, the receiver should be able to understand your point, and form his own opinion about it.
    For question-answer mails, especially when there are a lot of questions, you might want to repeat the question. Although I prefer to read texts with the questions and answers processed in them.
    But I understand a lot of people don’t find the time to write extensive responses, probably most don’t even re-read it before sending it.

    Louis 21 Apr 06

    Wow. I never realised how much people think about email. I just hit reply and use whatever style fits with what I want to say. General reply? (Top) Specific repsonses? (Put it between quoted paragraphs)

    I find I use Top more often, and just don’t think about it. But now everytime I hit Reply for the next week, I’m going to remember this discussion — and wonder about it.

    One thing I like about top posting — in Outlook, it can include a message without adding silly > signs over and over again to quoted text.

    James 21 Apr 06

    Star Trek is better than Star Wars. I mean, c’mon - it’s obvious.

    sxates 21 Apr 06

    “Star Trek is better than Star Wars. I mean, c’mon - it’s obvious.”

    No doubt, I don’t think you’ll get any debate on that one.

    James 21 Apr 06

    The things ubergeeks will obsess and argue about amaze me. Truly. Color me amazed.

    How about we learn some TOLERANCE? People have different ways of doing things - and more than one way can be right.

    Icelander 21 Apr 06

    You put the original message in the reply? Doesn’t the person who sent you the email know what you’re talking about? Or, at the very least, don’t they have a copy of the sent email? Maybe an enhancement in an email client would remember your original message and put it in the reply without having to send and store extra bits everywhere.

    James, if uber-geeks didn’t argue about things like email-reply formatting, we’d argue abut inane things like American Idol. Everyone argues. We just argue about stuff that matters. :-D

    Dan T. 07 May 06

    In discussion mailing lists, top-posting can be a big mess; you often wind up with a huge amount of cruft at the bottom, with repetitions of the list footers, free-mail-service ads, and so on which some of the top-posters never trim. When you read the list in digest mode, you’ve got to scroll through all of that whether it’s at the top or the bottom. Digest-mode lists generally also are read in plain-text only, so if the original message formatting relied on HTML (fonts, colors, etc.) to distinguish quotes from replies, this doesn’t work either. The traditional interleaved-post format with “>” signs at the left edge (with hard line breaks at under 80 characters) just works best.

    Somebody in the discussion above said they top-post when the quoted material is only a couple of lines; however, in that case, bottom-posting wouldn’t require any scrolling to get to the new material either, so why top-post at all?

    More notes on reply and quoting format

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    Bob mcfrint 18 Aug 06

    Yeah, that’s what I want to see… a long email thread involving 20 or more ppl, over days, and have to scroll all the way down to the bottom to see the latest reply or answer. Only people with nothing better to do would waste their time editing out email threads and replying at the bottom.

    Dan 25 Aug 06

    You’re not supposed to keep the whole past thread in every message, especially if it’s long. You’re supposed to trim quoted material down to the minimum needed to establish context.

    However, unlike the original writer, I favor keeping the attribution line in place above the quoted material, so you know who wrote it.

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