Asking questions in an email -- ways to get them all answered in one reply?

There’s no good answer. Why?

Because although your (the asker’s) goal is to get complete, well-thought-out, collectively coherent answers to your several questions, their goal is simply to “get this email out of my in-basket as quickly as possible with as little thought & effort as possible.” Why? Because they have 75 more just like yours to process and they’re probably doing this on their phone while driving or on the train.

Unless the answerer is your direct report, you’re not going to fix this.

WAG: Some questions are easier to answer than others. If there are some questions that they can give you an immediate answer on, and others that they’d have to think about, or do some research on, or don’t really have a good clear answer, they’ll answer the easy ones, possibly with the intention of getting back to the others later.

My wife, an accountant, has a couple of clients like this. Say she works on their books and comes up with 10 questions to ask; her strategy is to pick the two or three most important questions and just ask those. Once she gets them answered, she replies “great, thanks! Oh, and I was also wondering…” and throw a couple more of the questions at them. Repeat until she gets them all answered. The drawback is that she’d better not be in a hurry…

OP asks a great question, but the only way I’ve found to deal with it is keep the email very short and simple, and only ask one question. You will have to ask other questions in future replies.

I sent an email last week with several important questions and got a reply back on a completely different topic, with none of my questions addressed. The client had been thinking about something to ask me about the project and I assume when she got my email she was like “I don’t have to write her a new email I’ll just put my question in this reply.”

What I don’t like about that, aside from the obvious, is that now I have an email with Subject A but the contents of the email chain are actually now about Subject B.

Yeah! that’s a huge peeve for me. The folks who do email on their phone are the worst for this.

I want each email trail to be only and always about the topic in the subject line.

Their thought process is:

I want to send a new email to LSLGuy. So I’ll search my inbox (since that’s where I store all my email forever) and whichever email appears at the top of the search, I’ll click [Reply] to that one and type (or worse yet speak) my new content. Click [Send]. I’m done!!!11!

There ought to be training, standardized exams, and a license that can be revoked before people are allowed to use tools like email.

I work in a call centre and our web site will have a section where questions can be asked by email. Whatever you do, make sure your question is to the point so the responded can give a direct answer.

A long winded multi paragraph email with what looks to the responder to be one tiny question at the end won’t help you because that can end up as an email ‘conversation’. If you start that, then you’re much better off using the old fashioned phone method especially if your questions relates more along the lines of “appropriate strategies” to deal with a situation as opposed to “answering some questions with facts”.

I like to see questions asked as per the above post, that way if more information is needed regarding just that one question it’s easy enough to ask for clarification in the response.

For work stuff I number my questions and try to frame them into “yes or no” whenever possible.

This thread has relevance for this Discourse board too. As some of us have noted, if you try to post several separate replies to various other posts, Discobot badgers you, suggesting you should combine your multifarious replies into one post instead of making a bunch of separate posts. Exactly as this thread points out, that tends to not work well, as it leads to a single long post with a bunch of separate disjoint points being made.

I agree, it’s all tl;dr drives me bonkers. I craft a succinct email providing crucial information in a bulleted format. And the reply if it comes at all asks all the same questions again.

As someone who dearly detests talking to actual people, I typically prefer answering questions or getting responses via email. But, especially if you’re asking someone in senior management (they often get so many emails they don’t read them fully), sometimes it’s way more efficient just to set up a 15-minute conversation, then send out notes after.

When you send the invite, include all the questions you have in the invite body. They may respond to all your questions pretty quickly if they’re looking to avoid a meeting. If they don’t respond, meet with them, clearly tell them why you’re meeting with them and where the questions are located, go down the list with them, then send a recap afterwards with the questions and the corresponding answers saying, “Thanks for your time - below is a recap of what we discussed. Please let me know by if you have questions or comments about any of the below.
Question 1, Answer 1
Question 2, Answer 2,

Then you have the answers to all your questions all in one go, a CYA email outlining what you talked about and you’ve given a firm date by when they need to give more input should they have any questions or concerns. This is usually the approach I take with our department GMs and presidents - they don’t often have the time to go through and read each email fully, so if I can’t get everything squared away by email #2, I just throw time out on the calendar.

Long ago I learned that the best practice is one question per email. It can get bothersome for both the sender and the recipient, but it is the best way to make sure one gets all the answers needed. Keeps all the emails short as well. As an additional benefit, it also keeps the number of questions down. The extra work tends to encourage the writer to only ask significant/important questions. Win for everyone.

I don’t think that works very well. It’s no-win when you are dealing with someone with bad attention to detail.

Work situation - I need answers to three questions, and I can’t proceed without all three.

I’m going to ask all three at once.

If recipient doesn’t answer all three at once, I’ll come back again if I have to, but I shouldn’t have to. We’re wasting time and I think recipient is an idiot, but the consequences for the delay fall on me.

If I send three separate emails with one question each, then I look like a scatterbrained idiot to the recipient.

With rare exceptions, recipients are either type A or type B.

I find this in personal email as well - there are just some people who seemingly don’t register what a question mark means.

Maybe pick up the phone?

I feel like if an email required more than a couple of short responses to one or two questions, then the topic is sufficiently complex to require a discussion.

I kind of feel like sending people a wall of words emails full of questions to answer is a bit obnoxious unless you’ve previously made arrangement to do so. Aside from the time it takes to read it, there is also the expectation on the recipient to spend significant time tracking down the information and formulating responses.

I do have to admit, that I use people’s inability to answer email questions on purpose occasionally. Somebody will ask me to do a thing. In order to do the thing I need answer to several questions. I will reply back and say of course I can do the thing, please answer these several questions. Then I never hear back, so I don’t have to do the thing.

Almost as good as, “of course I can do that, what account do want it charged to” for avoiding frivolous requests.

One question per email, or two closely related ones.

If you send someone 5 questions, you either get the answer to 1, or none, because while the know the answers to 1-3, they are themselves waiting on information for 4 and 5, so they just freeze.

Break that into 2-3 emails, you’ll get answers to the first set and an explanation that they are waiting from the second.

But yeah. I get so pissed at people who bitch about how “this meeting could have been an email”. In my experience there is a high correlation between those people and the ones that won’t read a damn email and act like they shouldn’t be expected to know anything only sent out in that format. So we have to have the stupid meeting because last time they had a “no one told me” meltdown.

Aren’t we in most cases talking about work emails?

And in that case, assuming the questions are actually relevant, isn’t the recipient being paid to spend time tracking down information and formulating responses?

(If the questions are about organizing the office Christmas party or somebody’s shower, then unless the person was actually hired to do that sort of thing, that’s a different matter.)

I understand that people do react like that. I don’t really understand why.

If I can say ‘here’s the answers to 1, to 2, and to 3, but I don’t have the information yet to answer 4 and 5’ in two emails, then I can say it in one email; and probably will.

Well, people resist that for the same reason you resist sending two to start with. It feels inefficient.

Depends on their job and their relationship to the email sender.

Many people here are, but I wasn’t, specifically. Many of the emails in the past that I alluded to were work-related, but since I retired not so much. Recently: in one case, I am working with a contractor on a medium sized project in my home. Sometimes I have questions. He’s not very good at answering them all at once. In another case I bought myself a project to work on that requires assembly, and the instructions were not complete (“this item can be installed in the usual way” did not help me). Also parts were missing, or so I thought. Turns out they had taped some smaller parts to the bottom of one of the small boxes inside the main box. I normally don’t look there.

Anyway, although it was somewhat rhetorical and ranty, my original question stands as far as I’m concerned.