Outlook 2007: replying to multiple emails or senders

Today, I received about 60 emails from my students who were handing in their assignments. Normally, I would just ask them to assume that I have received their emails correctly, but since we had trouble with the Internet connection, most of my students wanted to make sure I had received their work in due time. So I decided to send a kind confirmation reply to all the students that emailed me their work.
So here I go, opening Microsoft Outlook 2007, selecting multiple emails, right click to find the option "Reply to all" ... horror! It's not there! There's no apparent way to reply to all my students at once. What's worse is there isn't even an option to collect email addresses from people who emailed me (I would then have created one email with all recipients in BCC).

How it works, in a nutshell
After Googling it for about an hour, turns out there is no regular solution to perform such a basic operation. All the solutions I found involved installation of 3rd-party software OR installing and running complex macros. Uh, no thanks. I found some kind of simple workaround that requires no third-party software or macros. It's all in there, using advanced features.

Before I detail each step, here is the principle:

  1. We create a "Message Template". This template will contain the email to be sent to everyone.
  2. We place emails we wish to reply to into a specific category
  3. We create a rule that automatically sends the email template we created in 1) to all the senders of the emails we selected in 2)
  4. We apply that rule and send out the emails.
All of the above four steps are extremely simple and require no technical skills. Read on.

Creating a message template
Follow the simple instructions given below. 

Instructions, as described on the image:
1) Write a regular email without a recipient
2) Click "Save As"...
3) Save it on your file system, making sure to select "Outlook Template" as a file type ("Save as type...")

Categorizing emails
The next step is to select the e-mails you want to reply to, and place them into a category.

As you can see, all you have to do is:
1) Select some emails
2) Right-click on the selection
3) Unfold "Categorize" and select a category, for example "Red Category".

Creating a rule
This is the trickiest part so I'll write more detailed instructions. Creating and managing rules is done from the "Rules and Alerts" window. In order to access this window, on the main menu bar of Outlook 2007 go to "Tools" then "Rules and Alerts..."

To create the correct rule, follow the rule creation wizard which shows up when you click the "New Rule" button:
  1. Selecting a Template. Under the "Start from a blank rule", select "Check messages when they arrive". Click next.
  2. Selecting Conditions. Locate the "Assigned to category category" item and check it. As you check the box, a new item appears in the rule description. Click the underlined word "category" to be able to select which category of emails should be replied to. Click next.
  3. Selecting Actions. Locate the option "Reply using a specific template" and check it. As you check the box, a new item appears in the rule description. Click the underlined part "a specific template", which will reveal the template selection window. At the top of this window, in the "Look in" drop-down list, select "User Templates in File System". Then you will be able to browse for the directory containing your template created in the first part of this tutorial. Once your template is selected correctly, click Next.
  4. Selecting Exceptions. If you want to exclude certain emails from getting replied to, select your conditions here. Click Next.
  5. Specify a name for your rule. Below the rule name input box, you will find two checkboxes: "Run this rule now..." which you must enable; it will apply the rule to the folder currently selected in Outlook. Make sure to disable the "Turn on this rule" box, unless you want to automatically reply to similar messages in the future. Click Finish.
Upon clicking Finish, the rule will be applied: all the emails that you categorized will be replied to with the email template you selected previously. Click "Send/Receive" to send out the emails.

Voila! Was it so hard? I don't believe so. But Microsoft should have made it a lot easier to reply to multiple emails, it seems to me that this is quite basic functionality and it should have been available from the start.

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