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How do you recall an email using Outlook? And does it work?

Recall an email using Outlook
Take it back: email recalls are by no means guaranteed to work

You’ve sent a rash email to the boss, questioning his parentage and comparing his management style to that of Hermann Göring. Five seconds after pressing the Send button it dawns on you that this might not be the best career move. You’d like to take that message back. How do you recall an email using Outlook? And is it guaranteed to work?

Does an email recall actually work?

In the vast majority of instances, no.

Firstly, this is an Outlook feature that only works with other users running Outlook within the same organisation. If you sent a message to someone accessing Gmail from their browser, there’s no way to recall a message and pretend it never happened. They will receive a message saying you wish to recall the email, but there’s no way it will be expunged automatically from their inbox.

Instead, let’s assume your company has rolled out Outlook and you know the boss uses it. Well, there are still a few hurdles to overcome. Recalling a message won’t work if:

  • The recipient already read the message, either in Outlook or on their smartphone, tablet or any other device accessing their email
  • The message has been moved from the inbox (the boss might have rules that automatically move messages from his team to a separate folder, for instance)
  • The recipient has the Preview Pane turned on in Outlook, which displays a message without technically opening it

However, the number one reason why a message recall almost never works is that it relies on the recipient being the least curious dolt you’ve ever come across. Faced with a message saying “Todd Jones would like to recall the message: Subject line here”, it would take the most brain-dead, uninquisitive person you’ve ever met not to immediately hunt back through your inbox and find the offending message.

As a journalist, I get sent these recall messages on a regular basis and it’s like a red rag to a bull. The first thing I do is dive back to the original message to uncover the message where the PR company has forgotten to a) remove the tracked changes slagging off their client or b) sent you an announcement of a new product that’s not meant to go public until the following week.

Recalls don’t work. In fact, they have the exact opposite effect.

Recall an email using Outlook

If you’re still desperate enough to give it a crack and figure you’ve got nothing left to lose, here’s how to recall an email using Outlook 2016.

Find the message in your Sent folder and open it. Click File > Resend or Recall and then click the option to Recall This Message.

Now you’ll be presented with a little pop-up window giving you the options to ‘delete unread copies of this message’ or ‘delete unread copies of this message and replace with a new message’. If you choose the latter, a new window will open with the original message, which you can edit and then press Send as normal.

Recall an email using Outlook

The box also includes tickbox that will inform you if the recall succeeds or not. Why anyone wouldn’t want to know the outcome is beyond me.

If you get a message back saying it has succeeded, consider yourself the jammiest dodger that ever lived.

Now read this: How can I take control of my own email?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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