Faster email: Use an Outlook template for a standard response

Monitor screen showing email in the inbox. iStockphoto

If you find yourself writing the same sort of emails over and over again, streamline your day by creating a boilerplate email message using Outlook's template feature. That way, you can just send a canned response as needed. You can even assign the template to a rule for fully automated email messaging.

Most people don't mess with templates, which is a shame because templates are easy to use and quite versatile. Suppose, for example, you get a high volume of emails requesting information about a particular product. Before you can fulfill the requests, you might need some basic information that many clients forget to include in their original message. Here's how to create a template that automatically responses to incoming messages:

Start by creating the boilerplate message. In Outlook, create a new message and fill in the details, in which you say something like "Thanks for your email. In order for me to fill your request, I need to have your full mailing address." Don't address and send the message; instead, click File and choose Save As. Choose Outlook Template, give your email a name, and then save it. I highly recommend saving it somewhere you can get to it, such as a folder in My Documents. By default, Outlook saves templates to an obscure, hidden location that you'd need a team of computer forensics to track down.

From here, you can easily send this message just by opening the folder, double clicking, and then addressing and sending it. You can also customize it further each time if desired. But we want an automated email, so it's time to move on to Outlook's rules.

To do that, click Rules, Manage Rules and Alerts. Then click New Rule.

You'll want to configure the rule to be triggered when the right conditions occur, such as when a message arrives with a particular subject line. I suggest choosing the option to Apply rule on messages I receive in the Start from a blank rule section. When you get to the step in which Outlook asks what you want to do with the message, choose reply using a specific template. Click the specific template link, and choose the template.

That's pretty much it; now when messages come in matching your criteria, Outlook will automatically reply with the template you created, and you can find other things to do with all the time you saved.

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