Recalling an e-mail – how it works

A premature click and before you know it, your unfinished e-mail is on its way to your colleague. It’s annoying, but not the end of the world for Microsoft Outlook users. The e-mail program comes with a recall function for messages. We reveal how it works and what is required in order to recall your e-mail.

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Requirements for the recall function

E-mails sent with Microsoft Outlook can be deleted from the recipient’s inbox or replaced with a new e-mail as long as the following conditions are met:

  1. Both your e-mail program and that of the recipient are connected to a Microsoft Exchange server
  2. The e-mail was sent within the same organization using the Outlook desktop app or Office 365
  3. The recipient has not yet opened the message

If these three requirements are fulfilled, then the e-mail can be recalled without a problem.

Recalling e-mails with Outlook 2016, 2013, and 2010

In order to recall an e-mail that has already been sent using Outlook 2016, 2013, or 2010, you need to do the following:

Step 1: Click on the “Sent Items” folder, which is on the left side of the Outlook window.

Step 2: Select the message that you want to recall via Outlook and double-click on it so that it opens in a new window.

Step 3: Click on the “Actions” button and select the Outlook option “Recall This Message” from the drop-down menu.

Note

If the Outlook option “Recall This Message” is not displayed, this is probably because you aren’t using an Exchange account or the recall function has been deactivated by the administrator of the Exchange server.

Step 4: Select one of the two recall options.

  • Delete unread copies of this message
  • Delete unread copies and replace with a new message

Decide whether you want to inform the recipient as to why you’ve recalled the message.

Confirm your selection by clicking on “OK.”

Step 5: Make sure that the recall was successful.

Outlook will always inform you by e-mail about the result of the recall. If you have activated the corresponding function, the recipient of the message will also be informed about the recall.

Failed recall

Successful recall

How to ensure the recall is successful

Whether an already-sent e-mail can be replaced by a new message depends not only on the requirements listed above, but also on the recipient’s Outlook settings.

The following scenarios are possible according to Microsoft.

Scenario 1: The “Automatically process meeting requests and responses to meeting requests and polls” feature is enabled (as default).

If the recipient has the “Automatically process meeting requests and responses to meeting requests and polls” feature enabled, both the original message and the message to recall the e-mail will be stored in the recipient’s inbox. Whether the recall works or not depends on whether the mail has been read.

  • If the recipient has not yet read the original message, it will be replaced by the recall message. The recipient is then informed that you have recalled the original message.
     
  • If the message is marked as read when the recall message arrives, the recall attempt will fail and the message will remain in the recipient’s inbox. However, the recipient will be informed that you attempted to recall the message.
     

Scenario 2: The “Automatically process meeting requests and responses to meeting requests and polls” feature is disabled.

If the recipient has not enabled the “Automatically process meeting requests and responses to meeting requests and polls” feature, both the original message and the message about the recall will be stored in the recipient’s inbox. Whether the recall is successful or not depends on which e-mail is opened first:

  • If the recipient opens the message about the recall first, the original message will be deleted, meaning the recall was a success.
     
  • If the recipient opens the original e-mail first, the recall will be unsuccessful.
     

Scenario 3: An inbox rule moves the original e-mail to another folder.

  • If the recipient has defined a rule, which means that the original e-mail and the recall e-mail will be stored in different folders, the recall will fail.
     

Scenario 4: An inbox rule moves both the original e-mail and the recall e-mail to a different folder.

If the recipient has defined a rule stating that both e-mails should be stored in the same folder, then it depends which e-mail is opened first.

  • If the recipient opens the recall message first, the original message will be deleted. The recall was a success.
  • If the recipient opens the original e-mail first then the recall will fail.
Tip

If an unfinished or error-filled e-mail can’t be recalled, e.g. because one of the above conditions isn’t met, then the mishap can usually be rectified by a follow-up message. Apologize for the mistake and send any missing content. Further tips for professional internet communication can be found in our article on e-mail etiquette.


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