What is an Email Train?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

One of the things you should avoid when you’re emailing is creating what is called an email train. You’ve likely seen these before if you’re not that new to the net or email communications. These are letters in which there are a huge number of previous replies on the end of them. If a variety a people on a listserve have been discussing one topic and have failed to delete the replies from other contributors, an email train can stretch for pages of text.

Email trains are emails with a huge number of previous replies on the end of them.
Email trains are emails with a huge number of previous replies on the end of them.

Creating an email train is not thought good netiquette or email etiquette. There are a few ways to avoid it. First, when you press the reply button in many email programs, you’ll usually have all of the email to which you’re replying quoted directly below where you will type. You can delete this entirely to avoid an email train.

Email trains are usually sent to a person's entire address book.
Email trains are usually sent to a person's entire address book.

Lots of people do want to refer to specific parts of someone else’s letter. Instead of leaving a whole email in place, cut out all details that aren’t necessary, especially if the email train has multiple replies attached to it. Simply quote the important parts of text that you wish to discuss, and get rid of everything else you don’t need. You may want to make sure, particularly when the email is to a discussion group or listserve, that you state who made the post on which you’d like to comment.

Listserves can be somewhat tricky in any case because you may want to send a personal comment to someone rather than a comment to the whole list. In plenty of listserves you have the option to reply directly to the sender. If you get listserves by digest, this option may be harder to access. Even if you can’t reply to one person you should make sure to not fill up others mailboxes with an email train that contains an entire digest for the day.

Another thing you can do if you want to comment on several people’s posts is to simply use their first name or handle and say a few words directly to them: e.g. “Jan, I really liked the way you described parenting small kids, and Bill, I think you’re right that dads should get more personal time with toddlers.” This allows you to comment to a whole group without email trains attached.

Sometimes an email train is created between two people having a back and forth discussion via email. This may or may not be considered a netiquette violation, but it can get awfully messy. In most cases previous emails will be quoted below the new text you write, but they’re largely unnecessary to keep sending back and forth if they are not somehow needed. Even in informal situations between two pals, a correspondent may be grateful if you will delete the email train before sending off your next reply.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent EasyTechJunkie contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Social networks such as facebook and online discussion threads should eliminate the necessity for people to create email threads. They used to be more commonplace, but are diminishing over time. To see one pop up can be a big distraction.


Usually these only occur with close contacts who continually find it OK to hit "reply all." The clogging effect this has on serious and business related inboxes is quite annoying. Because of this, it is sometimes helpful to have two separate email addresses for business and personal matters.


I get these a lot between family members. After about 4 replies I just delete everything but the very last one. Otherwise it gets HUGE and very annoying.

Course the dreaded FWD's are terrible, annoying and unless super funny, I just delete!

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