The next time you need to find out whether your colleagues want bagels or doughnuts for an upcoming staff meeting, you might consider using the voting buttons in Outlook. I find this feature especially useful when I need to gather the opinions of a large group, since Outlook can be configured to keep a running tally of the results of the poll.
Outlook makes it possible for you to set up questions with simple, default replies (Approve/Reject; Yes/No; or Yes/No/Maybe), or you can put in your own custom replies (e.g., bagels, doughnuts, muffins, or grapes). In this blog post, I will begin by showing you how to use the default replies, and then we will discuss how you can put in your own options.
First let’s say that we want to know which of our colleagues have completed the paperwork necessary for driving the company van. Follow the steps below to send a message with voting buttons:
- First, open a new email message from within Outlook 2010.
- Click the Options tab on the Ribbon.
- In the Tracking group, click on Use Voting Buttons. A drop-down menu will appear offering you 4 options: Approve/Reject; Yes/No; Yes/No/Maybe; or Custom…
- Click on Yes;No. Your untitled message form appears with a note at the top that tells you that you have added voting buttons to this message. You can now continue to create your message.
- Fill in the To… field with the recipients’ email addresses.
- In the Subject field, type your question (e.g., Have you completed the paperwork and been approved to drive the company van?)
- Type in any other relevant information that you want to include in the body of the email. If this is the first time you have sent an email that contains voting buttons to these recipients, you may want to include a note that gives directions on how to reply.
- When the message is complete, click on the Send button.
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When your recipients receive the message, they will see an information icon (i) just above the From field. The note that follows this icon says, “Vote by clicking Vote in the Respond group above.” When recipients click on the Vote button, a drop-down menu will appear. Recipients can choose either “Yes” or “No.”
When the recipient selects one of these options, a Microsoft Outlook dialog box will appear asking if they want to Send the response now or Edit the response before sending.
If the recipient clicks on the first radio button, the vote will be sent without any added message. If the recipient clicks on the second option, a new message form will appear and the recipient will be able to type in an explanation or additional information that will accompany their response.
Regardless of which option is chosen, the subject header of the reply message will include the recipient’s vote followed by a colon and then the subject line from the original email. This makes it easy for the sender to manually count the votes, since the responses will show up as new items in the sender’s Inbox as the recipients reply.
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If you want to poll a group, but the potential answer is not yes, no, or maybe, you can create custom options. To do so, begin by following directions 1 – 3 from above. After clicking on Use Voting Buttons, click on the last option, which is Custom…
A Properties dialog box will appear. In the Voting and Tracking options section, verify that the Use voting buttons check box is selected.
Press and drag the text that is in the field next to the Use voting buttons checkbox. Type in the list of options that you want the recipients to be able to choose from, separated by a semi-colon. (Note: This will not work if you use a comma instead of a semi-colon!)
Notice that there is also a Delivery options section towards the bottom of the dialog box.
These options can be very useful. You can have replies sent to others and you can choose when you want the email message delivered. You can also set an expiration date for the poll. If you put a check in the Expires after checkbox, you can set a date when the votes will no longer count. Recipients can still reply after the date that you set, but Outlook will automatically put a line through the text (strikethrough) in the message header so the person who is conducting the poll will know that the message was sent after the deadline.
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If you are polling a large group, you may not want to have to go back through your Inbox to count up recipients’ responses. Outlook can be configured to do this for you. (At Indiana University most Outlook accounts are set up this way by default, but this is not always the case.)
To configure Outlook so that it automatically keeps a tally of the responses:
- On the Ribbon, click on the File tab to move to Backstage view.
- From the menu that appears on the left side of your screen, click on Options. An Outlook Options dialog box appears.
- If necessary, from the menu on the left side of the dialog box, select Mail.
- Scroll down until you see the Tracking section.
- If necessary, click on Automatically process meeting requests and responses to meeting requests and polls checkbox.
- At the bottom of the dialog box, click the OK button to proceed.
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When you send out messages where recipients must vote, you can quickly count the results by clicking on the informational message at the top of the window that tells you how the sender responded. A pop up will appear that says View voting responses.
When you click on View voting responses, a new window will appear and you will be able to see a running tally of the total responses that have been sent. Beneath that, there will be a list of each recipient and their individual response.
So the next time you need to poll a group, save yourself some time and energy. Use voting buttons in Outlook!
NOTE: When you send a message with voting buttons to a non-Outlook account (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) or if an Outlook user accesses their account with the Outlook Web App, the message will go through but there will be no voting buttons available. Therefore, it is best to use this feature only when you know that all recipients use Outlook.