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How to recall email in Outlook

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There comes a time when inevitably we send an email which was either to the wrong person OR was sent before we actually finished writing it. It happens to the best of us. There is however a way in which you can recall the email using Microsoft Outlook. This feature has been around for a long time now (showing my age) but either people do not know about it or do not understand the functionality.

It is important to understand that this will not avoid the uncomfortable situation where you send an email to the incorrect person containing information they should not see or read. The recall email option will advise the recipient that you are trying to recall the message – so they will know that something has been sent to them, and can even still read the message before the recall process occurs.

There are some constraints when trying to recall an email using Outlook. The biggest one is that both yourself AND the recipient have to be using a Microsoft 365 or Microsoft Exchange email account. If you are emailing someone using Gmail or any other email platform, which is NOT Microsoft 365 or Microsoft Exchange, then sadly I have to say this won’t work and that email will be delivered to the recipient regardless of your efforts to stop it, that includes yelling at the computer (we’ve all tried it).

The message recall feature attempts to retrieve the email from the mailbox of the recipient(s) who have not yet opened it. If they have already opened the email message then you’re out of luck. As a consolation prize, you can attempt to send a replacement message instead.

Outlook Recall Email function

To use this function let’s send an email to a recipient as a test and we will then try to recall it.

  1. Open Microsoft Outlook (I’m using Outlook 365)
  2. With the Inbox displayed, click Ctrl + N on the keyboard to create a new blank email message
  3. Enter a recipient name in the To field (I am sending from my Microsoft 365 email account to a person also using Microsoft 365)
  4. Add a Subject and type a quick message into the body of the email

Draft your email to send

  1. Click Send 
  2. Now open your Sent Items folder
  3. Double click and open the email message you have just sent
  4. From the Ribbon, click the Actions button and choose Recall This Message

Select Recall this message from the actions button

  1. The Recall This Message dialog box will appear:

The Recall this message dialog box will open

  1. You can choose between two options here: Delete unread copies of the message, or Delete unread copies and replace with a new message
  2. Leave the first option selected
  3. Ensure the Tell me if recall succeeds or fails for each recipient is selected and click OK
  4. The email message should now display an information prompt letting you  know that you have tried to recall the message:

You will see the notification to say you have tried to recall the message

  1. The Microsoft 365 or Microsoft Exchange server will now be working to recall the message. Remember, if the email message has already been opened by the time you request the recall then the recipient will have read the email.

How to tell if the email recall was successful

Now the important part, was your recall attempt successful?

  1. If the message was recalled successfully, you should receive an email notification to advise you.
  2. Return to your Inbox and see if a successful message has been received, or instigate a Send/Receive by pressing F9 on the keyboard
  3. If you see a message appear with the Subject: Message Recall Success then you can open the message

An email with subject message recall success has arrived

  1.  The message will advise that the recall was successful

The recall was successful

  1. If I was to check the recipient’s inbox, no message is visible

How to tell if the email recall has failed

One common reason that a message cannot be successfully recalled may be that there was a time delay between the actual sending and the subsequent recall action. This may give the recipient enough time to open the email message which therefore cannot be recalled without their knowledge.

In the example below, I waited approx 1 minute before actioning the recall step. During that time the original email was opened by the recipient.

  1. Because the recipient opened the email, my recall action is not successful and I receive a message with the Subject: Message Recall Failure

The recall failed

  1. If I open the message failure notice I can see if that it was unsuccessful

The message cannot be recalled

 

I hope this provides some insight into how the recall message options work within Microsoft Outlook. Leave any comments or questions below.

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