Posey's Tips & Tricks

Voting in Outlook 2010: How To Create an E-mail Poll

Here's step-by-step instructions on how to add custom polls in your Outlook messages.

Sometimes IT pros need to take a poll among the users or the other administrators in the organization. For example, you might want to poll the department heads to see if Tuesday night is a good time to take a server down for maintenance. In these types of situations, you can set up a poll in Outlook 2010.

Setting up a poll in Outlook is easy. Begin by creating a new E-mail message. When the Untitled Message window opens, select the Options tab and then click on the Use Voting Buttons button.

Outlook offers several voting options by default. When you click on the Use Voting Buttons button you can choose from Approve / Reject, Yes / No or Yes / No / Maybe.

Although these polling options are handy, they might be inadequate in some situations. Imagine for instance that you decided to take your staff out to lunch. You might want to send a poll asking what kind of food everyone prefers, but Approve / Reject or Yes / No / Maybe would hardly generate appropriate responses to the question.

In these types of situations Outlook gives you the option to create a custom poll. The Custom option is made available when you click the Use Voting Buttons button.

When you choose the Custom option, Outlook displays the Properties dialog box for the message that is being created. The Use Voting Buttons option is already selected by default within this dialog box, but the voting options are set to Approve;Reject. If you want to use custom voting buttons you must simply replace the Approve;Reject text with your own custom text. In doing so, you would specify the names of the voting options that you want to provide, while separating each option with a semicolon. For example, if you were taking a poll on where everyone wants to go for lunch you might enter American;Mexican;French;Itallian. Once you have entered the voting choices you can send the message.

When the recipients receive your message it may not be immediately obvious that a vote is required. Outlook doesn't display a series of voting buttons within the message body. Instead, Outlook simply provides a line of text above the To and From fields that says Vote By Clicking Vote in the Respond Group Above. Because users may not notice this line of text it is a good idea to provide the users with voting instructions within the message body.

In case you are wondering, the message Ribbon contains a Vote button. When the user clicks on this button Outlook will display a drop down menu with a series of voting choices. When a user selects a voting choice they are given the option of sending the response now or editing the response before sending it. This works exactly the same way as it would if the user were responding to a meeting invitation.

On the surface it appears as though Outlook does not automatically tabulate the votes. When a user responds then the sender simply receives a message with the user's vote appended to the message's Subject line. For example, if the original message containing the poll had a subject line of Lunch and a user received the poll and voted for Mexican then you would receive an E-mail message with the subject line Mexican; Lunch.

This method of viewing the voting results will probably work out OK if you are polling a small number of people, but it isn't very practical if you need to poll the entire organization. Thankfully, Outlook performs vote tracking behind the scenes.

If you want to view the vote tally then open one of the response messages that you have received. At the top of the message there will be a line of text indicating the person's response. For example it might say something like The Sender Responded: Mexican. If you click on this line of text, Outlook will display a button labeled View Voting Responses. Clicking this button causes Outlook to display all of the votes that have been received so far. Outlook will also display the reply totals (Mexican 2; French 1). One thing to keep in mind is that vote tracking won't work unless you have received more than one response.

Occasionally you might find yourself in a situation in which you need to keep a permanent record of the voted. You can do so by selecting all of the votes from the list and then pressing Ctrl+C. After doing so, just open Excel and press Ctrl+V. The votes will be added to a spreadsheet.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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