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I am looking for software which would help me to write quality replies to a poorly worded/structured or otherwise complex emails/forum messages.

The tool should allow to graphically break (manually of course, though some automation would be handy) the original email/message into separate logical parts (paragraphs, etc). Once the original text is split into logical pieces, I should then be able to add my comments to each part like “what is the author trying to state/ask here”. After that, I should be able to reply to what I think an author is really asking/stating, rather than to reply to big “raw” chunks of text.

So, it would be similar to a “review” functionality which exists in Microsoft Word, but with an emphasis not on the iterative review process, but on a visually guided extraction and then addressing of the meaning.

I think a tool like that should boost my email/online forums productivity.

Any directions and comments are welcome.

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I have often imagined something exactly like this for extracting "todos" from emails. It's something I would actually consider writing myself if there was sufficient interest. –  Tim Booker Mar 23 '12 at 13:21
    
@apathetic Can you add more details about how the todo extraction would work - because it sounds interesting to me. Thank you. –  user2686 Mar 23 '12 at 23:40
    
@apathetic: maybe my approach with Freeplane mindmapping software could be used as a base to create something more sophisticated. Freeplane can be extended easily by Groovy scripts. productivity.stackexchange.com/a/7618/566 –  Martin Jun 29 '13 at 11:16
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3 Answers 3

Making sense of someone else's poorly structured writing is no different from revising prose that you've written yourself. Were this proposed software published, it would be used by professional writers everywhere.

Unfortunately, after a few decades, spelling checkers still suffer from random red underlines; grammar checkers are even worse at reading your mind; we can't guess at how bad this would be.

So just copy-paste the words around, like playing Tetris, until meanings and patterns start to emerge. This is how millions have revised drafts, ever since the original MacWord.

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You can try to use semi-automtion over here for example.

  1. Use Phraseexpress I have tuned phrase express to my suitable needs it's like if I have to wish someone Happy Birthday. I just type 'Many many' rest of the text like 'Happy Returns of the day, Happy Birthday to you :)' get typed automatically by phraseexpress,
  2. Yesware Yesware chrome extension has feature where we can have pre-written mail templates saved and choose those saved templates later for quick reply. I have lots of templates saved and it helps me a lot in my lead automation etc.
  3. Gmail Canned Response in Android In Gmail Canned Response for Android you can create small responses and choose to reply them while you are on the go.
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You find it often difficult to write quality replies, when the question is poorly structured or worded e. g. in e-mails and forums. And you want to boost your productivity and save time doing that.

Therefore, you are searching for a tool which help visualizing that by

  • breaking the original text into parts
  • maybe re-organizing them
  • summarizing them to extract the essential info/question
  • and then lets you write a reply for each part of the original question.

Suggested Approach

I suggest you to try the MindMapping software Freeplane http://freeplane.sourceforge.net/

Advantages and benefits

  • it is highly visual
  • as it lets you enter and re-order chunks of text (even html) in a hierarchic structure
  • you can use color or other formatting for visualization
  • you can add icons to nodes
  • it lets you filter nodes for display/hide with complex criteria
  • it can embed hyperlinks to files and folders
  • and much more http://freeplane.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Mind_map_gallery
  • and all that without using the mouse, if you want - keyboard commands are easily defined for all editing work etc.
  • It can be extended by scripting (groovy).
  • it is free to use and open source
  • it is actively developed and the developers are very responsive and helpful with an open to improvements and suggestions

Demonstration with this answer to your question

I've tried to write the answer to your question with such an approach (the distinct steps are described below and the mindmap document is attached), which could surely be optimized but in general worked very well. For exporting the "answer" (by copying selected nodes or by a script) into a special format or maybe using HTML, this could be improved for sure.


Example document

Here you'll find the complete example document: http://mabe.bplaced.net/se/mindmap_to_structure_content.mm (needs Freeplane to be opened)

for those who just want to see the mindmap without installing the software, I've exported a flash HTML which allows browsing the mindmap and hiding/showing branches: http://mabe.bplaced.net/se/mindmap_to_structure_content.html (Freemind offers a lot of other export formats also.)


Screenshots of example workflow

I've attached some screenshots of the "workflow". 1. paste text into mindmap - paragraphs are converted to nodes, mark original text with a special icon, e. g. question mark for later filtering enter image description here

2. maybe split nodes into pieces - the editor helps you enter image description here enter image description here

3. summarize orignal questions / points enter image description here

4. hide original questions (by filter) and write answers enter image description here

then copy the answers to e-mail/discussion forum

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