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I need to email someone that his reply doesn't truly answer the questions in my original email. 1 below appears too brusque, and would insult and offend:

  1. Sorry, but your reply doesn't appear to answer my question.

2 will less likely offend but it appears, and makes me appear, disingenuous, because it masquerades my certainty (of the reply's failing to answer my question) as doubt.

  1. I am not sure/certain that your reply answers my question.
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    Consider including what your question was and the response they gave. It would add context and more detail for answers – Jesse Nov 30 '17 at 4:28
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Communication involves two people. Instead of making a statement about the other one, make a statement about yourself. For example:

It looks like I wasn't clear enough, sorry. My question is: (simplest restatement you can come up with). Do you know / do you have that info / can you help?

My job involves a lot of written communication. Even when I suspect the other is evading (not confused), I get better results when I use this approach and say nothing that sounds like an accusation. Besides, it might be true -- we always think we're being clear and we assume that the other person perfectly understands, but that's not always the case. (See The Illusion of Transparency for research details.) Give the benefit of the doubt, or at least give the appearance of giving the benefit of the doubt.

3

Monica's suggestions are all very good, but you could also consider phrasing your response like this:

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I fully understand. (and then rephrase your question in different terms)

By phrasing it like this, you avoid the accusatory tone from your original question ("Your reply was not good enough"), and you also avoid any demeaning connotation ("You clearly failed to understand my question, so I will restate it more simply for you"). Rather, phrasing it this way blames the misunderstanding on yourself and gives the other person a chance to offer more details.

2

Ah, thank you for explaining the connection between A and Z!

Can you please also explain Q? To reiterate the key point from my earlier (rather lengthy) email:

How exactly does Q integrate with Z to provide X? And how many P can I expect from Q because of Z?

There's nothing wrong with simply reiterating your question. Just be sure to acknowledge the information they gave you, even if it wasn't what you wanted.

Acknowledgement is the key. When you acknowledge first, they will not be upset or offended.

Even if you can't make head or tail of the response, you can still acknowledge the fact that they responded. For example:

Hi B,

Thanks for your rapid response. I'm sorry, but I don't really understand what you're telling me about F. Is that connected in some way to Q?

What I would like to know is how Q works. More exactly, my question is:

How exactly does Q integrate with Z to provide X? And how many P can I expect from Q because of Z?

Just politely repeat the question. It actually works better if you repeat the exact question than anything else, providing of course that you word your question clearly and succinctly in the first place.

(I know this is an unusual suggestion to repeat the exact question rather than changing it up; all I have to say is: try it. You're likely to be surprised. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I have observed the results carefully and I speak from experience, not intuition.)

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    Repeating the exact wording of the original question isn't going to help any more this time round. Far better to explain that you are re-phrasing it, to clear up any ambivalences, which you feel have lead to this state. – Tim Dec 2 '17 at 11:00
  • @Tim please carefully reread the final two paragraphs of this answer, particularly noting the "providing" clause. – Wildcard Dec 2 '17 at 12:13
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Note that I am making a bit of a guess here, as this answer does not specifically address the context. Furthermore, I am assuming a situation where both the asked and the asker somewhat do not work against each other - i.e. the asked has at least a tangential interest in helping the asker, instead of just getting the issue out of the way.

How do you tactfully write that someone's reply doesn't truly answer your question?

You do not.

Your goal is to get an answer to your question. It is not to accuse the answerer of anything.

You simply ask again, phrasing the question differently. To the asked, it does not make any difference whether from your point of view, you are repeating the original question. In most contexts, it is completely acceptable to make them feel you are doing one of the following:

  • Asking a new, follow-up question.
  • Inquiring explicitly about a special case that was not covered in the original question and answer.
  • Critically commenting on the answer and possibly pointing out a factual flaw that requires a revised answer.

If the asked realizes you are actually just repeating the question in other words - fine. They will be happy you did not make an issue out of it (which, I'd say, does count as tactful behaviour). If they don't - just as well. They will not feel embarrassed, and possibly yet provide a more fitting answer the next time, in case they realize only then the expected level of detail/coverage of certain aspects/etc. when you ask questions.

0

The current responses cover a number of different useful approaches. Which you take depends on context, and the preferred outcome.

Thanks for the information about [the wrong topic]. It's great reference for [general company info/ approach to some problem or anything true]

[Repeat your question] I wanted information on [the right topic]. [Give an example of the type of information you're looking for] I may not be using the right term. Maybe [right synonym 1] or [right synonym 2] would be better. Which would you suggest?

If you have a friendly relationship with this person, then a bit of humor can often take the sting out.

I'm sometimes an idiot when I send emails in a rush :( Must remember to stop doing that.

Most people accept that communication can be difficult. Be upfront and kind in the interaction. The best measure for me is how I would react if the email was send to my partner. If you would accept that, then the tone is appropriate.

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