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1Q84

Email Etiquette

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This has always been a weird social anxiety thing for me. I hate that moment when you get a response to a question from a professor (or administrator) and have to decide whether or not to respond with a thank you or affirmative. I know professors are often so inundated with emails that they would prefer to keep any correspondence to most spartan, essential communications necessary.

 

I also try to think about it from the perspective of a teacher: usually I don't even notice if a student doesn't respond with a thank you after a back-and-forth, so maybe it's the same for profs?

 

Ack! Is there any standard rule for this or am I just being weird?

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One thing I do right off the bat to help these situations is always signing my emails with "Thanks," and then my name (instead of Best, or other closings that people like to use). Not only do I think it is the best multi-purpose email closer, it often removes the need to send an additional "Thanks" email after.

In terms of more specific examples, I would say if it was just a simple question that they responded to, I tend not to send a reply. For example, asking if I can come by their office at a certain time or if I'm asking something else pretty straightforward. If it's maybe a more technical question where I am asking for lengthy feedback or a more detailed response on their part, I usually respond with a reaction of my own and an additional Thank You type response. So in general, if their email is short, you don't really need to respond, but if they spent some time thinking about something you've asked or it's a lengthier response, I usually try to find something to say in return and show appreciation.

 

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I end every email with a request with "Thanks/Thank you/Thank you very much" depending on how well I know the person and how difficult I expect it to be to deal with my request. For simple stuff I usually don't reply again, especially if it's someone I know and what they did for me was part of their job description. I might say thanks in person, if appropriate. For more formal requests, people I don't know, or if I asked for something that required someone to go out of their way to help, I'll reply again with a thanks. 

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I base it on previous interactions with the person. For example, my advisor often will send emails that just say "Thanks" or "OK" or "Sounds good." etc. So I do the same. For people I don't know at all (academics at other schools), I always send more emails--I figure that them being annoyed that I sent an extra email is less bad than them thinking I am ungrateful without a thank you. For people in my department, I often will see them in the coffee room that day so I just say thanks in person.

 

I usually just ignore the "Thanks" type emails from my students so I figure that if the other person doesn't like it, it probably isn't that hard for them to ignore it too. I never respond to a thanks with a "you're welcome" and no one does that either. 

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When I met with my advisor for the first time a few weeks ago she made a special point to talk about professionalism and my PhD program.  She specifically said I should respond to emails even if it's not asking for a response.  She said just a "I got this, thanks" if better than nothing at all.  I've started being more responsive since I was always one to err on the side of not being annoying with extra emails.  I don't known if that's just her preference though. 

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Thanks, all! Glad to know other people think about this. I'm definitely going to err on the side of over-communication now. 

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I'm glad you started this thread, 1Q84. As a few GC folks can confirm, I tend to write fairly long emails. I think it's partially a by-product of being in my mid-30s, growing up in an era where email was the Bold New Method of Communication (back in the days before Facebook and text messages, of course). The truth is that I have always loved writing lengthy emails anyhow, and I have to make a conscious effort to curb that when it comes to writing to professors and other academics. I still think there's some merit to sending multi-paragraph emails, but generally speaking, short and to the point is probably the best rule of thumb. No matter how much a professor likes or respects you, you're one of at least 30 students he/she has to deal with at any given time. Brevity is probably appreciated more than verbosity in an email...

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I'm glad you started this thread, 1Q84. As a few GC folks can confirm, I tend to write fairly long emails. I think it's partially a by-product of being in my mid-30s, growing up in an era where email was the Bold New Method of Communication (back in the days before Facebook and text messages, of course). The truth is that I have always loved writing lengthy emails anyhow, and I have to make a conscious effort to curb that when it comes to writing to professors and other academics. I still think there's some merit to sending multi-paragraph emails, but generally speaking, short and to the point is probably the best rule of thumb. No matter how much a professor likes or respects you, you're one of at least 30 students he/she has to deal with at any given time. Brevity is probably appreciated more than verbosity in an email...

 

I have the same problem, but I have one collaborator who simply doesn't reply if the email is longer than fits on one screen or contains more than one question/request. Something always gets lost or ignored. So I've learned to be brief, and if possible mention everything important in the title or at the very top of the email. If there is just one issue per email, it's harder (though not impossible) to reply to the email and yet ignore what I asked. As I receive more an more email myself, I definitely appreciate the ones that are short and to the point. 

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Email isn't the same as an electronic letter and I agree with fuzzy that unless you are discussing something in depth with someone you already know is invested in the conversation, you should always try to keep it to one topic per email and no more than a paragraph. The exception is when I email my supervisor to discuss some work we are doing and I know they want to know all the details that went into my plots. In that case, they are already invested in that email and I know they will read the whole thing!

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Also relevant:

 

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As for myself, I tend to get frustrated if I'm not sure that somebody has received/read/understood my communique, so I do try to sign off on everything with a "thanks" or "got it" unless it's obviously unnecessary.

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I always reply with a thank you and maybe "see you at x" or "have a great summer". Never a bad thing to show appreciation for faculty taking time out for you. Reading that kind of brief note and hitting delete takes them like 5 seconds, so I would rather waste their 5 seconds than risk appearing rude or ungrateful.

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Also relating to email etiquitte, how long should you wait to email your advisor again if he/she doesn't respond to an email? My undergrad advisor was quite fast at responding to emails, so I'm a bit spoiled. I'm not yet at my grad school, so I can't just go bug him in his office.

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Also relating to email etiquitte, how long should you wait to email your advisor again if he/she doesn't respond to an email? My undergrad advisor was quite fast at responding to emails, so I'm a bit spoiled. I'm not yet at my grad school, so I can't just go bug him in his office.

 

It's summer so I'd say 2 weeks, minimum, for a response. Not everyone puts up a vacation auto-responder, even if they're going to be in and out.

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I had a professor in undergrad (my adviser actually) who would not read emails for days or weeks after I'd sent them. This seemed to be common with all his students. It got to the point that I would send read receipts with my emails to help me budget my time - ie if I knew it had been a week and was still unopened I could figure out what kind of damage control I needed to do if a deadline was approaching and he sent me edits the night before.

 

That opened my eyes to the kind of email exchanges like to have with other people, and I changed my own behavior accordingly. I'm considerate of what I think others want out of the exchange, but unless someone tells me that they would rather I didn't send emails saying things like "Thank you!" or "I'll get right on that" or "I'll see you at 10:30 Monday," I'll keep doing it. Because that's what I like to receive. I like to know that my email was opened, read, didn't go to the spam folder, and wasn't somehow addressed wrong or caught in some corner of the university's sprawling network. 

 

In most email programs, you can see when an email only has a short reply ("Sounds great, thanks!") without even opening it, so you can just glance through your inbox and know that the person has read your email and has agreed or what have you. It takes exactly no work. Demands on time are typically not so great that every second counts. We're not trying to disarm the doomsday device.

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It's super easy to do in Outlook. See here for more. It's also possible with other email services, though not with personal Gmail accounts

 

Well guess which email platform my institution uses <_<  (and doesn't have the option enabled).

Edited by telkanuru

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My advisor always liked at least an "okay," "got it," or "thanks" to make sure that it was received and noted. I prefer the same - it makes it easier for me to check it off my list. I don't think she was ever particular about being properly thanked via email, because the gratitude was implied in the first email. That said, I don't think it can ever hurt. I can't imagine someone getting that peeved over an extra two word email.

 

A separate issue but still on the topic of email etiquette - a pet peeve of my prof's was students starting emails with no greeting or just "hi."

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A separate issue but still on the topic of email etiquette - a pet peeve of my prof's was students starting emails with no greeting or just "hi."

 

I'll admit I've sometimes started emails with "Hello!" if I'm emailing something like the registrar's office or the library reference desk (where the email address is like reference@yourschool.edu) since I don't know who exactly is going to be reading the email. "To whom it may concern" seems way too formal, and I haven't figured out a good in-between. But if you know who you're emailing, use their name! 

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I had a professor in undergrad (my adviser actually) who would not read emails for days or weeks after I'd sent them. This seemed to be common with all his students. It got to the point that I would send read receipts with my emails to help me budget my time - ie if I knew it had been a week and was still unopened I could figure out what kind of damage control I needed to do if a deadline was approaching and he sent me edits the night before.

 

I think another important part of email etiquette is that if you are asking someone to do something for you (e.g. make edits), you should always be clear on a deadline for responses. This is good for both parties. If you ask me to make edits, I like knowing a deadline because I don't want to spend my time writing edits but then have it be too late for you to implement, thus wasting my time. And if you set a deadline, and I don't follow it, then you would have an "out" to avoid having to scramble to make the last minute edits.

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Well guess which email platform my institution uses <_<  (and doesn't have the option enabled).

 

With an institutional gmail account you can do it really easily. When you compose a new email, there's a tiny triangle in the lower right corner of the message. Click it and you'll see "request read receipt"

 

I think your gmail administrator can select whether the recipient can see that a read receipt has been requested, but I tested it out with a friend before I did it the first time. We couldn't find any indication in the email that it was there, but I still got a message saying it had been opened. Granted, having read receipts visible to my professor might have lit a fire under him if he could have seen them, so maybe it works out well both ways.

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Click it and you'll see "request read receipt"

 

I tried, and I do not.

Edited by telkanuru

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I think another important part of email etiquette is that if you are asking someone to do something for you (e.g. make edits), you should always be clear on a deadline for responses. This is good for both parties. If you ask me to make edits, I like knowing a deadline because I don't want to spend my time writing edits but then have it be too late for you to implement, thus wasting my time. And if you set a deadline, and I don't follow it, then you would have an "out" to avoid having to scramble to make the last minute edits.

 

Yes. And to add a paranoid note to this, it's always good to be very detailed and explicit about expectations and requests in case nastiness (resulting from miscommunication) occurs down the road and appeals need to be made to administration or higher ups. 

 

As those with experience in bureaucracy say: document, document, document.

Edited by 1Q84

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