I continue to be frustrated when sending business and personal
correspondence by email. Sometimes, I never receive a reply or even a
confirmation that the email was received. Then I end up following up in person
or by telephone to see if they did receive it. Is there a polite way to ask
someone to please confirm receipt even if they do not have time to compose a
reply? Why don’t email programs allow us to confirm that a sent mail was
received or read? Etiquette might not be your specialty, but I thought you might
be able to help.
In this excerpt from
Answercast #59, I look at ways to request a read receipt for email.
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You’re right. Email etiquette, or etiquette in general, is certainly not my
specialty, but I certainly am not short of opinions on a subject like this as
First of all, let me answer that last part first, “Why don’t email programs
allow us to confirm things?” You know, they used to. Once upon a time, it was
possible and in fact, many programs still have the option to request what’s
called a “Received receipt” or a “Read receipt.”
What that intended was that when the email was opened by the recipient, an
email would automatically get sent back to you confirming that the email’s been
opened and/or read.
Privacy and spam
Now that is disabled in 99.9% of all email programs. People will almost
always turn it off or say no if asked, because many people consider it an
invasion of privacy.
But worse, spammers are using it. Spammers would send out spam with a read
receipt requested. As a result, if the program that the recipient was using
responded to the read receipt, spammers would realize that this email address
that they just used was actually a real person. As a result, that email address
would get a bucket load more spam.
So, a read receipt from a technological point of view? This kind of
confirmation that you’re looking for from a purely technological point of view…
honestly, it’s not gonna happen.
Blame the spammers for the most part but also understand that many people do
consider it somewhat of a violation of their privacy.
Now, with that technical discussion out of the way: if it’s important, I
actually just include a polite statement at the end of the email saying, “Hey,
even if you can’t reply, could you let me know you got this? Thanks!” and then I
signed the email. That’s the only way I know.
Does it work? I have no idea.
Some people do. Some people don’t. Obviously, it would be polite for them to
at least acknowledge it, but the best you can hope for is that at least you’ve
asked them. It’s the only solution I know of to a problem like this. That’s why
it really does fall into the bucket of etiquette rather than technology because
as we’ve seen, the technology-based solutions for this are doomed to failure as
All we can really do is quite literally, as you suggested, politely ask them
as part of the message, “Hey, could you let me know that you’ve seen this even
if you don’t have time to reply?” That’s about the best I can come up
End of Answercast #59 Back to –