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This falls into the bucket of etiquette rather than technology. Any technology-based solution is doomed to failure because of spammers.

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.

Email etiquette

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 well!

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.

Polite request

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 well.

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 with.

End of Answercast #59 Back to - Audio Segment

Article C5897 - October 8, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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4 Comments
Mark Watkins
October 9, 2012 9:10 AM

The problem is, sending me an email may be an imposition. Certainly I may see it as such. Asking for me to confirm that I have seen it, is a further imposition.

On a personal level, if we're friends, I will confirm that I've seen it or be prepared to cause an issue.

On a business level I would *NEVER* confirm receipt, if I didn't in any case wish to reply.

If your commmunication is such that you feel you're owed a reply, then call me. Don't send me an email and dump the communication care responsibility on me.

Reiner Subke
October 9, 2012 1:06 PM

Download and install the free:"MSGTAG" program,turn it ON BEFORE you send an email and you will get a message when your email has been opened.

A Richter
October 11, 2012 10:52 AM

By default, one can assume the message has been delivered; if it has not, you will be getting a notification to such effect.
Whether the recipient has read the message, fast, slow, once, repeatedly, attentively or absent-mindedly, will have been seen from the reply, if any.
And, true enough, if there is true urgency involved, use the phone, not email.

Actually you cannot assume that you'll get a message if something can't be delivered. There are many different reasons why a bounce message would not be sent, or be lost in transit.
Leo
14-Oct-2012

bob D.
October 19, 2012 9:28 PM

i want some of my email recipients to know i want to know if they got mine, so i put my email address in the "cc", this means i get copy thus almost certain they did too,,,,,,,

however, if i do this with email on business or the like then my recipient knows i am saving a copy for when i take his sorry butt to court etc....

naw, just kidding i dont take friends to court, just idiots....

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