When Can I Expect an Email Response?
No new messages. Why is it taking so long? Did they receive it? Did it get put in the junk mail folder?
How long should you wait before emailing again? You don’t want to seem desperate…
Waiting for an email reply seems to be a common occurance in this day and age of email reliance. We look for contextual clues to why a response may be taking longer than usual, and decide when we should follow up the email.
A paper by Tyler & Tang looks at the the email-replying habits of a group of corporate users in this 2003 paper.
Here’s what they found:
- Most users check their email “constantly”
- Users would try to project a responsiveness image. For example, sending a short reply if a complete reply might take longer than usual, intentionally delaying a reply to make themselves seem busy, or planing out timing strategies for email with read receipts.
- Users would look at shared calendars or other means to estimate how long they should expect a reply
- If an email was urgent, users often used voicemail as a way to bring attention to their email
- Emails were written differently, depending on how long of a delay was expected before a reply (especially if their recipients were in a faraway time zone
- Users would try to reciprocate email behaviors — responding quickly to people who responded quickly to them, and lowering their responsiveness to people who responded slowly to them in the past
Based on past response times, users had a response expection threshold for other users, which was the amount of time in which they expected a response (most said 24 hours). There was also a later breakdown perception threshold — a time when they would follow up on the email by phone or with another, more urgent looking email.
Tyler, J. R. & Tang, J. C. (2003). When Can I Expect an Email Response? A Study of Rhythms in Email Usage. Proceedings from ECSCW ’03: European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 239- 258. [PDF]