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Email Etiquette for Read Receipts

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The read receipt feature is available in many electronic messaging programs, such as Microsoft Outlook. When users enable this feature, they can set up an email message so that they receive a system-generated notification when recipients receive and read their message. Although this message-tracking feature is useful for the sender, recipients may not share the same perception. When sending business emails, users should observe email etiquette and use the read receipt feature appropriately.

Thoughtful Use

Do not use the read receipt feature on every email you send. The read receipt feature also notifies email recipients that the sender turned on message tracking. Recipients generally do not like the read receipt feature, especially when they receive many emails from the same sender on a daily basis. Not only do these users receive the sender's messages, but they also receive two additional system-generated messages indicating that the sender wants to know when they have received and read their message. System-generated notifications can quickly bog down electronic mailboxes, making it easy for users to miss valid business emails. In business environments that enforce mailbox size restrictions, these notifications may prevent both the sender and the message recipients from receiving other important or critical emails.

Respect Recipients

Email programs typically give users the option to decline a sender's read receipt request. Some recipients ignore the system-generated messages and take no action. While some business users may feel they have valid reasons for using the read receipt feature on every single email they send, respect the wishes of individuals who consistently decline or ignore read receipt requests. Turn off the read receipt feature when sending messages to users who have given "gentle" clues that they do not respond to read receipt requests.

Respect the Sender

In some cases, users with limited technology experience may not know that they have the message tracking feature enabled on all the emails they send. Message recipients can send a friendly email to these colleagues and share instructions on how to use the read receipt feature appropriately. Another friendly, respectful way to address the situation is to show the person how to turn the feature off. Inexperienced users may be more receptive to in-person guidance versus receiving instruction via electronic messaging.

Just Ask

In many cases, business users turn on the read receipt feature when they send an important or critical message to senior managers. Because these managers receive a lot of email to begin with, the sender uses the read receipt as a means to confirm that the message did not get lost among a myriad of other emails. However, because read receipt requests almost always annoy message recipients before they even read the message, business users may find it more effective to just ask the person if they received the email. A quick phone call is a more personable way to obtain the confirmation sought from a read receipt request.

Appropriate Use

Use the read receipt feature only for messages that are critical and time sensitive in nature. For example, some businesses use email to gather electronic approvals from senior managers. It is appropriate to use the read receipt feature if the sender needs approval to finalize the terms and conditions of a critical business contract by a certain date. The sender can follow up directly with the recipients from whom they do not receive a read receipt confirmation. In general, situations warranting the need for read receipts occur infrequently. As a general best practice, users should leave the read receipt feature off for a majority of their email communications.


Alyssa Guzman has written online content for eHow and Answerbag since 2010. She is a "journalist of all trades" and writes on many subjects including travel and leisure, animal health, informaton technology, business etiquette and exotic flowering plants. Guzman was a communications studies major at the Florida State University.

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