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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky

Volume 9 Issue 2
February 2015
I Sent an Email, Did It Arrive? Did They Read It?

Email is great tool for communicating with other people, but after sending a message have you ever wondered:
  • Did my email arrive in their Inbox?
  • Did they read it?
High-tech waste of time: Requesting Delivery (or Return) receipts and Read receipts
A small number of email programs, including Microsoft Outlook, Google Apps (the commercial version of Gmail), Thunderbird, and a few others have two functions that sound like they will provide exactly this information:
  • To find out whether your email arrived, your email program may permit you to add a request for a Delivery receipt (or Return receipt) to the message you're about to send. This inserts a "Return-Receipt-To: martin@kadansky.com" (i.e., your email address) header into your email.
  • To be notified when they read it, you may also be able to add a request for a Read receipt to your message. This inserts a "Disposition-Notification-To: martin@kadansky.com" header.
These sound like just the right approach: When you send an email message, you can ask your recipient's email program (or server) to send you a little mechanically-generated message ("receipt") to notify you when each of these things occurs.

  • These are only requests, and many email programs and servers don't recognize or support them.
  • Those programs that do support them usually ask the user (your recipient) to confirm before sending a receipt back to you. Many users will not only refuse permission, they may also find it irritating or creepy to be asked.
  • Even if your recipient's email software tries to send you a receipt, some corporate email servers may block it from going out.
  • Even if you get a receipt back, it may have come from the recipient's email server (not from the recipient's own email software), so it may be a false or premature report.
  • Even if you get a Read receipt, it may only mean that your message was displayed on your recipient's screen (perhaps just for a moment or by accident), not that they actually read it.
So unless both you and your recipient are in the same corporate environment that supports them, even if your email program lets you request such receipts, doing so is probably a waste of your time.

Low-tech approach: Forget the technology, connect with the person
Here's one technique that will help get you this information, and you can do this with any email program on any computer or smartphone or tablet:

Near the end of the body of the message you're about to send, write this:

"Please send me a reply so I'll know that you got this."

or this:

"Kindly send me a reply so I'll know that you received this."

or whatever variation fits your style. Make it stand out by putting blank lines both before and after it.

Consider also putting something brief in the Subject field, e.g., "Subject: Please confirm - Meeting time changed" in addition to a request for a reply in the Body of the message.

I guarantee that this will work some of the time, maybe even most of the time.

Don't use this in every email you send, only when your message is important enough that you need the other person to acknowledge it.

And here's another technique that often gets forgotten amid all the technology: If the issue in the email that you sent is important enough, after an appropriate period of time, call the person on the phone to follow up.

Where to go from here
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Did you miss a previous issue? You can find it in my newsletter archive: http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

Your privacy is important to me. I do not share my newsletter mailing list with anyone else, nor do I rent it out.

Copyright (C) 2015 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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