Email etiquette

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q. I've recently learned that a colleague who sends me regular reports is upset with me because I never acknowledged receiving them. What's considered appropriate when it comes to acknowledging receipt of an email? Should recipients always reply to let senders know you received their email?

A. I'm certainly not an email etiquette expert, but I like this question because I do find it a little frustrating when I send someone important information and the recipient doesn't respond to let me know he or she has received it. Without acknowledgement, I grow concerned that perhaps the email did not go through, and if so, it may appear that I'm not doing my job timely or properly. A simple reply stating "got it," "received it," or "thank you" might relieve my worries. So, yes, I do think it is polite and appropriate to acknowledge receipt of valid emails as soon as possible. Following are a few additional comments.

1. Automated reply setup by the recipient. Perhaps you could mitigate the worries discussed above simply by setting up an automated reply to acknowledge all email received (which may not be the best idea because it lets spammers know that your email address is valid). Perhaps a better approach might be to acknowledge all email messages received from the person who sends you those reports. Such a reply can be set up by selecting an email from that person and then from Outlook's Home tab, selecting Rules, Create Rule, Advanced Options, reply using a specific template, as shown in the image below, and then following the instructions to create the automated reply whenever you receive email from that person.


You will then need to navigate to the location of your reply template and open and edit the template as necessary. For example, as shown below, I created a reply template that reads, "I received your email, thank you."


This reply template will now be sent to the email address included in the rule I created each time I receive a new message from that address.

2. Receipt request setup by the sender. As an alternative, the sender could possibly address this issue by checkingRequest a Delivery ReceiptRequest a Read Receipt, or both, from the Outlook message's Options tab on the email message screen, as circled below.


A drawback to using the Request a Read Receipt function is that the recipient has to respond to the pop-up question confirming it's OK to send the sender a read receipt notification, which may annoy the recipient. In addition, not all email applications support read receipts, and even when they do, the recipients can disable the functionality.

3. Prioritizing email messages. If you receive an urgent or highly important email that you plan to respond to right away, an immediate acknowledgement is unnecessary. But when you receive email that you can't respond to right away, I believe the correct thing to do is to let the sender know you have received his or her message, and perhaps advise the sender of your anticipated response time frame. For example, you might reply, "I have received your message requesting a copy of the report, and I will send it to you when I return to my office on Monday—will this work for you?"

4. Text messaging. If you communicate via text messaging and send a time-sensitive message, such as "I am confirming our lunch plans for 11:50 a.m. at Seasons 52 located at Perimeter Mall, and I plan to head that way in a few minutes," it can be worrisome if your lunch partner fails to acknowledge your communiqué—you don't want to waste your time if that person's plans have changed. In this situation, I believe a simple "yes," "confirmed," or "K" (abbreviation for OK) may be considered a polite way to acknowledge such a communication.

5. Spam. Of course, if the email is spam or suspected spam, I'd advise you not to waste time replying; delete it immediately and move on with your day. Generally, if you don't recognize the sender or subject, or if your correct first name is not used to begin the email, then blocking the sender and deleting that email may be the best actions to take.

About the author

J. Carlton Collins ( is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

Note: Instructions for Microsoft Office in “Technology Q&A” refer to the 2007 through 2016 versions, unless otherwise specified.

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