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Before You Hit Delete: How to Respond to Emails You Want to Ignore

Why don’t people respond to your emails?


Students know how it feels: you spend hours crafting the perfect email—and then nothing. You refresh and refresh, check on your phone, laptop, and desktop. We know how it feels. Here are three common reasons and suggested responses for each. Sometimes having the language helps, and of course, these can be adjusted to the situation and for your own style.


Inappropriate or Untimely Request


  • Thanks for the email, but this isn’t really my area of interest [or expertise]. I hope you find someone else to help.
  • Thanks for reaching out, but I’m not the right person for this because . . .
  • This sounds like a great idea, but I’m fully committed at this point. Best of luck on the project.
  • Can this possibly wait until September when I’ll have more time to focus on this?


Obvious or Annoying Question


  • May I suggest that you look at the policy for this information? [Add a link.]
  • I’m not sure I understand your question. Can you please clarify how I can help?
  • From my point of view, we already covered this when we talked on Thursday. I’m not sure how else to clarify my thinking on this.
  • I’m forwarding your email to . . . who can better address your question.



Overwhelming Request or Question


  • This is a lot! Could we schedule a quick call to discuss?
  • I’m having trouble digesting all of this. Can you please send back a few bullets that I can respond to?
  • The short answer to your question is . . . If you need more from me, can you please be more specific about how I can help?
  • I can answer some of this . . . For your other questions, I suggest trying . . .


Admittedly, all of these responses require some engagement, but we respond to emails for good reasons: to demonstrate respect, to educate, and for reciprocity. I would argue that replying is “the right thing to do”—and a brief response requires very little from us to be good corporate citizens.


Image source.





  • When have you written an email that was ignored? Why do you think the person didn't respond, and how did you feel? Could you have done anything differently to get a response?
  • When have you ignored an email? Why didn't you respond?
  • Do you agree that responding is the "right thing to do"? Why or why not?
  • When, if ever, is it acceptable to ignore an email?
How to add text to your MindTap course


 The topic of proper email tone and clarity is covered in your MindTap class.  Here's an example from Chapter 2  of Guffey and Loewy's Business Communication:



Click here to log into MindTap. 



I ignore emails when it doesn't appear to be specifically directed at me.  If they don't mention my name, and mention the discipline I teach I'm assuming they're just spamming everyone at the University and they don't expect 100% response.  Same for scammers.  Sometimes it hard to distinguish the salespeople from the scammers.


But if someone takes the time to email me personally I'll respond.  I do use canned responses (especially if it's syllabus stuff - like "When are you office hours?") to help make sure my response stays courteous and polite.  And sometimes I'll save an email to respond to later just because the student angered me (by saying "Sorry I haven't done the last three homeworks but mom didn't tell me I needed to...")  Those kind I'll answer after I take a walk.

1) When have you written an email that was ignored? 2) Why do you think the person didn't respond, and how did you feel? 3) Could you have done anything differently to get a response? 1) Most email communications that I send involve corresponding with students and colleagues, both related to work. In general, I typically get responses. However, some emails go unanswered, either temporarily or permanently, usually emails sent to students. Sometimes students delay responding for a few days; they often explain that they check emails a few times a week to explain the response delay. Other times, students simply do not respond at all. 2) I suspect that some students do not respond due to the awkward nature of the email messages: Lack of participation due to lack of submitting assignments. This is frustrating to me; I take time to identify students at risk of poor performance and then go out of my way to craft kind and personalized emails, hoping to bring them back into the course to participate. No responses baffle me. 3) I am uncertain as to what I could do to provoke students to respond. I plan on evaluating my next email to determine if my email sounds inviting or threatening. 1) When have you ignored an email? 2) Why didn't you respond? 1) I ignore emails that do not apply to me and appear to be generalized mass communication emails. 2) My lack of response is generally due to the generalized email. If I get a personalized email that does not apply to me, I generally respond with kindness and out of courtesy. This can provide clarity to the sender of my lack of need at the moment. 1) Do you agree that responding is the "right thing to do"? 2) Why or why not? 1) In general, responding depends upon the context. For most scenarios, I agree that responding is the "right thing to do." 2) My responding can provide information to the send as to whether or not to continue to contact me. 1) When, if ever, is it acceptable to ignore an email? For me, ignoring emails is reserved for emails that are generalized mass communications sent to a broad audience. Such emails that come to mind include announcements, general invitations/announcements, and emails that appear to be FYIs.
Frequent Commenter

Our email filters are very robust so I rarely get email that isn't intended for my eyes.  However, there are those that slip through the cracks.  I do not respond to email that doesn't address me (or my disciple) personally.  I consider that spam.  When I get an email that is obviously directed at me or someone in my position I will give it the courtesy of a reply, even if it's simply a 'no, thank you' or 'thank you for your time...'.  

If it is not directed to me or is related to my discipline, I usually ignore it. I have so many journals that I subscribe to, that I have rules moving them to a folder that I go to for articles. All other outside emails are perused during my downtime.
Frequent Commenter

 I totally agree that it is the right thing to do to respond to emails which are directed to my attention.    I must say I get very few emails from students.  We are required to only respond to the students school email account.  I have mostly freshman students so this is a brand new email account for them.  It is not unusual to find students in the class five or six weeks in who have never checked their school email account. Most of the email I get is from administration or other faculty. 

When I open my email I delete all the junk which gets past the spam filter first.  Then I will respond to the rest either with the information requested or to say thanks for the note.  It makes me nuts when I don't get any response to my emails from administrators or other faculty members.  

With the students I use text messaging which I find works much better.  They usually respond to me quickly and I try to do the same for them.  Sometimes it is a crazy question from them but most times it is clarification on an assignment.  I use several online resources in the class so early in the semester there are a great deal of navigation questions.  I also use the text message system to send them handouts or notes from class.  The students seem to like this means of communication.  


I typically ignore computer generated email if it's not already filtered out and in my spam.  There may also be an instance when I ignore an informational email, but typically if it is from someone I know, I will at least acknowledge that I got the email.


We actually went over this in my Intro Computer class recently and I found this article to be on target with my thoughts about responding to emails:


When it comes to email correspondence, there seems to be two types of people: those who acknowledge that they received an email and those who don't.


Here are FIVE reasons why you should send quick email acknowledgements:


1. It's courteous

2. You will be seen as reliable

3. It forces you to act

4. It buys you time 

5. It helps you achieve inbox zero

Valued Contributor

Given the increasing frequency of spam emails, I never click on or respond to any email that comes from a sender whom I don't know and there isn't enough information to tell me that I can trust the source. However, I also get several emails that are not spam but are unsolicited; for example, about reviewing book samples, piloting certain education platforms and products, invitations to conferences, etc. If I am not too busy, I usually drop in a polite line saying that "I am not interested at this time" in order to prevent future emails from the same person. Sometimes when I am swamped, I tend to ignore these for the time being with the hope of returning to them later (but often forget to do so). I believe a courtesy short reply is warranted, especially if the emails are written nicely as those people are also just doing their jobs. I also believe that it's up to each individual person as to how they would like to handle such situations as each case can be very different from others.

Valued Contributor

I prefer to respond to all emails as quick as I can... I use phone dictation to limit my need for typing.


I rely on strong junk mail filters, assigning some emails to my calendar as appointments, and an elaborate clipboard for quick (repetitive) replies.


Hello, I do my best to reply to every email that comes from an individual and to delete the spam. Although, we are seeing an uptick of aggressive sales representatives from Webinar and Professional Development companies. During Hurricane Florence, when we were obviously busy or the campus was closed email went down for a brief period., email spiked from these groups. We had repeated emails followed by follow up phone calls even after I sent a polite "thank you but no" email. We even have rather ugly phone calls about why we did not respond. So while I try to reply, I am also becoming vary of some types of emails. There is a change coming. Sherri

I get so much email every day. Most of them don't require a response and are informational only. Usually I will respond right away to departmental requests from other faculty as I consider that most important. People's time is valuable, sometimes it's better to just go talk to them. 


One technique that I have been trying out is rapid reply and remove.  I skim the email quickly to see if it is an "real" email to me and then I reply to the "real" emails quickly even if it is to say I will send you a more complete answer later, and then everything else goes into the Trash.  While I love using email as a way to communicate with people, I do get bogged down with emails from people I don't even know.  I have tried the reply to unsolicited emails with mixed results - sometimes the person doesn't go away ...