Procurement · 8 October 2015

Why aren’t you getting a response to that email?

The older the respondent, the slower the response time – those over 51 had a response time of 47 minutes
The older the respondent, the slower the response time – those over 51 had a response time of 47 minutes

Everyone knows the frustration of waiting for a response to an important email – and sometimes not getting one at all. Now a study by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering has found there might actually be some determining factors affecting the speed of reply and the tone of the response.

The research attempted to measure time and tone response in a behavioural context, with a pool of volunteer test subjects who allowed their inboxes to be reviewed. The names of the account holders were unidentified, while the contents of their emails were unread.

From the data the researchers assembled however, they found that 90 per cent of email recipients will respond between 24 and 48 hours to messages – if they’re intending to respond. If you haven’t had a response by then, you may well be out of luck.

The most likely reply time is two minutes, while half of respondents will get back to you in just under an hour – bad news for those who sit tapping their fingers frustratedly while waiting for a response for half of the afternoon.

Respondents tended to keep it short and sweet, with more than half the replies less than 43 words, and 30 per cent longer than 100 words.

For those hoping to receive a quick response, the researchers did find a few factors to bear in mind, that could help cut down on time wasted on emails.

(1) Do your emails first thing and stick to weekdays

People are apparently more active on email during the day than later on and into the night. As the weight of the inbox increases with a deluge of mail throughout the day, users’ answers decrease. If you’re after an important response, or a lengthier, more thought-through reply, you stand a better chance in the morning. Weekends should also be avoided if possible – many try to keep them short on Saturday and Sunday, with curter replies than on weekdays.

(2) Email respondents are quicker when using a mobile

Computer-users were slower at responding than phone-users. If someone is working from a laptop, it will take them about twice as long to respond than if they were on a mobile phone.

(3) The older the respondent is, the slower the reply will come

Age was an interesting determinant – teens clocked in at around 13 minutes, while those aged between 20 and 35 took around 16 minutes to reply and respondents aged between 35 and 50 took 24 minutes. The older the respondent, the slower the response time, as those over 51 had a response time of 47 minutes. Women respondents meanwhile, took on average about four minutes longer than men to reply to emails.

(4) Worried about a short reply? It’s not you, it’s them

For those worried about receiving a sharp response, five-worded emails tended to be the most common form of reply – so while it’s often hard to read tone in messages, the research suggested most people just prefer to keep emails as short as possible. This also helps when the inbox is rapidly growing in front of a respondent’s eyes – the shorter they can keep their responses, the more messages they can get through. Unsurprisingly, if someone can’t keep up with the mass of emails, they opt for prioritising – selecting which seem the most important to respond to.

(5) Email threads have a natural end

When users email each other, the researchers found they initially mimicked one another in terms of the length of emails, but as the chain continues this synchronicity drops off. For the most part, this tended to happen around the middle of the conversation, while a long delay in the final response signals to both parties that the conversation is probably finished.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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