Persistent e-mail follow-up

The following dialogue was posted on ask(dot)metafilter(dot)com in March 2011. It gives insight into how Americans view follow-up.

Question: “What is the best way to word my persistent e-mail follow-ups with non-responsive colleagues?”

I work for an agency that employs about 180 people and the agency’s role is to regulate a technical sector. My role is to respond to the general public’s enquiries. I have to get exact legal/technical wording from other staff. I find staff will sometimes not reply to my enquiries for days and weeks. I’m near the bottom of the pile at the organization and so I have no authority to order anyone to help me.

I send my enquiries to staff over e-mail and need to continue to do so. I am not looking for suggestions about stopping into people’s offices in person or talking over the phone. The nature of the work doesn’t really allow for this option.

How frequently should I follow-up with people for their responses? How should I word my 2nd, 3rd and 4th e-mail follow-ups? What has worked for you when your work depends on the actions of a higher-up colleague, but you don’t want to be a pest?”


“If you can’t make phone calls or drop by the office, can you IM them? If you can’t IM, what I’ve found starts getting attention is cc’ing various people if the initial person doesn’t respond.”

“I’d send a follow up daily. Perhaps at different times of the day. Maybe people get swamped first thing in the morning and might respond better in the afternoon.”

“Every follow up after the first, cc additional people that might be able to respond or get things moving (whether it’s a supervisor or not). This will almost always get SOMEONE involved. But don’t cc a bunch of people from the beginning because often people will think someone else will take care of it if it’s sent to a ton of people.”

“Phone calling just really gets people’s attention. It will be more embarrassing for the person and demonstrate your seriousness and persistence in the way one email in a giant inbox with hundreds of emails on a non-urgent (to them) matter never can.”

“I have a colleague who isn’t shy about bolding key lines in a severe email, like ‘This is my third request. This response is needed by Friday at the latest.’ You can try this, but even so, it’s easier to ignore than a voice or face communicating directly with you.”