Lately I have been applying to many universities for a position on a master's program, therefore I contaced many people asking them questions regardings these programs. What troubles me is the following:

When I recieve an answer, am I supposed to answer saying "Thank you" or something like that?

My reasoning is that these people (secretaries and such) have too much work and having an email at their inbox just thanking them will just cause iriation and disorganization.


This can depend on a lot of things, but mostly on how much the other person did to help you and how much it would be part of their normal job. But in some situations, a simple thank you, totally appropriate in person, is, as you say, just noise that takes effort to deal with.

I often don't send such thank you emails myself, for this reason, and wonder, as you do, if I'm doing the right thing. And I find thanks you notes back to me as just an additional task to handle.

I sometimes add "thanks in advance" to the end of a simple response, getting it out of the way. Sometimes the return thanks is just assumed by the receiver, in any case.

But I don't think that "in person etiquette" is really identical to "online etiquette" and that we have to wait for some time to pass until everyone is comfortable with the difference. In the short term, use your judgement.

But, after a sequence of questions and responses, it is probably more important to give thanks at the end. And if you don't send individual "thanks" but later meet the person, you can then say "thanks for your help in the past".

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    I know they are not the final authority on everything, and their advice predates email, but Strunk and White say this on "Thanking you in advance. This sounds as if the writer meant, 'It will not be worth my while to write to you again.' Simply write, 'Thanking you,' and if the favor which you have requested is granted, write a letter of acknowledgment." – henning -- reinstate Monica Feb 14 '19 at 17:38
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    Sometimes a simple "Thank you" email is the simplest and most polite way to confirm that the message was both received and read. Sometimes that is not relevant, but sometimes it is. – TimothyAWiseman Feb 14 '19 at 17:38
  • Note that on this site, thanks are assumed, not expressed. "Thanks in advance" at the end of questions are often purged, and thank you comments are usually deemed unnecessary. Accepting an answer is the only visible way, an that is normally done without comment. – Buffy Feb 14 '19 at 17:43

My experience on both ends is that the thank you is effective and appreciated. I recommend also to use their name.

"Professor A, thank you."

Yeah it is another line in their box but it seals the conversation. What really drives busy people crazy is the long meandering emails. They are used to a machine gun of short ones. Look how they communicate (an "OK" response to 5 para request).

I would edit the subject, also, to put "Thank you" in the subject, but keep it in the reply string. That way they can quickly see it in list of emails and know it does not require further action.

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    I agree with the first part, but I would be careful about editing the subject line. Depending on the email client, that may move it into a new conversation thread, which is often inconvenient. – TimothyAWiseman Feb 14 '19 at 17:40

I have a feeling no one uses it, but I keep doing so as a small etiquette token.

Set priority to low

In most email clients you can set how important this email is. It's mostly well hidden. You might know it best from seeing everything mailed by HR people being tagged as SUPER URGENT!!!.

But there is also a converce of it, "not urgent", "low priority" or similar.

If I happen to write a mail that is just a "thank you" with no additional information, I set this flag.

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    I've never received a message with a low priority flag. If I did, I'd be curious and even more inclined to open the message right away (assuming my mail client displays the flag at all). – henning -- reinstate Monica Feb 14 '19 at 17:28
  • Or just put "thank you" in the subject line and keep it short enough that they can see the whole thing in preview. – Elizabeth Henning Feb 14 '19 at 19:21

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