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I wonder how a researcher send an unsolicited email to another one asking for feedback to their work. I guess it will be something like this?

Hello Dr. X

To introduce myself, I am Y, in institute Z. I'm sorry if this email is not convenient at this time, but my work about A is highly relevant to your work in B, so I think it will be interesting to you too. If possible, can you take a look at it and tell me what you think? Here is the link: Human interaction with cats

Thank you for your reading, hope you enjoy it.

I wonder if the summary/abstract should be included in the email too, since the principle for asking good question is to show everything you know about it. Maybe it's not necessary, since the title of the link should prove its interestingness nevertheless? I'd like to have your confirm.

I'm also interested in the case where Y has no Z, and the link is just a collection of observations posted in a blog, not a full paper with proper citation and literary review. It is possible that the observations may have been covered in the field, but Y isn't aware of that yet.

I also think that if the link is interesting enough, then putting a tracking method in there is fine too? Even if they finds out, they wouldn't feel insulted either, because they find that the link is indeed interesting.


Related:
Is it appropriate (as a PhD student) to email other researchers asking about some details in their papers?
Is it appropriate to drop by another university's professor's lecture to talk about research afterwards?
What are the strategies for getting feedback on articles?

marked as duplicate by David Ketcheson, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, Buffy, henning, Azor Ahai Mar 19 at 16:50

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    Personally, I would feel insulted by tracking methods no matter the contents. And they'd also greatly reduce the chance of me clicking on the link in the first place. – nengel Mar 18 at 10:42
  • @nengel well I think putting it upfront is fine, and the problem is just how to write such notice. See What to write in a notice about tracking method in links? in Information Security – Ooker Mar 18 at 12:43
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    Why have you linked to the Wikipedia article on human interactions with cats? Is that an example of what you would send them? – Azor Ahai Mar 18 at 21:12
  • @AzorAhai what do you mean? It's just a funny example – Ooker Mar 19 at 10:09
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    What is your motivation for doing this? What do you hope to achieve? Do you want them to give your work a "stamp of approval"? If yes, this is the role of an advisor, and it is an expensive proposition. If you want their advice, why should you get it for free? Apply as a graduate student in their lab instead or, if you have an article, submit it for publication. That's what peer review is for. Are you looking for a collaboration, maybe? If so, say that in your letter. Networking? Consider going to a conference. What is motivating you to do this? – J... Mar 19 at 10:54
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Hello Dr. X

To introduce myself, I am Y, in institute Z.

I have recently published some work on A [this should be a short description, not just a title. do keep it short though (1-2 short sentences)].

I enjoyed reading your work on B. [now 1-3 short feedback sentences. don't go too much into detail, but make sure it shows you read the work]

I think my work might be of interest to you, too. If you do find time to read it, any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

My work is less than f pages/g characters (one of those two. don't use exact numbers for characters but round up to the next good looking number. don't use a font size of 8 and a big textblob without any line breaks and say it's only two pages long though ;)) long and really shouldn't take a lot of time to read through.

Link: Human interaction with cats [also as attachment in pdf form]

This would be a mail that might make me read what you wrote. (strongly depending on how relevant/interesting your description actually was)

There are several differences to your initial draft:

  • No apologizing: You apologize when you did something wrong. Apologizing while you do it is an odd thing to consider polite, especially when you're apologizing for bothering someone as that person having to read through your apology is actually wasting more of his time ;) Also, it makes me feel like you're asking something unreasonable. If it wasn't, why would you have to apologize?

  • Don't mention it's highly relevant to his work: When he reads your short description, he will know if it's relevant to his work or not. You should never tell someone what is or isn't relevant to him, especially when you're trying to get them to do something for you.

  • Return the favor: I'm assuming that you did read his work. Otherwise how would you know it was 'highly relevant'? Also, if you're asking him to read your work and give you feedback, it's nice if you do the same for him. If you are coming from a... let's call it lower position though, just mention what you found interesting about it and don't give actual criticism. Bonus points if you mention parts that overlap with your work.

  • Attachment: Now this point is debatable, as some people are more careful with attachments than with links, but for me it's the other way around. If someone sends me a link it might very well decrease the chance of me reading it. But like I said, different people are different. You also need to make sure that your attachment has a sensible name and is of course virus free if you do choose to go this route.

  • Needed time: This part is based on some info in one of your comments. Since your work doesn't appear to be very long, you should definitely mention that. If someone wrote me a mail asking for feedback on work they did on something (in academia) I would expect it to be a full paper with complicated calculations I'd have to understand. Meaning a huge commitment of time. So that one sentence really makes a lot of difference. That being said, I feel like page/character count is sligthly better than telling me how much time I will need to read it. You have no idea how fast I read or how much I have to look up. I do.

I also think that if the link is interesting enough, then putting a tracking method in there is fine too?

No! Apart from spam filters, if I find out, I will never follow any link you send me in the future again, no matter how interesting your link was. If you really feel the need to do this, at the very least tell me so upfront, before I follow your link.

It's also very difficult to measure interesting enough.

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The real answer is that they don't. I'm sorry, but I can't slice it any other way. You would need all the planets to align in order to receive an answer after such an email. You are asking someone who doesn't know you and who is probably very busy (like all academics) to provide you a big favor for nothing in return. Because let's be honest, giving feedback on someone else's work is taxing. The best case scenario is that you get very vague and superficial feedback about the first page of your paper.

Instead, ask your colleagues, or people you have already built a rapport with (an advisor or former advisor, a collaborator...). Or do it the hard way and submit it for publication. You will get (anonymous) feedback. But make sure first that your paper is close to being ready for publication, because you don't want a desk rejection, and you don't want to be known as that person who wastes referees' time by submitting drafts.

  • I can't help but upvote this. – xLeitix Mar 18 at 11:47
  • just to make sure, are you saying that the recipients don't answer emails like this, even if the senders are from legitimated institutes, or are you saying the person with the paper don't send email asking for feedback at the beginning? – Ooker Mar 18 at 12:16
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    @Ooker Recipients probably won't answer emails like this if the sender isn't known to them. People do send around papers for feedback prior to submission, but typically only to people they have some sort of pre-existing relationship with - they've collaborated, or corresponded about prior work, or have met at a conference, etc. At the very least the interaction is mediated by a common colleague ("Hey Joe, could you look at Bob's paper?"). It's less about "legitimate institutes" and more about existing personal relationships. – R.M. Mar 18 at 12:33
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    @Ooker Do you mean something like a reference letter? In that case, the professor and the prospective grad student have some sort of existing relationship already (because they would not ask for a letter otherwise), and the professor likely has incentive for the student to succeed; they could someday collaborate, the professor could be acknowledged in other works, and helping a good student to succeed would improve their field of work. Mentors tend to make time for their mentees, but not so much for total strangers. – Kevin Miller Mar 18 at 13:59
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    @KevinMiller ah I should have used grad applicants. They are as unsolicited as emails asking for feedback from other researchers, but for the latter they have "established a relationship", because their works related with each other. (I'm not saying that I have reached that level yet, I just want to know about it) – Ooker Mar 18 at 14:04
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Essentially, you have three challenges that work against you receiving an answer to this mail:

  1. You need to avoid your mail to appear like academic spam. Your email draft is rather good in that sense because it is short, nicely written, and free of the usual keywords that trigger people's mental spam filter ("submit your article", "endorse this and that", and so on). However, adding a tracking mechanism is certainly not a good idea for this reason alone.
  2. You need to avoid appearing like a quack. Both, not pointing to an actual paper and not currently working at a university work against you in that regard. While I agree with Dan that it "should" not matter in principle, I am afraid in practice it will. I assume most recipients are considerably more likely to open an email sent from a person working at a reputable university pointing at an arxiv link or journal paper than a mail from a person without affiliation sending them a link to their personal blog.
  3. It needs to be clear enough why it should be a priority for the recipient to read what you sent them. Quite frankly, something being interesting to my work is not enough - my to-read list currently contains some 50 or so papers, all of which are presumably interesting to my work (and some of which I need to review). There just never is enough time to actually read all of them. I think your chances of moving to the top of this list are higher if (a) there is a clear question (that is interesting to me) in the email, and (b) the material is short enough that I can read and comment within half an hour or less.
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    An almost unrelated anecdote - a few days ago I received a request from a person I never heard of that I should "endorse him as the greatest living computer scientist", because his government is unwilling to grant this title to him. Enclosed were a few unremarkable self-published research works, and a letter exchange between him and a rep from his local government where he tried to make his point that he needs to be officially named the "greatest computer scientist on the planet". The government rep was at least as confused as I was about the entire thing. – xLeitix Mar 18 at 11:43
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    The email started with "As you are surely aware XYZ is the most important figure in Computer Science today." Not sure why I am bringing this up, but maybe it indicates why academics are so sceptical about unsolicited emails. There is just a lot of weird stuff coming into our mail boxes. – xLeitix Mar 18 at 11:44
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    Point 3 is gold for me. If in the email I include (a) a question that related to their work, but somehow can be answer by my work, and (b) a sentence that it is just a post which can be read under 5 minutes, what do you think? How about not putting the link at all but just asking them questions? That may solve everything. – Ooker Mar 18 at 13:06
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    How did you keep your to-read list down to only 50 papers? – Andreas Blass Mar 18 at 14:55
  • @Ooker If it's a question that can be answered by your work, then presumably you already have the answer. It needs to be a clear question, that you need the answer to, that the recipient is likely to be able to answer quickly based on a brief read of what you send. – Michael Ekstrand Mar 19 at 4:53
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Hello Dr. X To introduce myself, I am Y, in institute Z.

Looks good so far.

I'm sorry if this email is not convenient at this time, but my work about A is highly relevant to your work in B, so I think it will be interesting to you too.

Why are you “sorry”? I think it’s a mistake to apologize or use words that suggest you feel you are doing something wrong for sending the email. Sending the email is fine, and conversely, if you really were doing something wrong, then you shouldn’t send it.

If possible, can you take a look at it and tell me what you think?

This seems rude to me and decreases the chance (which admittedly is in any case quite small) that you will receive meaningful feedback. This person doesn’t owe you anything, so don’t ask them to do something: they will either do it because they are naturally inclined to do it, or they won’t. I would say instead “I welcome any comments or feedback you might have.”

Also, if you must ask a question, “what do you think?” is a bad question to ask since it is completely open-ended. Make the question precise and specific.

Here is the link: Human interaction with cats Thank you for your reading, hope you enjoy it.

This part looks good.

I wonder if the summary/abstract should be included in the email too, since the principle for asking good question is to show everything you know about it. Maybe it's not necessary, since the title of the link should prove its interestingness nevertheless? I'd like to have your confirm.

Keep it as short as possible. You already said the work is about A and is related to the recipient’s work on B. I don’t think any more information is necessary. If you really think anything more should be added, write something that’s tailored specifically to the person you’re sending the email to and to their interests instead of a pasted summary.

I'm also interested in the case where Y has no Z, and the link is just a collection of observations posted in a blog, not a full paper with proper citation and literary review. It is possible that the observations may have been covered in the field, but Y isn't aware of that yet.

This shouldn’t matter. Blogs can be just as interesting as finished papers, just include the link and a description of your affiliation if you have one.

I also think that if the link is interesting enough, then putting a tracking method in there is fine too? Even if X finds out, they wouldn't feel insulted either, because they find that the link is indeed interesting.

If I noticed a tracking mechanism in the link, I would delete the email immediately, so I would never get to find out if the content was interesting. (There’s also a chance the email would be filtered by various spam filters, and some mail software might preload the link contents so you would think that it was viewed even when it wasn’t. So it’s a bad idea on multiple levels.)

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    “Why are you ‘sorry’?” — Perhaps this is a US/UK cultural difference, but to me, as a Brit, it seems clear that this “sorry” isn’t a marked apology, it’s part of a perfectly normal politeness formula, and on the whole that’s good, since a message without any such formulas can easily come across as brusque or presumptuous. – PLL Mar 18 at 7:13
  • @PLL answers on here often assume that the only relevant country is across the pond... – Solar Mike Mar 18 at 8:26
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    @PLL people overuse/misuse “sorry” in the US as well. As this article shows, I’m not the only one who finds this annoying and that it often undermines the intent of the person doing the apologizing. I suspect you’ll find similar articles that were published “across the pond”. – Dan Romik Mar 18 at 14:06
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There are good answers here already, let me just share one strategy that has not been mentioned yet and that I frequently had success with in the past. It may not apply to every such email one might want to send, but if it does I believe it is the strategy that has the most success probability.

It is based on the observation that people will usually enjoy talking about their own work more than about some random paper you send them. Your paper may or may not be interesting to them, but their own work certainly is. A good strategy can therefore be to establish a direct connection with the recipients work or expertise. This may not always be possible, in which case I refer you to the other answers. Also in formulating such an email one has to watch out it does not come across as an obvious attempt at flattery.

So essentially my suggestion is to actually show the reader why you think that

[...] my work about A is highly relevant to your work in B, so I think it will be interesting to you too.

Maybe you are challenging their work? Maybe you have some new ideas or suggestions for improvement? Maybe you provide an alternative method? Maybe you have done an interesting experiment that connects to their theory or vice versa? Maybe you build entirely on their work and want to praise how important their work was for you? Or a combination thereof?

My trust in this strategy is based entirely on experience. I personally would at least look at the paper in case of such an email, since missing a directly related work is potentially risky.

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I wouldn’t care much for such an email from a stranger suggesting that I will find his/her work relevant or interesting: I can decide that for myself.

My version would be

Dear Prof. X,

I’m taking the liberty of sending a sample of recent work of mine which overlaps with your own. Please be so kind as to keep me informed of your own progress on this topic.

Regards, Y.

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