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I have always wanted to know the answer to this question (sorry if it's silly):

If a professor or lecturer answers a question or gives advice when replying to an email I sent them, in general, do they prefer if I send them a one-line email saying 'thank you!' or no email at all? If I send a one-line email I'm worried I'm just clogging their inbox, but if I don't send any email at all, I'm worried I'll seem cold/selfish.

Thanks in advance!

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It doesn’t matter all that much. But in general it’s good practice to thank people when they help you with something. And the extra workload imposed by dealing with such thank you emails is too insignificant to worry about.

When in doubt about these sorts of questions, apply the rule “professors are people”.

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  • Make sure that most of the meaning of the message is in the subject line as then the recipient may read / skip / delete the email without opening it. – D Duck May 9 at 8:26
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The answer to this question varies enormously depending on the person...

I myself definitely do like acknowledgements and/or "thank-you"s... in part as confirmation that people received the email, and that my response was helpful (I do also often ask, as closing, "Is this addressing your question?")

Other people seem to have no interest in confirmation of emails, etc.

It only takes a few seconds to delete a "thank-you, yes, you answered my question" email. Even with hundreds a day, it's still just a few minutes.

So, if you have to guess, I'd think a brief, polite, "thank you" is optimal. For that matter, the people who'd object to polite intercourse will have other problems, anyway, ... so it may/will be difficult to placate them.

Even though things do change, I strongly tend to prefer confirmation, acknowledgement, thanks, and such stuff. (At the same time, I am well aware that the current U.S. education system generally does not provide good guidance on these things.)

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  • That makes sense, thanks! I'm in the UK but it's funny how little guidance there is on email etiquette (I find myself googling this stuff all the time) here too! There's probably stuff I still do wrong e.g. my lecturers introduce themselves by their first name, but it feels strange addressing them that way so I just say 'Hello,' at the beginning of each email which is probably not great since quite a few people say online that it's better to address people by their actual names, but at least I can avoid having to choose the way I address them! – Mathsical Studies May 8 at 22:37

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