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If an email message sent to one's professor is not answered promptly, is it rude to forward it without comment to the original recipient as a reminder? If so, how long should one wait before doing so? Assume the professor is teaching a class the sender is taking.

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    It depends on your relationship with the person you're writing to. But why don't you just include a few lines explaining that you're re-sending as a reminder, or making sure he got the original mail? It only takes a minute and it's clearly more polite. I would certainly think higher of someone who does that than someone who just re-sends.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 18:17
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    I just checked your profile. If you are the recipient (not the sender) or such mails, it would be good to mention it in the question.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 18:20
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about workplace etiquette. The fact that this takes place between a student and a professor is rather unimportant. The exact same question could come up between an employee and a manager. This is far more on-topic at Workplace.SE. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:40
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    @Szabolcs, yes, I'm the recipient. I find it annoying but don't know if it's just me. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 20:10
  • @StephanKolassa I disagree: the expectations for interaction with students are in many cases very different than in the workplace, because a professor's relationship to a student is very different than a manager to an employee.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 3:08

2 Answers 2

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On the whole, I'd say "yes, this is a rude way to send a reminder to a non-peer."

The premises are tricky: what is "prompt" to one person is not to another, and not everyone checks (work-related) email at every available opportunity. E.g., some seem to only go through email once a day, on weekdays, or even less often.

There is the other issue about acknowledgement of receipt, even if one's response will be delayed.

But/and if one is teaching a course with 30 or 100 or 250 students, individual responses to daily can be a time-consuming occupation... so that "acknowledgement of receipt" becomes unappealing and an arguable waste of time... if a proper understanding can be reached.

I've tried to cultivate in my students a sense that emails should have a "greeting", a "body", and a "closing", much as old-timey paper letters did... if only so that one can tell whether a thing was mis-sent and/or truncated, not to mention some overt acknowledgement of the identity and dignity of the recipient.

So, if I were to receive a fowarded copy of an email that had already been sent to me, I would consider it quite rude, yes. I do attempt to respond within a few hours of receipt of all email, even if only to acknowledge receipt. Whether or not I had done so, I'd view a merely-forwarded email as uncivil, apart from issues about peer-or-not.

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  • From the point of view of the professor, it would be good to give the benefit of the doubt for the student. Some students may not be native English speakers, may have a lot of difficulty figuring out the correct and polite sounding additional words when re-sending the email. They might agonize over it for a while then in a moment of weakness just re-send the email without comment, for fear that their comment might be perceived as less polite than not saying anything. While by no means the right thing to do, it's not nearly as bad as intentional negligence. I have seen this before.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 18:35
  • Perhaps they would think that if the first email wasn't received, or got lost, then the re-sent one might appear as the original and only copy anyway. Of course in these cases the second email wouldn't be forwarded with Fwd in the subject line and headers included. Since the OP is a professor herself, it would have been better if she indicates whether the question is meant to be read as "should I be annoyed if I get such an email?".
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 18:38
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    @Szabolcs: I advise my own students, when they are wondering whether some other faculty person has received an email or not, to resend BUT with some quasi-apologetic words, such as "I'm worried that my earlier email fell into your spam folder, so I'm re-sending it. Sorry if there is duplication..." Whether or not a person is a native X-language speaker, one ought to be aware of the simple niceties of communication and acknowledgement of the existence of "the other". True, many people near age 20 or so "don't get it", but that might be what's being addressed here. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 18:53
  • I completely agree with you, I would give the same advice to students. What I'm trying to say is that if a student does this, it does not necessarily mean that they are being rude. It might mean that they tried and failed. I'm hoping most professors wouldn't get angry over this and wouldn't punish the student for it in some way. I wanted to point this out because it seemed that the OP wasn't asking whether one as a student should do this. She may have been asking whether a professor should feel offended over it. Please don't get offended over this as a professor.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:00
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    Ah, indeed, even if I observe rudeness on the part of a student, I certainly don't react childishly! :) In fact, on many occasions I've "given advice" to people who've sent me clumsy emails, about how to make a better impression, etc. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:16
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I would be at a minimum annoyed and further less receptive in such a situation where someone would send a plain forward of an already sent email.

On the other hand, when I need to take such action, I do not send a plain forward but instead I assume the recipient took knowledge of the original email, and add some recent relevant developments (eg: since our last exchange, two new students joined our team efforts and work is really being done. Regarding the original email, everything still stand, please give us an update whenever you can...) or something to that effect

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