Kitchener-Waterloo·Audio

No one answering your email? You're not alone, Waterloo study finds

If your email is too long, has links or attachments or needs to be read carefully, it will likely take the person you're sending it to longer to respond, a new study from the University of Waterloo has found.
If you're sending emails that are too long, have links to click or attachments to open, the person receiving it may take longer to respond, a new study from the University of Waterloo has found. (Shutterstock)

If your email is too long, has links or attachments or needs to be read carefully, it will likely take the person you're sending it to longer to respond, a new study from the University of Waterloo has found.

Bahareh Sarrafzadeh is a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo's department of computer science and she co-authored the first formal study to look at why people delay their reply to emails.

"One of the reasons we found for people deferring handling emails is that when there are multiple recipients the thinking might be that someone else will reply or it may not be clear at once who is required to respond," she said.

"The sender of the email is also a factor. Sometimes you think if the sender is important then the reply will not be deferred, but we found that it could be the opposite. When it is your peer, it's usually less effort to reply because you already know what the answer is."

The researchers interviewed people in an organization, ranging from product mangers and researchers to software developers and interns, to understand why they'd hold off on answering an email.

Listen to the whole interview with BaharehSarrafzadeh:

Bahar Sarrafzadeh is a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo's department of computer science. She co-authored the first formal study to look at why people delay their reply to emails. 6:24

The paper, which is titled Characterizing and Predicting Email Deferral Behavior, was co-authored by Sarrafzadeh and Microsoft researchers Ahmed Hassan Awadallah, Christopher Lin, Chia-Jung Lee, Milad Shokouhi and Susan Dumais.

It was published in the Proceedings of the 12th ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining.

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