Dealing With Unsolicited Emails

I get so many emails. GDPR has helped a bit; the number of unsolicited emails from random businesses has dropped, and those I get usually have an ‘unsubscribe’ option. Some of the emails I get are emails I want, such as emails from clients, publishers, family, and friends. In an average working day, depending on what I’m dealing with at the time, I am likely to send 30-60 replies myself; on a busy day it can be over 100. I know some people receive and send many more emails than I do, but for me this is a lot, and the number has grown gradually over the years. Back in 2009, when I was also busy, I was sending 10 replies on an average day.

For years now I have received increasing numbers of messages from readers, and students, and others who want my help. They send me emails, and Twitter DMs, and Insta DMs, and messages on ResearchGate and LinkedIn, and probably messages on Facebook too but I never did sign up to Messenger so I don’t know about those ones. I like to help, when I can, and often I am able to answer a question or point to a useful resource. But the volume of messages has reached the point where I need to change my approach.

I tweeted about this last week and was surprised by the number of replies – and, in some cases, the content. One person suggested that this may be due to supervisors or lecturers or managers suggesting that novice researchers should network in this way. If you are a supervisor, lecturer, or manager who is doing this, please stop it immediately! It places a huge and inappropriate burden on people.

The most common suggestion on Twitter was ‘delete and move on’. That surprised me too, though I can understand why people do this; there are times I have been tempted. But I don’t feel comfortable with this option, so I’m going with another suggestion: the template reply. Here is what I plan to write:

I receive too many requests for help and advice to answer them all individually, so I have created this standard response.

A significant proportion of the questions that come to me could be answered by using a search engine. For a mainstream search engine, I recommend duckduckgo as an ethical option. For scholarly search engines, the Directory of Open Access Journals is useful, or of course Google Scholar.

Many of the other questions I am asked are about independent research or academic writing. I put information about these and related topics on my blog. My blog is searchable for specific terms, and also has more general tags you can click on such as ‘independent research’ or ‘writing’ to bring you all the posts on that topic.

The answers to a small number of questions can be found in one or other of my books. I realise these are not a free resource unless you can get them through a library, but they are all affordable by Euro-Western standards, and you can check the contents on the publishers’ websites.

So why am I posting this here, you may ask? Because now I have a link I can share in response to the Twitter DMs, and the Insta DMs, and the messages on LinkedIn and ResearchGate, and no doubt other messaging systems tech companies will devise in the future.

I am sorry to have to do this, and I have held out as long as I could. But I can’t cope with the current level of demand, and I know it will only continue to increase unless I take action.

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11 thoughts on “Dealing With Unsolicited Emails

  1. I’m glad you’ve come up with a template! There seems to be a tension between feeling one ought to be polite or nice (and I’m sure a lot of the kids/students are perfectly nice too) and not wanting to be buried in unsolicited correspondence.
    And hopefully it’s only a tiny minority of supervisors etc who suggest this is a form of networking. Though possibly the suggestions are a side effect of in-person meetings no longer happening.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been grappling with the same thing lately. I am definitely going to borrow your template idea. The wording is so polite Helen. Thank goodness I only have Twitter, LinkedIn and email to deal with. I couldn’t keep up if I had insta/facebook etc on top of that too! I’m impressed you’ve held out so long. – I also do see the irony of posting on here, so please know you don’t need to respond.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah but Anuja my blog readers are special and deserve replies, especially when they leave such lovely comments! Do help yourself to the wording – perhaps incorporating Jonathan’s point, above.


  3. Commenting on behalf of Brian Martin, who is having trouble with WordPress:
    Thanks for your insights Helen. It sounds like you’re in severe overload and need to take drastic steps.
    Below is an edited version of a letter I wrote to a friend way back in 2006 outlining ways to deal with too much correspondence. I wasn’t in as dire a situation as yours, and thankfully the rate of new messages has declined, so I’m coping all right. Even so, you might be interested in some of the options.

    Dear K,

    I’m very glad you told me that you’re receiving lots of requests and having trouble coping with the demand, because it’s something that’s affecting me considerably and I haven’t had anyone to compare notes with.

    This month I’ve had over 50 new correspondents: unsolicited phone or email messages from people I’ve never from previously. In my case, the majority of people who contact me the first time do so after reading something on my site. Others come via networks. (I don’t include students at Wollongong but do include students from other universities.)

    At some point responding properly to all correspondents becomes unsustainable. I’ve been casting about for options. Here are the ones I’ve used or considered so far.

    * Be more efficient. The more responses I write, the easier it gets. Thank goodness!

    * Delegate. Occasionally I can refer correspondents to someone else, most commonly others in Whistleblowers Australia. But they are just as overloaded as me, so I only refer people to them when their expertise is clearly superior.

    In most cases, it’s easier for me to write a response than to refer it to someone, because I usually feel the need to check that my correspondent has received a response. So when I refer a matter on, I usually write a brief response myself and copy it to the person I suggest my correspondent might contact.

    * Take on apprentices. It sounds good but a lot of training would be required. So far I haven’t come across anyone interested and suitable.

    * Accept only a revised request. When students write asking if I’ll answer some questions or be interviewed over the phone, I now say that they should read my articles on the web (typically on whistleblowing or defamation) and then ask one or two specific questions that aren’t already answered.

    * Resist visits and limit calls. People sometimes say they’d like to visit me – even from other states. I usually can restrain them by sending information and talking the matter over. When people want to talk something over on the phone, I often ask them to send written matter first.

    * Don’t take on cases. I used to offer to write an article about someone’s case, post a potentially defamatory article (which involved me editing drafts and sending them to possible suers), or otherwise help out with a case. I hardly ever do this any more.

    * Write articles/leaflets. When I’ve written something practical, I can refer people to it with a link. Having practical material to refer people to definitely makes replying easier, though it can generate some further enquiries.

    * Prepare templates. These would be standard responses to common queries. I haven’t done this yet, though sometimes I can cut and paste part of a previous reply in answering a new one. A FAQ might serve the same function, but I haven’t gone down this road yet.

    * Keep a log. In 1999, I started keeping a log of new contacts. For each month I write down, by hand on a sheet of paper, new contacts as they arrive and then type them in at the end of the month. This takes very little time. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction and control, and is sometimes useful when hearing again from the same correspondent.

    * Stop answering some portion of correspondence. I haven’t reached this point yet but I can understand how it can happen to prominent people.

    So: there are various options, but ultimately there’s no completely satisfactory answer – at least not that I’ve heard about!


    Liked by 1 person

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