Kate Von Holzen, post doc at Université Paris Descartes, explains in this guest post how this difficult and at times awkward first email can be written effectively.
I’ve recently been giving a lot of advice to fellow academics about how to write effective emails. I’m not sure why, but this has fortunately come naturally to me throughout my career. Ineffective emails can lead to a lot of frustration, so I’d like to offer up the strategies that I use when writing emails to academics that I don’t know very well.
On a previous episode of CogTales, Christina addressed greetings in academic emails. If you haven’t read it yet, please do! The greeting that you use can go a long way in how the receiver reads your email.
First of all, why are you writing this person? Answering this question for yourself will go a long way in composing a concise email. It can also be useful for composing an eye-catching subject line. Since this person does not know you, their first source of information about your contact will be the subject.
- Do you want to propose a symposium submission for an upcoming conference? Try: Conference X Symposium proposal
- Are you interested in learning more about their research and potentially collaborating on a project? Try: Collaboration proposal on X
- Are they offering a job in their lab and you want to make first contact? Try: Job Offer X: Request for more information
- Are you conducting a meta-analysis and need more information about their dataset? Try: X Meta-analysis: Request for more information
Great, now you’ve gotten their attention and they’ve opened up the email. You’ve picked your greeting and now you should introduce yourself. It’s up to you whether you include more information, such as your current supervisor or the topic you are working on. I usually do, especially when it is useful to my request.
My name is Katie Von Holzen and I am currently a postdoctoral researcher working at the Université Paris Descartes with Thierry Nazzi on the role of consonants and vowels in early lexical processing.
Have you ever met the person you are writing? Remind them by recalling that situation and any particularities. I always err on the side of caution here, I never assume that someone knows or remembers who I am. If you haven’t met, do you have a mutual acquaintance? Do you work on (or want to work on) a similar topic? Use information that is relevant to your request.
We met in passing at the poster session at X conference, specifically at the poster X. I said Y, you agreed.
We haven’t met yet, but I met your current postdoctoral researcher while at X conference.
We haven’t met yet, but I am also interested in the development of speech segmentation abilities in infants.
Now the reader knows who you are and can hopefully place you on their academic network map. It is time to make your request! State very concisely why you are contacting them and what you need. If you have specific questions, make sure they are not buried in a paragraph full of details. If need be, use formatting to highlight important information. If there is any supplementary material or information that you can provide, do so!
I am currently putting together a symposium for Conference X. It will be held in City X on Days X,Y, and Z. I am contacting you because of your work on Topic X. Do you have any current studies you would be willing to include? If so, can you send:
If there is a hard deadline for a response to this email, make sure you include it. Make sure you contact them in advance, so they have a reasonable amount of time to fulfill your request. Also, I find that if you are “cold-calling” someone, contacting someone you don’t know and requesting information, you can save your sanity by providing a reasonable soft deadline (perhaps 2 weeks). This prevents an awkward limbo when you’ve emailed this person two months ago and they haven’t answered. When should you send a follow-up email? If you’ve already stated a date in the original email by which you would appreciate a response, this limbo is removed and you can send a guilt-free reminder email.
Finally, when are you going to send the email? When is the receiver going to receive the email? Nowadays almost everyone has their email inbox synced with their mobile phones. If your request arrives as they are heading out for after work drinks on a Friday night, chances are they will glance at the email on their phone and immediately forget about it. If that same email arrives at 10 A.M. on a Tuesday, however, I think your chances of getting a response increase. If there is a time zone change between you and the receiver, don’t forget! I use Boomerang for Gmail to schedule messages and generally keep my inbox organized. Check it out!
Those are some of the different strategies I use when writing emails. I hope that incorporating these points in to your email will make your messages more effective. If you want to learn more, try some of these links: