Life and Lessons for and by next CEOs

Academia, Interesting, Personal Development

Read my email or Else! – 2 of 2

When I researched and wrote the previous “read my email” post, I came across a scientific study that was done with regards to this matter. However, I decided that I will dig into that study later and report on my findings. The study can be found here, and here is my feedback

Don’t stop reading just because of fancy words like scientific, study, report and hypothesis, there is a point to this.

A study was done by four Carnegie Mellon University students to establish why people attend to incoming email. Some of the ratings measured were; importance of email, message characteristics, sender characteristics, recipients characteristics. Statistics showed that most of the respondents kept about 50% of there emails in their inbox, and replied to about 33% of them. Importance in turn seemed to only have a modest impact on whether they were responded to or were saved. Over all, the study found that attentional differences were driven by personal tendencies, work demand and relationships.

Laura et al [1], claims that it is plausible that the perceived importance of an email directly relates to how quickly the recipient responds to it. Response could either be deleting, saving or replying to the email. One of the main focuses of this study was to find what makes email messages important, and how this importance can influence action.

The study found that there was in fact a direct correlation between message content and perception of importance, which in turn affected on how people responded to these emails. What was interesting was that in some cases people responded to emails that they did not perceive as important, suggesting that there were other influences playing a role.

The result of the respondents perceived importance, and resulting actions were as follows:


37% of emails that required response were postpones, 79% of these were just left in the inbox. 64% of the messages read by the respondents were perceived not to require a response.

The Study derived the following model which relates to the perceived importance and probability of reply with regards to the context of the sender and content of the email.

  • Was the sender from work {+}
    • Complexity of the related work{+}
  • The number of recipients {-}
  • The frequency of the email {+}


  • Action request {+}
  • Status update {+}
  • Reminder {+}
  • Scheduling {+}
  • Social {-}
  • Information Request {+}

The hypothesis of the authors were that if an email requested a call to action, or a reminder, it would most likely be left in the inbox as a reminder for future action, however the actual results of the study did not support this hypothesis, and in fact found a combination of many factors contributed to the retention of email for future action.

Interestingly, social content notable reduced the respondent’s perception of importance, suggesting that messages of social content deserve different treatment.

To tie this back to my previous post, it is clear that information request benefits the call to action, however what seems to have been highlighted here is that the art of social research has reached depths far greater than those of scientific studies. However, the deciding factor would be in establishing the validity of social research vs. scientific research.

In my experience, I am of the opinion that some of the most advanced studies and methodologies have be developed outside of the scientific scope. One should keep an open head about anything you read, even scientific study results. Build your own hypothesis based on the result and see how it correlates to other findings. if you are confident in the output, then apply the new knowledge.

[1] Laura A. Dabbish Robert E. Kraut Susan Fussell Sara Kiesler,Understanding Email Use: Predicting Action on a Message; Human-Computer Interaction Institute School of Computer  Science Carnegie Mellon University:Pittsburgh

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