I often face the following scenario:

I need to ask for a document, a piece of information or make a request to an employer of a company/organization whose job includes responding to people like me. For example, it might be a secretary at my department's in university, or it can be an employee in the company where I bought my health insurance, etc. If I ask for the thing (information, document, etc.) directly, such as

Dear blah, I need blah blah. Could you send it to me as soon as possible, please.

I feel like I am being rude, and especially if I have a hurry, which is generally the case, they might not respond to me quickly since I am not explaining why I need that thing. Of course, there is also the possibility that they might never answer at all, so there is a real risk of waiting for an email that will never come.

But if I say

Dear Blah, I have doing blah blah, but to do blach, I need blah blah as soon as possible, so could you send it to me, please.

I am explicitly explaining myself to another person which I hate doing it, but just to increase my chances of getting a much quicker response, I do it. But, when I explain myself explicitly, the email becomes long and it takes time to be understood by another person.

As if all of these are not enough, generally, the people I am talking with are not native English speakers, so even if I compose a perfect email, the other person might not understand what I am saying and how I am saying, fully.


In such situations, what are the best strategies of composing emails that might minimize the response time, are polite and explains the requested document/information for the sender clearly?


1 Answer 1


There really is no single answer to this. Sometimes, there is no need for "response time" at all. You want a blank form or the list they keep of whatevers, they just immediately hit reply and give you the thing. Explaining why you need it right away is not needed in this case and could even be seen as rude.

If your situation is unusual, you should explain it. In other words, if most people ask for the X at the start of a term, and have no hurry for it, but you are in an unusual situation where you need the X right now, then by all means explain that.

Other times, the person has to do some prep and effort to get you what you need. It might take a few hours and they might not have those hours today. Here, it's not helpful to say "as soon as possible", it's helpful to be precise. Tell them when you need it (today, this week, by the 13th) and roughly why - some common corporate goal. "I have to submit my package by Friday, so I would really appreciate if you could get me this by Thursday."

Still other times, you think it's a quick thing but it actually takes a while, or it is a quick thing but the person is pre-occupied with something else. In those cases you may not have provided a timeline or schedule when you made your request, but now you are following up. "Hi, just making sure my request from Monday didn't fall through the cracks. I still need that X I asked for and it's now becoming time sensitive. Would it be possible to get it today?" This wording is deliberately not "please send it today" because it may actually not be possible, and asking about it gives them an easier way to reply and explain the delay to you.

Don't worry that an initial brief request will be seen as rude. If it's my job to send people forms or to set up appointments, then a quick "please send me x" or "I need the next available appointment for y" is not rude. Wading through several paragraphs of redundant explanations or expressions of appreciation doesn't make my job easier.

Finally, as you say, you cannot compose a single perfect email that will always work. Send a good email, and if it doesn't work, send another one and do something different. Explain your deadline. Explain the importance of your deadline. Apologize for waiting until it was urgent to make your request. Ask if there's a way you can help the process go more quickly. In extreme situations, you can switch from email to a phone call or visit. Knowing this backup is available (a followup email, a call, etc) may reduce the anxiety of composing the first email.

[I have worked from home for decades and run my whole life, professional and personal, over email. I have developed some skills at getting forms, packages, appointments and whatnot from people who don't work for me, and I am sometimes the person being asked for things and I know what irritates me and what makes it easier for me to provide the thing.]

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