A big difference between turn-based communication — emails, texts and apps like Facebook Messenger — and real-time communication via the phone or video chat is that you can reply to a message when you’re ready.
The messages sit there in an inbox or in bold text on your phone until they are fetched. You may see a little number on the Email or Messages icon to tell you how many unread messages are waiting for you.
However, sometimes an email, instant message or text fails to go through. You’re certain you tapped or clicked Send, but somehow it got lost in the ether of cyberspace. It happens. Or perhaps the message ended up in your friend’s or colleague’s junk or spam folder.
In other instances, the recipient reads the message but does not reply and may claim never to have seen it! Annoying, right?
Thankfully, some tools can confirm whether someone has read your message. It’s not an exact science. The recipient can choose not to provide a read receipt if their computer, tablet or phone prompts them to send an automatic message, but the following advice works more often than not.
Read receipts can come via return email
Here’s how to request a confirmation that a message has been read, based on your favorite email program.
- For Microsoft Outlook on Windows, including the version that’s part of the Microsoft 365 suite, start a message. Click Options on the top menu bar to bring up its sub-menu. Here you can tick the box to Request a Delivery Receipt, which confirms it arrived in the recipient’s inbox, and/or Request a Read Receipt, which tells you if the person actually read it, or both. Note: You cannot request read receipts if you use Outlook.com in a web browser.
- For Microsoft Outlook on a Mac, start a message, then on the menu bar within the message, click Options | Request Receipts. Now you can select either Request a Read Receipt or Request a Delivery Receipt. A second way to achieve the same thing is to look at the Outlook inbox tabs after you've started a message. Go to Draft | Request Receipts and you can make the same selections.
- In Gmail, a read receipt request works only for those who use Google Workspace, formerly G Suite. The option is not available for a free gmail.com account. To request a read receipt in Google Workspace, compose your email and at the bottom right click More options | More send options | Request read receipt.
- In Mozilla Thunderbird, click to compose a message, then in the top menu bar select Tools | Options. On the General tab, scroll down to select the option to enable Return Receipts. You can also configure Thunderbird to always include return receipts with your emails.
- Yahoo! Mail and the native Mail app for Mac users do not provide a read receipt feature. You can always ask your recipient to confirm receipt of a message.
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Third-party options for read receipts
Another option to receive a read receipt is to use a third-party service. One free option, GetNotify.com, will send you a notification every time a message is read, and you’ll see the date and time the email was read, as well as how long the email was open. It works with web mail solutions like Gmail and apps like Outlook.
The company says the recipient will not know that you requested a read receipt. If interested, you'll also receive the recipient’s approximate geographical location, operating system and which web browser they used.
After you sign up, send your emails in the same way as you normally would, but you add “.getnotify.com” at the end of recipient’s email address in your outgoing email. GetNotify's free version caps your tracked emails to a maximum of five per day and 150 a month. But it has paid options to lift restrictions.
Other free third-party services include Yesware for Microsoft and Google accounts, and Mailtrack for Gmail.
Notification for text, instant messages
Just like you can see who read your email, the same can be done for text messages and instant messages.
- On an iPhone, Apple's Messages app lets you know if your recipient has read your message — but the sender and recipient must be using iMessages on an iPhone or iPad, too, and have read receipts enabled. To turn this on, open Settings, tap Messages and enable Send Read Receipts by flipping the switch so it is green. This also works on iPads and Macs. Now, when you message someone, you’ll see the word “Delivered” and “Read” beneath your message, and the time it was opened.
- For Android users, how you enable read receipts may vary by phone manufacturer, but your first step should be to open your phone’s native Messages app, tap on Settings/Options and look to enable something that says Read Receipts, Send Read Receipts, or Request Receipt. If this option isn’t here, open your phone’s general Settings menu, scroll down to Messages, and look for this option.
- For Samsung phones, which run on Android, open your Messages app. Go to the three vertical dots in the upper right corner, tap Settings | More settings | Text messages | Show when delivered. Again, it may vary on which Samsung model you own and what version of Android you’re running, so it may take a little trial and error. When in doubt, contact the phone manufacturer.
- For Facebook Messenger, read receipts are enabled by default. You will see when a person reads your message, and cannot turn this off if you don’t want a sender to know you read that person's message. To get around that, just don’t tap on the message. It will remain bolded and unread until you do.
- In WhatsApp Messenger, a blue tick appears next to a message when the recipient has read it. It’s on by default. To opt out of read receipts for those who send messages to you, open WhatsApp, tap the Settings icon (three dots) in the top-right corner of the screen, and choose Settings. Now click on Account | Privacy | Read Receipt. Toggle it off.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.