Important things to know

  • We communicate with participants via one shared gmail (

  • We are required by the IRB to protect our participant's contact information. Never forward the lab email (especially participant emails) to your personal address

  • Everyone is responsible for sending friendly, prompt responses to our participants; and for keeping the email organized (follow steps below)

How to email

Below is an alphabetical list of the kinds of emails we handle and what actions to take on them. We organize the inbox by tagging and archiving handled emails. Do not remove tags from emails.

  • Ads

  • Expiring or updating service

  • Notifications from calendly about participant scheduling

  • Notifications from childllanglab-bot (Interested families form)

  • Notifications from all other services (e.g. todoist, zoom, etc)

  • Participant issues (payment, tech trouble, etc)

  • Receipts from service

  • Schools or camps

  • Students interested in joining the lab

participants- tags

There are 3 participants tags that correspond to a participant's status in the lab. Please keep this up to date so we don't lose track of anyone.

  • participants-complete - for participants who are complete (participated and paid)

  • participants-following - for participants we are recruiting / trying to schedule with

  • participants-lost - for participants who never respond, cancel, or no show

Email best practices

Getting the tone right

We want to communicate with our participants and colleagues in a friendly, empathetic, and professional way. This means:

  • Use a clear subject line: Be specific. "Confirming Joan's Nov 28 2018 appointment at the Child Language Lab" is much better than "Confirming your appointment"

  • Use friendly, professional salutations: "Hi Carol" or "Hello Carol" are perfect; "Hey Carol" or "Carol" are too informal.

  • Include a personal signature: Sign your name at the end of communications. Ending with "Thanks, Katie" is much better than "Sincerely, The Researchers".

  • Be clear, direct, and concise

Tone is too formal and impersonal

Below is an example of an email that has lots of room for improvement. There are at least 5 specific ways in which this email is off in tone. See if you can spot them.


To whom it may concern,

We are from the Child Language and Learning Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. We are conducting a study looking at how children can learn grammatical patterns in an artificial language, and we would like to know if you and Erin would be interested in participating.

The session itself is a one-time appointment and will take approximately 20-30 minutes, but we ask parents to budget for an hour to account for explanations of the study, getting to the lab, et cetera.

To investigate how patterns and languages are learned, we have created small patterns and pretend languages that can be learned in short periods of time. These patterns and languages consist of elements that are appropriate for children, such as friendly puppets; pictures of animals, shapes, and toys; and made-up words that are easy for children to pronounce. We teach children these patterns using computer or iPad games they are often familiar with (e.g. matching, puzzles, and memory games) in order to make this experience both fun and educational for them.

If you are interested in participating, we have attached a scheduling link for your convenience where you would be able to choose a time that works best for your schedule. You can always call our office if you would like to make an appointment over the phone as well. If you would like to learn more about our lab, our staff, and the research we conduct, please visit our lab’s website:

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or would like to be removed from our contact list, please do not hesitate to call our office at (215) 746-1293 or email our lab at We look forward to hearing you soon!

Scheduling link:


The Child Language and Learning Lab

Did you catch each of these?

  1. "COPY INTO SUBJECT LINE" - the sender has been sloppy and accidentally left in a line from an email template. This makes it seem like we aren't careful and don't care.

  2. "To whom it may concern" is way too formal and feels cold and impersonal

  3. The authors uses "We" rather than "I" which feels much less personal

  4. "Sincerely, The Child Language..." - the salutation is not personal.

  5. It is too long and wordy

Tone is just right

The email below is much better because:

  1. It is short and to the point

  2. It uses "I" instead of "we", so the request is coming from a real person

  3. There is a personal signature

  4. There are no typos or "form email" mistakes

  5. It reminds the recipient how we got their contact information

  6. It starts off with a friendly greeting.

Hi Rebecca,

I hope your new year is off to a good start. :)

I'm a researcher at the Child Language Lab, part of a group of child development labs at the University of Pennsylvania.

Your name is on our list of parents (and kids!) who are interested in participating in research studies. I'm writing because I have a new study that Coal is just the right age for.

In the study, kids play a short computer game to learn a new language. After the game, I find out what they've learned by asking them to describe some pictures in the new language. The study takes place at our lab at Penn and families typically spend about an hour getting to know us and participating in the study.

Are you and Coal interested in participating?

If so, you can schedule an appointment with me at Or, if you'd like to learn more about it first, you can visit our website or give me a call at 267-469-0648. I would love to hear from you!

Thanks for considering it, Katie


When working with people or participants, it's inevitable that you'll make a mistake and/or someone will be unhappy with you. Maybe a participant is having trouble finding the lab; maybe you were late finishing a task for a lab-mate; or maybe you accidentally scheduled a participant for the wrong day.

When this happens, you should apologize sincerely, in the same way you'd want someone to apologize to you. What does this sound like? To get the tone right, think about what would happen if you bumped into someone and spilled hot coffee on them. You wouldn't say "I do apologize for the inconvenience", you would say "I'm so sorry!" and you would be hopeful you could make things right.

You shouldn't make excuses or use overly formal language to mask the fact that you made a mistake. Just acknowledge you made a mistake, take full responsibility, and offer a sincere and friendly apology.


Here's an example where the tone is way off and the sender makes a few other mistakes. This is a response to a participant who had trouble getting a study to work.

I do apologize for the inconvenience, but we do not have any records of you attempting the study. Can you provide your child's name and birth date to confirm?

  1. "I do apologize for the inconvenience" is overly formal.

  2. "We don't have any records..." implies you think they are being dishonest

  3. "..provide child's name and birth date..." we never ask for these details by email

Here's the same response in a better tone:

Oh, I'm sorry about this! I appreciate you trying anyway and we definitely want to pay you for your time. I attached your gift card to this email.

Thanks so much for letting us know about this! I'll be sure to pass your message along to Iris, the student running this study, so she can troubleshoot this issue.

Common issues

  • Participant not paid: If a participant doesn't get paid, we apologize and offer to pay them right away. There is no need to double-check whether they "deserve" payment. We'll take their word for it unless it becomes a frequent issue (it only has once).

  • Study not working: If a study doesn't work for someone, we apologize, thank them for letting us know, and offer to pay them anyway. Again, we don't overanalyze whether they "deserve" payment. Our studies are often $5 compensation, so it's worth it to maintain the relationship to just pay everyone who encounters issues, no matter what.

Shared voicemail


We use a google voice account to make calls and receive voicemail. The account information can be found on basecamp. It works exactly like a real phone but can be operated via a computer—you can make calls, receive calls, and listen to voicemail. The voicemail system is set up so that the lab email receives an email with a transcription (of varying degrees of accuracy) of the voicemail every time someone leaves a voicemail. If this voicemail pertains to something you are working on you can assign that email to yourself and respond to the voicemail, or you can assign that email to whoever should respond to the voicemail so that they know they should call back the person who called. You can listen to the original voicemail under the lab voice google account, just go to

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