Well, makes sure you're clear what you're asking about and don't assume they have the same information that you do. If you're following up on a submission make sure you tell them the title of the story and when you sent it off. It's possible that lost/misplaced your submission so this information well help them find your work. Just remember to give them enough time to reply, I usually suggest waiting twice the listed average response time.
Here's one I've actually sent in the past. It's a little bit to terse but I was quickly banging it out, but it does cover the very basics.
I'm just sending in a query for the submission "Changing the Way" I sent it in on the 5th of October 2009. I do not believe I have yet to receive a response.
I did get a quick response back on this. It turns out that they had misplaced it and quickly found it once I asked.
I'd probably go with something on the lines of:
Just checking that the XXX I sent you on Xth XXX is okay. I have to [do something] with your feedback before I can [do something else]. Can you let me know when you'll be able to look at it for me?
That way, it makes it sound like you're putting yourself in their debt (whether or not that is true is irrelevant), and people on the whole tend to like people being indebted to them.
It also doesn't actively demand that they do something immediately, just asks them when they will be able to do it.
When following up on an e-mail:
I usually forward the original e-mail to the original recipient, with some added text at the top.
Hello [Name], Have you had time to look into this? Kind Regards, ... Forwarded message: From: .... Date: ... Subject: ... To: ... ...
Here's how I write it:
Hi - this is just a friendly reminder that I'm waiting for [whatever it is]. Thanks!
I usually write something like:
I was checking my mail and it looks like I didn't get a response to the mail I wrote you, am I wrong?
I've found that the longer the mail, the lowest the probability that the guy actually replies back to me, so I keep emails short and polite.
I like suggesting that they may have already done it, in case they have!
If you haven't already, please take a moment to ...
If you have, thank you.
Write it as if you're the one apologizing to them.
You know that they're the one who is dragging their feet. Pretend like you were instead. Frame the message in terms of "I must have missed an email somewhere, sorry" rather than "why haven't you sent me an email?"
This lets them take the action you want without accepting blame for the delay, which for some people is psychologically important.
I hope this email finds you well. I'm just emailing to check how far the (xxprogram/process/proceduresxx) goes. I’ll be waiting your (xxrecommendations/reply/answerxx) regarding (xxthis matter/the __ programxx).
If you require any further (xxInfo/detailsxx) about (xxxx) , I remain at your disposal.
Have a nice day Sir. Thank you.
I think the best way to remind someone is "I think my e-mail missed your attention".
Just forward your original e-mail and write on top of it "Polite Reminder."
My suggestions are
1-Keep it very short 2-Remind them clearly what you need (yes/no, approval, a revised draft, etc.) 3-Keep it kind/gentle but definite
I try to be a little cutesy or funny to convey I'm not annoyed so that they don't get defensive. If my objective is to get it done, I don't mind taking one for the team to achieve the goal.
Circling back because I can't remember if you said yes or no to the latest draft.
Heads up - need to run this by X date. Have you had a chance to review?
Moving this to the top of your email because I know how busy you are. Can you let me know what you decided?
Friendly reminder, this issue has to be closed out by Friday - all I need is your yes or no.
Regarding the bullet point on the message being "respectful", I would like to point out something which I don't see being stated explicitly in any of the previous answers. This goes equally for both original requests and reminders alike.
Make it actionable by the recipient.
Give the recipient a clear path forward, next step or next action, in terms of somehow telling them what you're hoping to get out of a reply which will provide closure on the matter. This could be something simple, such as "looking forward to your feedback on my thromblemeister design proposal" or "please let me know by Wednesday afternoon which option to order, so that we can have it delivered by Friday" or even "let me know if you would like to see the complete manuscript".
In a sense, not much different from writing a question on Stack Exchange: tell us what you need.
It typically only takes one or at most two extra sentences to provide a clear next action, and can go a long way toward fostering that warm fuzzy feeling in the recipient that they are done with that e-mail. Probably 90-95% of people won't really care and will be happy with implied closure, but for the remaining 5-10%, it can help a great deal. If you can do that at little cost to yourself, it can hardly hurt if people see your name in their inbox and think "ah, s/he is the one who always makes it easy to see what they want, so I can take a look right away and quickly tell whether it's something I can handle immediately".
That said; obviously, the way you phrase your desired next action on part of the recipient will depend on your relationship to the recipient as well as social customs.