Please follow my top 21 guidelines when emailing your professors, instructors, TAs or RAs.
- Try to answer your own question. Read the course syllabus; look over your class or tutorial notes. If you’ve missed lecture, tutorial or your lab, seek out another student to get notes first. Is there a class website you can look at before you send the email?
- Wait to fill in the “To” section. Write your email first, then spellcheck it, proofread it, assess the tone and language. When your email is perfect, then type in the sender information. That way you’ll never accidentally hit “send” before your email is ready.
- Send your email from your university account. Most emails sent from a non-university account end up in SPAM. Also, how do we know who you are, if you’re sending it from email@example.com?
- Choose an appropriate greeting. “Hi/Hello Professor Jovanovic” is always appropriate, Or Hi/Hello [Maja]. You must include a greeting, even if it’s just “Hello.” My students call me Dr. Maja or Professor Maja. I’m cool with that.
- Include your full name. Most university accounts have your last name only, and it makes it difficult to figure out who I’m responding to. So, always end your email with your full name, or consider including a signature line and a signoff such as “Regards,” or “Thanks,” or “Best wishes.”
- Include the course code in the subject line of your email. This is helpful for us to filter your messages to make sure they are dealt with in a timely manner (and to prevent them from being ‘spam’). Also, because most professors or TA’s teach multiple courses and it’s just easier for us if we know what course you’re from.
- Make sure your email is appropriate in address, tone and content. Never send emails when you’re upset or angry about something. Anger and sarcasm is easy to spot, so always make sure your emails are professional in tone. Whatever you send via email, think about whether you would feel comfortable saying it face-to-face. Your emails should always be respectful and approachable in tone. Every single interaction with your instructors is an opportunity to present yourself in either a positive or negative manner.
- Proofread your email before you send it. Your emails create an impression so before you hit the send button; ask yourself whether the email corresponds to the best version of yourself. You want your e-mail to show you in the best possible light. Also, you have spellcheck, so use it. Make sure your spelling, grammar and sentence structure are accurate.
- Never use lowercase “i.” It is never appropriate to use “i” (lowercase), you must spell it with an uppercase “I”. OH MY GOODNESS, so many students make this mistake. Don’t be one of them. It looks sloppy and unprofessional.
- Avoid texting lingo. Also not appropriate is using texting lingo: TTYL, thx, LOL, b4, btw, l8r, cya, (or any other texting abbreviation). It just doesn’t look professional.
- Limit emoticons! –Holy crap is this ever unprofessional. Use emoticons with your friends and family, and never use it in professional emails. If you feel comfortable and know the person well enough to use emoticons, (OR, if the person has used emoticons themselves), then use them sparingly. If your email reads harshly and you need to use a smiley face to make it seem softer, reconsider your choice of words instead.
- Spell the name of your Professor/TA/RA correctly. It’s incredibly rude to misspell the name of your Professor/TA/boss when this information is readily available on-line, on the syllabus and takes seconds to look up.
- Ask politely. “Could you please let me know where to submit late assignments? Thank-you” is a lot better than “I need to know where to hand in the paper, let me know a.s.a.p”. Never give the person a deadline to get back to you (e.g. “I need to know the answer tonight), it’s just rude and presumptuous.
- Don’t send unexpected attachments. It’s very bad form. Attaching an essay or outline asking your professor or TA to look it over is very bad form. Arrange to meet your professor or TA during office hours or by appointment instead. It’s especially rude to send an e-mail that says “I won’t be in class today,” with a paper or some other coursework attached. Think about it: Your professor or TA is supposed to print out your essay because you’re not coming to class?? Not cool.
- When you get a reply, say thanks. Just hit Reply and say “Thanks or “Thank-you”, or a little bit more if that’s appropriate.
- When you miss lecture/tutorial/lab. It is never appropriate to ask your Professor or TA what you missed. It is your responsibility to attend classes & tutorials or labs, and when you’re absent, you must find out what you’ve missed via other students, reading over the syllabus, etc. It is also not appropriate nor necessary to give a list of reasons why you’ve missed class/lecture (e.g. I slept in, the weather was bad, my car wouldn’t start, I had to work, etc…..).
- Don’t write a novel. Everyone is pressed for time now, so just get to the point, quickly. Be concise! Do not write multiple paragraphs when usually 1-2 sentences will suffice. Be considerate of people’s time, including your own. And if you have to write more than a few sentences, add some space in-between. It’s just easier to read.
- Remember, nothing is private anymore. Emails should not be considered private, because they’re not. Your email account is the property of the university so make sure whatever you write in your emails doesn’t embarrass you or the university.
- Don’t freak out if you don’t get an immediate response. Don’t send multiple emails if you haven’t heard back from someone within 24 hours. People are busy; some professors have upwards of 6 courses and over 1,000 students, not to mention numerous TAs or RAs they’re supervising. So don’t panic if you don’t hear back right away. BUT, feel free to resend the email if you don’t hear back within 48 hours. Some professors don’t respond to emails before/after business hours or on weekends. You should know the email policy of your instructor beforehand.
- Assume the best. Just because you haven’t heard back doesn’t mean your email was stupid or you should feel badly. If you get a curt or short reply, don’t internalize it. Assessing the correct tone in emails is difficult. People are busy! I can’t emphasize this enough. Everyone is just trying to get as much done in as little time as possible, so don’t overthink the email response from your professor. I once had a professor who only responded in 10 words or less. That was his motto. At first I was offended, and then I realized how much he got done in a day, that was his time management plan.
- Never send chain emails. This should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t. So, never send chain emails in a professional setting. I hate getting them from friends or family, let alone within a professional setting.
Phew! That’s it for now…..I tried to be concise and ended up with 21 tips instead of 25. Ha!