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Golden Rules for How to Email Your Professor

Are you appalling your professors with your awful email manners? Clean up your act with these etiquette tips from the experts.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   21-01-2019

College student sending an email

In the age of noisy social media, many students confuse emailing with texting and other forms of digital communication, where the crucial conventions are brevity and informality. While most college teachers will appreciate the brevity, they consider emails closer to letters than to text messages so stick to the do's and don'ts of email etiquette.

“This style of writing calls for more formality, more thoroughness and more faithful adherence (sometimes bordering on religious adherence) to the conventions of Edited Standard Written English — that is, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and syntax,” Paul T Corrigan and Cameron Hunt McNabb write in “Inside Higher Ed.”

“Students who use emojis in their emails and write “heeeeelp!” in the subject line don't necessarily know better,” they quipped.

  1. Use a relevant subject line
    On a busy day, a professor may only have fifteen minutes to glance at mails between lectures and meetings, and needs to know which emails need immediate attention.

    For instance, if you run with “About tomorrow’s Applied Physics quiz,” it tells the professor exactly what the email is about, especially because it mentions the particular class (Applied Physics). This is much better than “About tomorrow’s quiz,” because some professors teach four courses, and have no way of knowing which quiz in which class is being inquired about.

    “Summer plans.” If this arrives in January, the professor immediately knows it is not an emergency.

     
  2. Keep the message focused
    Write short messages, make clear requests, get to your point rapidly, and offer to provide more information rather than launch into your life story.

    “Most of us get over 200 emails a day we need to read and respond to. So say what you need in 2-4 sentences and ideally ask for simple answers (like yes or no),” blogs economist Christopher Blattman, Professor of Global Conflict Studies at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy Studies.

     
  3. Greet politely
    Launching straight into the message is bad, but “Hey,” “Yo,” or “Hiya” is an unmitigated disaster. “Dear” and “Hi” are fine, so long as you follow both by a name or title: “Hi Professor” or “Hi Mr ____”.

     
  4. Do proofread your message
    “Capitalize and punctuate. otherwise we will lol at yr sad attempts,” warns Professor Blattman.

     
  5. Use exclamation marks sparingly
    American novelist Elmore Leonard had ten rules for good writing and was quite clear about the exclamation point. “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” That’s roughly one exclamation point for every 500 messages you send your professor, deduces Professor Blattman.

     
  6. Death to shortcuts to real words, emojis and emoticons
    Words from college students using shortcuts such as "4 u" (instead of "for you)," "Gr8" (for great) in e-mail is not acceptable. Keep them for your friends. And recall that, for centuries of the printed word, writers managed to convey funny and a range of emotions without a smiley face, semicolon, and parenthesis, writes Peggy Duncan, author of “Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook.”

     
  7. Your e-mail is a reflection of you
    Every e-mail you send adds to, or detracts from your reputation. If your e-mail is scattered, disorganized, and filled with mistakes, the recipient will be inclined to think of you as a scattered, careless, and disorganized student.
     

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