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how to email your professors

There are already several very good posts on this, but I thought I would add my own for my classes. In the last few years, more and more of my students have been emailing me from smartphones, iPads, etc. and their emails have become increasingly casual (despite the fact that my syllabus clearly states that I expect emails to be more formal). I may be partially to blame for this declining quality since I've never had a formal, written email policy (partly because I could never imagine writing so informally to a professor). But, given how bad some of the emails have gotten, I've finally formalized my email policy. If student emails are not written as prescribed below, I just won't answer. 

First and foremost, before you email your professor, make sure that your question can NOT be answered somewhere else-- for example on the syllabus or by your peers! Requesting a professor to go over something that is easily available somewhere else makes it seem like you're not a serious student or, at the very least, very disorganized.
  1. Use your university email or an email account that is clear (since many of my classes use Google resources, your Gmail is fine provided it is an email that is fairly professional).
    • Time to get rid of If you don't already have a more professional email, I suggest you create one in Google or Hotmail or any other service. And by the way, when you create that new email, make sure that you don't identify yourself as First name: qt, Last name: pie. 
  2. Make sure you include a clear subject.
    • Something like this: "SOC101.51-question about data collection assignment" 
  3. Always use a greeting. 
    • "Hi/Hello Professor..." is perfectly fine. Using "Dear" and it begins to sound like a letter; leave out the "Hi/Hello" part, and the email sounds too brusque. 
    • "Hi!" is poor form. "Prof!" is equally bad.
    • Just launching into your message is also rather bad form.
  4. Be clear and concise in the body of your message.
    • But ask politely! "Could you please email the...Thanks!" is much better than "I need this assignment ASAP."
    • If you're writing with a problem, suggest a solution! For example, "I can't make it to class this Tuesday. I know I have a presentation, but I've already spoken with my group and..."
  5. Sign off with your full name and class at the end of the email.
    • Signing your email is an obvious courtesy. Signing with only your first name could lead to confusion...there are plenty of Mikes, Jakes, Kristens, etc.
  6. And when you get a reply (since you've followed these great guidelines), say thanks. 
    • Just hit Reply and say "Thanks," or a little bit more if that's appropriate. The old subject line (which will now have a "Re:" in front) will make the context clear. I don't think that you need to include a greeting with a short reply, at least not if you refer to your professor in your reply. And you don't need to identify yourself by course number and meeting time again.
  7. Double check your grammar/syntax and punctuation. 
    • DO NOT USE email speak with your professors; such shorthand is NOT appropriate for professional settings.
    • You want to be seen in the best possible light!
In some cases, I've borrowed quite liberally from these sources and I thank them:
Things you should NEVER email me about:
  • what did I miss in class? (my personal favorite)
    • If you missed class, your professors have no desire to repeat the information solely to you.
  • what is my grade?
    • Keeping track of your grades is really YOUR responsibility. And if you are really concerned about your grade, you should make an appointment to speak with your professor in person. This also helps to show that you're interested in the material vs. just married to your letter grade.
  • when is the ______ assignment due?
    • That information is usually available on our class calendar. You may always want to check with your peers before emailing your professor.
  • avoid rote apologies for missing class like the plague 
    • Most professors are tired of hearing those standard apologies and acts of contrition. If you missed class because of some especially serious or sad circumstances, it might be better to mention that in person than in an e-mail.
  • don't send unexpected attachments, it's just not polite
    • attaching an essay with a request that your professor look it before you check with her is just not polite-- she will also likely not do it because she has no idea what that attachment is


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