Emailing Your College Professor: Do’s and Don’ts | Education
Most college students do most of their electronic communication through text messaging. But they may need to send emails when contacting professors.
Texting is casual: a student may not hesitate to abbreviate long words or swap punctuation marks for emoticons when composing a message. But the standards for emailing are different, especially in academic settings. Students’ emails can influence how their teachers view them, experts say.
“Think about the type of student and person you want your professor to perceive you,” wrote Michael Burns, senior lecturer and director of career readiness in the department of communication studies at Texas State University, in an email. “The way you structure and communicate in an email creates an impression and you want to make sure you’re perceived positively.”
Here are some mistakes to avoid and principles to keep in mind when emailing a professor.
Not to do
- Email from a personal account.
- Use any subject line.
- Forget a proper greeting.
- Rush the teacher.
Do not send email from a personal account
Some teachers won’t open emails from unknown addresses. And even those who do may never receive one sent from a student’s personal account, according to Burns.
“It’s not that I won’t open an email from an address I don’t recognize, it’s more the fact that many university firewalls send messages from unknown emails or not academics to undesirables and we don’t see them,” he says. “Students should always use their university email address when corresponding with a professor.”
Don’t use a nondescript subject line
“The subject line of your email matters just as much as the content in it,” says Staci Perryman-Clark, director of the Institute for Cross-Cultural and Anthropological Studies and professor of English at Western Michigan. University.
Marilyn Sanders Mobley, professor emeritus of English and African-American studies at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, says students need good subject lines to make sure their emails aren’t forgotten. .
Clear subject lines help professors understand the urgency of a student’s request. Students can demonstrate professionalism by using subject lines that correctly summarize the content of their message.
“If you have a question, specify what the question is in your subject line,” Perryman-Clark says. “For example, you can say ‘Chapter 2 review sheet question’ instead of just saying ‘Question’.”
Don’t forget a proper greeting
While students may be used to starting email conversations with the words “Hey” or “Hi,” experts encourage them to use more formal greetings when addressing professors. Mobley and Latrise Johnson, an associate professor of English and literacy at the University of Alabama, offer “Hello,” “Dear,” “Good morning,” or “Good afternoon” as suitable alternatives.
Students communicating for the first time may not know what their teacher wants to be called. Some professors with doctorates may prefer a “Dr.” Title. Others prefer their first name. When in doubt, “Professor” is a safe bet, according to Perryman-Clark.
“If you don’t know the professor’s title, it never hurts to start your email with ‘Dear Professor X,'” she says.
Don’t rush your teacher
Students waiting for a response may be tempted to send a follow-up email after a few hours. But experts advise giving professors plenty of time to respond.
“If you’ve asked a question that you need answered, send a very polite email after two days, not including weekends,” says Sarah Johnson, writing center director and professor of English at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin.
Latrise Johnson advises students to wait even longer – a week – before sending an additional email. Professors often have many emails in their inboxes and many other professional responsibilities to attend to, she explains.
- Ask yourself if an e-mail is necessary.
- Visit a writing center.
- Be concise.
Consider if an email is necessary
Students may already have access to the information they expect from a teacher. Sarah Johnson encourages them to review the curriculum or contact a classmate with any questions about class policies or homework due.
Emails previously sent by the teacher may also contain the advice the student needs. Burns says students should read all emails from their professors.
“We don’t send emails for fun, they contain very important course information,” he says. “A prepared student reads the emails.”
Visit a writing center
College writing centers aren’t exclusively for students who need help with classwork. Sarah Johnson encourages students to visit their Writing Center for help with particularly important emails.
“With high-stakes writing, it can be worth it,” she says.
Clarity is important, but students should strive to spend as little time as possible with their professors in an email exchange.
“Students should be reminded that professors have prep, grading, office, department meeting, professional meeting, lecture, research, and publication deadlines that limit the time they have to read and respond to emails,” Mobley wrote in an email.
Experts say students hoping to share complicated information with their professors should consider using other communication channels before sending an email.
“If you find yourself writing an email that goes into its fourth paragraph, consider whether a phone call or meeting might be a better way to convey what you need to say to your professor,” says Sarah Johnson.
Students should make sure their emails are formal and grammatically correct before hitting the “send” button, experts say.
“I often get emails with no punctuation, no capitals, and they also include abbreviations like LOL or LMK,” Burns says. “More time is expected to be spent on an email, which means it needs to be more professionally written and proofread.”