Friday, 23 November 2012


Teachers may or may not be adept at using email, in terms of technological savvy. However, teachers that are email savvy have certain expectations for the messages they receive from students. We'll help you understand those expectations.

1. Use an account with a formal name. People are deluged with emails every day, and by using an account that looks formal, you'll have a better chance of avoiding your professor skipping right over your email because it's an unknown address or because it looks too informal.

2. Include a meaningful subject line. While this is true of every email you send (that you wish to be read), it's especially important when you're attempting to communicate with somebody whose day is busy enough as it is.
  • If your teacher does not already have a preferred convention then a good default is to start with the class you are in and then the topic of your email. For example, "ENGLISH C2-C: Question about essay" would be an excellent way to fill in the subject line. With the name on your account and your well-titled subject, the teacher knows who you are and exactly what you want, even before they click "Open." This helps the teacher organize and prioritize student emails.
  • Never send a message with no subject line.
3. Always use a greeting. Do not begin with "Hey" or similar colloquialism. Generally speaking you should use "Mr. Last-name", for regular teachers, or "Dear Professor Last-name" if he is a University teacher. When the professor has a PhD, the  honorific is "Dear Dr. Last-name".

Do not use the teacher's first name unless you have been explicitly invited to do so. And please, spell your teacher's name correctly.

4. Briefly and politely state the reason why you are emailing. Offer only relevant information. Be sure to include the name or number of the course you are writing about in the body of the email as well as in the subject line.

5. If you are emailing with a problem, suggest a solution. Be considerate of how your solution might create additional work for the teacher.

6. Sign it with your name. Use first and last name, and if you think there is any chance that your teacher may not be able to place you, include your course information below your name.

7. Read it over. If you do not have spell-check on your email, you might copy the message and paste it into a word processing program and run spell-check there. Consider not only the mechanics, but what you have said. Strive for a polite tone, concise language, and clear purpose.

8. If the issue is touchy, or the email long, ask someone else to read it too. Ask if your reader would be offended by such an email if it were directed at him or her. If you have a complaint or have strong negative feelings that you are trying to resolve, email is probably not your best avenue. You need to have a conversation with the teacher, and email is only one-way (at a time). You may email to tell your teacher that you feel a need to talk about the issue, and ask to set up an office visit or phone conversation, but it is best not to write anything that you might regret later.

9. Allow adequate time for a reply.  Leave enough time for a response. Some teachers may not have Internet access at home, so you may need to wait a few days. If more than a few days have passed and you have not got a response, it is appropriate to ask him about it. It may be more effective to follow up by phone or by office visit. Don't be afraid to speak up or send a reminder. If you are only sending a piece of information ("I have the flu and will not be in class on Tuesday, but Sue will turn in my paper for me.") the professor may not consider a reply necessary. In this case, you are done.

10. Once a reply has been received, acknowledge it. A simple, "Thank you" may be enough. If necessary, write a more extensive email using these same guidelines to achieve a professional effect. If the case is not being adequately resolved by email, ask for an appointment to meet in person. 

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