Helping students with email etiquette
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Many undergrads today have grown up in the world of twitter, text messages and emoticons–and simply don’t have much experience sending emails in a professional or academic setting. They may feel uncertain as to correct email etiquette, particularly in our informal age. If you find yourself cringing every time you open your inbox and fearing for how your students will cope once they enter the workforce, it may help to make your expectations for email etiquette clear.
For example, you might include some basic email guidelines on your syllabus, post more detailed information on blackboard or distribute a handout in class, or mention a few tips early in the semester during class. By explaining that these guidelines are simply professional conventions–not your own idiosyncratic demands–you’ll be doing both your students and yourself a favor.
A few general guidelines on email etiquette for students might include:
- Always include a greeting in your email, such as “Dear Professor [last name]” or “Hi Professor [last name].” It’s safest to stick with last names unless your professor has told you otherwise.
- It’s also crucial to include a short, informative subject line that explains what the email is about.
- Try to keep the email itself as brief as possible, while still maintaining a polite and friendly tone. If you’ve missed class, for example, your professor doesn’t need to know all of the personal details.
- If you do need to miss class, never send an email asking, “Did I miss anything?” (this implies that nothing important happens in some classes!) Instead, check the syllabus and ask a classmate for notes.
- Don’t send attachments unless your professor has given you permission to submit a draft or an assignment by email. It’s more polite to ask about dropping off a hard copy, so that your professor doesn’t need to print the document for you.
- Use emoticons and exclamation points sparingly. Contractions, however, can add a friendlier tone, but never use decorative email stationary or fonts.
- Do make sure to sign the email with your full name, the course number, and the meeting time. For example: Jane Doe, POLSC 110, MW 3:15-4:15pm. It’s surprising how many students forget to identify themselves at all in emails.
- Before hitting the send button, reread the message and check for punctuation and spelling.
You can also find a number of more detailed lists and resources online. A few that we’ve found helpful include:
- “How to Email a Professor” on the Orange Crate Art blog
- “Students: How to Email Your Professor, Employer, and Professional Peers” by Columbia Political Science professor Chris Blattman
- The Arizona State University Writing Center’s amusing YouTube video with helpful examples of what not to do when emailing a professor–and advice on how to avoid these missteps
- And, finally, just so we’re not picking on students too much, here’s Purdue Online Writing Lab’ PowerPoint on “Email Etiquette for Professors“