As college freshmen, nothing is more stressful that trying to connect with your professors, especially if you want to make a good impression without sounding incapable of professional conversation. Though it is wise to go see your professor or TA in their office hours, sometimes it is more convenient to communicate with professors via email, thanks to today's technology. Along with the advancement of the Internet, our generation has also forgotten the importance of "email etiquette" and why you should still maintain a polite and proper voice when talking to those who hold authority. The following tips will be sure to impress anyone you need to reach out to in college. For the sake of this article, I even emailed my own professors, and these are their responses to the question, when students email you, what do you expect of their language in terms of formality, grammar/spelling, greetings, signatures/closings, length, etc.?
1. Use/create an email address you won't be embarrassed about.
As a college student, you are representing your current self to not only new acquaintances but also professors, faculty and possibly future employers through your address. As much as you want to express your love for dogs and video games, try to refrain from email usernames like "puppylover489264" or "guitarhero4lyfe993." Not only will these be a pain to remember and type in, but will show a level of immaturity to those who receive emails from them. If you aren't using your official school email address, opt for addresses you can remember that incorporate your name. For example, "lastname.firstname" or "firstinitial_lastname" followed by the year you were born (1998 or 98), or some number you have drilled into your memory.
2. Acknowledge the content and use the subject bar.
Nothing is more likely to make recipients shy away from opening your email than receiving a message with no subject. By taking advantage of the subject bar, you let your professors know what your email will regard. For example, if you have a question about a certain topic, type "Question about [topic here]" as the subject. The trick is to keep it brief, concise and as straightforward as possible. This will also help professors prioritize their emails and replies. If your question is not important, it can be pushed back for more important emails concerning things like the exam next morning.
Dr. Akula told Fresh U, "I generally expect messages to have a telling subject; blank, in particular, is a big no no."
3. Remember to greet whoever you are speaking to.
This is a no-brainer, but occurs more often than you might think. While it may not seem that necessary, salutations show politeness, just as it would in person. However, not just any greeting will do. To maintain professionalism, do not use words like "Hey" or "Hiya" or "Yo" and instead go with "Hello," "Greetings," "Hi" and "Good morning/afternoon/evening." When addressing professors, unless told otherwise, use "Professor" in front of their names to avoid confusion between phrases like Mrs./Ms. and whether or not they have their Ph.D.
Dr. Akula said, "I expect them to have a clear address, such as “Dear Dr. Akula” or, as you wrote, “Hello,” and not just dive right into the comment or concern."
Neal Lerner also said, "For students, I do expect some level of formality in terms of openings/salutations and closings. I’m not a formal person, so a “Hi, professor” or “Hi, Neal” work fine. I do think appropriate address is important, so “Yo, Prof!” I find [that] a bit off-putting (unless I really know the student well)."
4. Do NOT use "text" language or emoticons.
While today's world has brought on convenient ways of saying long phrases like "Talk to you later," "On my way" or "Laugh out loud," by all means, do not use these when emailing a professor. Nothing screams annoying more than an email that reads "tysm 4 ur help. cya l8er. :P." It'll make your professor lose even more hope in today's generation.
5. Keep in mind who you're talking to.
To summarize points three and four, remember that you are emailing a professor, someone who has years of professional experience in his or her field. Even though outside of academia professors are human too, they are there to teach you. While you can definitely develop a connection with them, they are not your best friend. You should not address them as if they are on the same level as you are or text them like you would your pals. Do not gossip with them; do not send them pointless emails if they have nothing to do with what you are learning in class, as you don't want to waste their time and yours.
6. Don't write in uppercase letters.
Using all uppercase letters will make it appear as if you are over-exaggerating your tone of voice. DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SOUND LIKE THIS TO YOUR PROFESSOR OR TA? It's clearly unnecessary.
7. Keep it short and concise.
Long essay-like emails are over-doing it. If you have a question to ask, simply state your question and unless you feel like you absolutely have to, leave it at that. Your professor has hundreds of emails to read every day. If you can get your point across in a sentence or small paragraph, that is the way to go.
Dr. Akula told Fresh U, "For the content of the message body, I find myself less frustrated by poor grammar than I am by poor spelling, since spelling is generally automatically checked and, thus, there’s no excuse for getting it wrong. The main thing is that the body is as concise as can be while still getting the message fully across. There’s nothing worse than a long, wandering email or an email that I can’t figure out the point of. Both waste a lot of time."
Neal Lerner agrees and said, "What I want from all email notes, whether from students or colleagues, is clarity, conciseness and clear signaling of what is most important. With email, that can be done via well-chosen subject lines, by chunking information in paragraphs, by using headings or phrases to point me to what I need to know most of all (e.g., “Here’s what I need from you:”). I also think the “grammar of the screen” is particularly important for email. I’m reluctant to scroll and scroll and scroll. I prefer email messages to be relatively brief (that’s the concise part). If there’s more info to be conveyed, an attachment is a good option."
8. Be sure to close well.
While some professors do not feel closings are as necessary, it is best to keep it safe by saying goodbye. Like with greetings, don't use signatures like "See you," "Goodbye," "Later" and others similar to the ones mentioned. Instead use "Best," "Regards," "Thank you" and "Sincerely." Use it as a way to express your genuine gratitude that they took to the time to read your email and reply. When stating your name, usually first and last will do, but if you feel that it is necessary, you may include the following in this format:
First & Last Name '20
When asked about signatures, Dr. Akula said, "As for signatures, I think they’re overrated unless the sender specifically wants to provide alternative methods of contact (such as a phone number). They certainly don’t bother me, though."
Neal Lerner emphasized the closing and said, "Similarly, I expect some sort of closing with 'thanks' or 'regards' or the like. And their names. It’s odd not to see a “signed” email note."
9. Make sure attached documents work.
If you happen to be using a different word or slideshow processor, make sure you save it as a file that is compatible with most other popular ones to avoid errors when your professor or TA goes to open them.
10. Keep spell check on and proofread.
No professor will expect you to write like a English graduate student but be sure to proofread for any small and simple mistakes. Know the difference between "you're" and "your," "there," "their" and "they're" and so on. Keep spellcheck on. You might even find instance where spellcheck will be okay with you saying "loose" when you really meant to put "lose." Details are imperative. Don't let your professor read an email and run into a feeling of awkwardness if you use the wrong word or spell it in a strange way. In terms of grammar, make sure your sentences are complete and the whole of the email is fluent.
11. Remember that anything that goes on the Internet is forever.
Please keep in mind that anything you send to anyone can be retraced. Do not send an email you will regret in the future or may lead to consequences, even if those consequences do not appear serious at first glance.
And last but certainly not least, this important message from Neal Lerner of Northeastern University:
"I also think a key consideration is when to use email versus another medium, particularly face-to-face conversation or by telephone. Students do not always judge that appropriate medium correctly. Some situations are too complicated to explain via email. Some are too trivial for an email note. It’s difficult for anyone to read that rhetorical situation and figure out the best means of accomplishing your communicative goals. For what it’s worth (yes, I did originally write 'FWIW'), as a writing teacher, I know many fellow writing teachers who teach the writing of emails in their classes. I think that’s a good thing. There’s no reason why we should assume students automatically know how. Email has become a ubiquitous means of getting all sorts of work done, from national security briefings (see Hillary Clinton), to birthday wishes, to requests for due date extensions, to reading responses, to answering questions from a journalist. They are complex, even if brief. More the reason why students need instruction in how to do the well."
As you can see, the way you email does in fact make a difference. Professors receive improper emails from their students all of the time. Hopefully, this will help you stay away from becoming one of them. And if all else fails, just go see them in person and have an adult conversation! At the end of the day, professors are people too.
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