We’ve all done it–just as you press “send,” you realize that you spelled your Professor’s name wrong. The culture of email is inherently casual, yet we are in a delicate position when we are emailing our professors. CM talked to a few professors and got a sense of tips to consider and things to avoid like the plague.
“I inherently find myself thinking about the student as an organized person based on the structure of their emails. One student even went to the extent of color-coding their lengthy email to help me stay organized. Some might find that distracting, but I thought it was extremely helpful.”
Professor Tsong > Economics > Cornell
DO stay organized in your email. Stay on topic and ensure that you are being both relevant and friendly; there has to be a balance between seeming put-together and sounding like you are bossing them around with requests.
DON’T ramble on in a long email about the various excuses that caused you to miss class. They might not care or worse, think you are lying. A simple “I couldn’t make it to class” should suffice for most teachers if you demonstrate you are willing to meet and make up what you missed.
“I almost threw my keyboard out the window when one of my students used ‘gonna’ in an email to me. Me, of all people!”
Professor Frasier > English > Tufts
DO proofread every email. Most of the time, a simple typo means nothing. But to the very few that it does matter to (professors, future employers, etc) it will have a large influence in how they perceive you as a student or potential employee.
DON’T assume that because your professor speaks very casually that it is okay for you to do the same in an email. Retain the formalities of addressing he or she by professor and refrain from slang of any sort.
“I’ve had students send me three or four emails in the span of two days that really could have been combined into one. I realize that new questions arise based on your studies, but be considerate of my time and attempt at organization.”
Professor McClindricks > Math > Georgia Tech
DO think about what you are actually saying in your emails. The typical format of an email is stream of consciousness, since it’s often more like an extended text message than it is a formal letter. This however, is quite different with professors.
DON’T forget with whom you are talking in the email. Your professor is making assessments of you as a student throughout the semester, and any point of contact may provide a frame of reference for that.
Reaching out to professors is generally a good use of your time and a good influence on your academics. But, keep in mind that a sloppy email might give an impression of yourself that you might not want someone to get when they are sitting down to hand out grades. Keep these pointers in mind. You’ll be glad you did.