Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to Email Your Professor

Email has become a major—if not the primary—form of communication between professors and students. But an email is used not only to make a request but to convey an attitude, a disposition, and to let the professor know how mature a student is. Or at least that’s how many instructors look at emails.

So, here are some guidelines to follow when emailing your professor. 

1. Use appropriate email accounts. At UTA, this means your MyMav account; I am required by university regulations to only respond to emails sent from these accounts. Also, try to avoid using those old email accounts with words like “love” or “hot” in them, display a favorite band’s name, or are filled with cryptic numbers and symbols. (Hat tip to Chris Blattman on this last point.) 

2. Use appropriate greetings. Don’t address your instructor (or anyone in a position of authority over you) with “hey.” “Hi” and “Dear” are acceptable, so long as they’re followed by the proper title and name of the person being addressed: “Hi Dr. Sasley.” I personally prefer “Prof. or Professor,” but some people do like “Dr.” Try to avoid “Mr.” when emailing your instructor; it can be a touchy issue. Above all, remember that your professor isn’t likely to be your close friend. 

3. End appropriately. Don’t sign off without your name. At least for the first few emails, until your instructor gets to know who you are, give your first and last names and the specific class you are in. 

4. One-liners only work in action films. A one-line comment or question isn’t enough for the professor to know (a) what class you’re in; (b) what specific issue you are asking about; (c) what you want the professor to do about it. Don’t write a novel, but be sure your email has enough specific detail about your questions so the instructor can give you answers. 

5. Check your email frequently. If you email a professor with a sense of urgency, and she responds that day, and then doesn’t hear from you for another week, it’s taken as a signal that the issue isn’t all that important anyway (despite the professor taking the time to give an immediate answer). This is particularly so if the instructor writes back with some clarifying questions necessary for a complete and accurate response. 

6. Check your spelling. Always spell your professor’s name correctly. Really, it’s not a big deal if a professor sees his name misspelled once or twice, but think about how many students a professor has, and then how many emails he gets from all those students. Misspelled names add up to grumpiness. Seeing my name spelled in variations of “Salsa” is amusing at first, but it quickly gets old. 

7. Timing is everything. Like everyone else, professors are busy. Give them time to respond to your email, no matter how urgent the issue is. 48 hours is considered the norm, but give them a little longer over the weekend. 

8. Get the last word. Students should send the last email in an exchange, whether it’s to thank the professor for her time and answers or confirm a meeting time.   


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