3 Steps to Writing More Professional Emails

As we begin the Fall 2017 semester and prepare to face new academic experiences, form friendships and academic relationships, it’s always important to keep in mind the value of effective communication, especially regarding professor-teacher interaction. Email etiquette is a great skill to brush up on, since it is one of the most widely used forms of communication within the academic sphere.

With the advent of social technology, our culture has become more informal, and some of this informality has seeped into the academic sphere. While there are many benefits to having a more personable relationship with one’s professors, we should always be mindful of how we present ourselves virtually – and we should remember that courtesy is never out of vogue. If we are respectful and courteous with small requests, we will be able to establish good rapport with our professors that may serve us in larger future requests (i.e. letters of recommendation for graduate school).

We must be aware that written communication is tricky because we lack the face-to-face experience – thus we are deprived of body language and vocal inflection, both of which carry a large weight of meaning. With this in mind, it is important to be especially courteous in email interactions, and to make sure that we are presenting our our requests politely.

Here are some practical principles about how to conduct an email to a professor, sometimes easy to forget, but that will go a long way with professional interaction:

1) Proper form of address

  • Always include a header in your email that addresses whomever you are corresponding with their correct title. Be sure to find out if your professor has their PhD, and if so, address them accordingly (i.e., “Dr.” or “Doctor”).
  • If in doubt, err on the formal side. If you don’t know whether your professor has a doctorate, it is always acceptable to address him or her as “Doctor” until told otherwise. Usually professors will introduce themselves on the first day of class and will tell the class how they prefer to be addressed. Be sure to pay attention, as this information will serve you well in an email interaction.

2) State your request or concern politely and kindly

  • Bear in mind that your instructors are busy people with demanding vocations. A little courtesy goes a long way!
  • Be sure to take responsibility for knowledge entrusted to you – whether it be information in a syllabus or general class information already presented.

3) Always close your email with an appropriate closing sentiment such as “Sincerely,” “Thank You,” or “Respectfully Yours.”

Don’t forget to sign your name! I have heard from many professors that they get dozens of emails every semester from students who don’t include their names. This is frustrating and creates more unnecessary work on the part of the instructor.

In conclusion, email etiquette is an important skill that is in all of our interests to cultivate. Remember that professional courtesy not only makes whomever we are communicating with feel respected and valued, but it paves the way for future academic relationships that are priceless! Courteous communication is a skill that is waning in the world – let’s do our best to promote it within the academic sphere!


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