Sending an email? Don’t we all know how to do that? Well, we know how to type and press send… I’m talking about how to write a nice, professional email to someone who can personally affect your GPA and future!
One of my professors’ biggest complaints always seems to be getting irrelevant or poorly written emails. It’s not that difficult to write a good email if you know how!
Check your syllabus first.
If you’re asking a question about class material, deadlines, or instructions, check your syllabus before you waste both your professor’s and your time. If the information you’re looking for definitely isn’t on the syllabus, or it’s another situation entirely, proceed to the next steps!
Identify the class and who you are.
This should go right up in the subject line. The subject line is always awkward, so don’t even worry about it! For example, for my nutrition class I would put “NUTR 2310—Close McCurdy”. Even if your professor knows who you are, including your full name reminds them and helps them look you up faster. Putting the class may seem silly, especially if the professor only teaches that class, but this helps them quickly identify the intent of the email. You’re a student reaching out to them.
Address them properly.
Your professor is a professional who gets to choose your grade. Are you really going to start a line of communication with them with “hey”? I think not. You have lots of different options to address them, but it’s simple to just say, “Hello Professor Williams,” or “Professor Williams—”. First impressions are important, and this shows your professor that you’re taking the email seriously.
Get to the point.
If you’re asking for extra credit, ask. If you missed class, just say it. They don’t have the time or the patience for excuses or explanations. That sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. The less time they spend reading your email, the more time they can spend fixing your problem or helping you out. If I was asking for extra credit, I might say, “While I’ve done all the classwork fairly well, I struggled on the last test. Are there any extra opportunities where I could prove I know the material?” Right away my professor knows my situation and what I need from them without wasting their time on excuses about who knows what.
Utilize spell check (and proofread!).
I’m sure you’re familiar with the atrocity of using the wrong there/their/they’re. Maybe your professor doesn’t even care, but I do. Plus, it’s just a good habit to get into to always use your spellcheck and proofread. Spellcheck is good for catching typing mistakes, but it usually can’t fix bad usage or skipped words in sentences. That’s where the proofreading comes in! Actively read it once or twice and catch your small mistakes; it only takes a minute.
Use proper grammar and vernacular.
This one is a given, but it’s so easy to fall into our regular speech patterns. Telling your professor you’d like to discuss “irl” might not translate to them. And even if it does, it’s simply not an appropriate way to speak to a professor. Type your apostrophes and write out nice sentences. Do you see how I’m writing this blog post for you? It’s not a formal essay style with words from the thesaurus, but it’s easily read and understood while maintaining a mature style. That’s what an email should look like!
Remember your professor is a human being.
While I like to imagine my professors living in their offices, hunched over the keyboard waiting for an email from me, that’s not how it is. They’re out doing things. Teaching other classes, meeting with students, running errands… They might take some time to reply, and then even more time to help you with whatever you contacted them about. Sending them a second email won’t make it faster… it might even make them slower because they have another email to read. Professors are people. Remember that as I stop writing this to go refresh my email to see if my microbiology professor has replied.
Type in your professor’s email address after you’ve typed and proofread your email. There’s nothing worse than that horrifying moment when you accidentally send a half-written email to a professor. Do you just send the second half? Do you send an email apologizing, and then include the rest of it? This is a good tip when you’re emailing anyone to avoid those terrible half-done messages.
Emailing a professor can be downright awkward, but it doesn’t have to be if you remember to make it proper and include all and only the necessary information.
Have you ever accidentally sent a bad email? How do you email your professors?