A Collegiette's Unofficial Guide to Email Etiquette

Every college student in America today knows that emailing is a central part of being both a student and an employee. Much like writing letters that are sent via “snail mail,” emails have their own set of etiquette rules and guidelines, so we’ve compiled some advice for you to make sure your professional emails are always on point.

Use an automated signature.

If you don’t already have one, make yourself a signature that’s automatically attached to the end of your emails to make sure your messages always look sharp. Check out Google Support for how to set one up on your University of Minnesota G-Mail account. As a college student, your signature should have the following components:

  • Your full name

  • Your university

  • Your individual college within your university (if applicable), or your major(s) and minor(s)

  • Your phone number

If you currently have a job that is relevant to the career you hope to pursue, put your job title under your name, and the name of where you work underneath that. Also, slightly offset the font of your signature to make it stand out: make your name bold, or maybe change the color to something dark, but not black. No need to get too fancy!

Have a professional greeting and introduction.

Make a good first impression with a professional greeting in your email. Try to avoid using phrases like "hey" or "what's up." Instead, try using greetings like, "Good Morning" or "Hello." To perfect your introduction, ensure that you personalize it by using the recipient's name. Here's a great example: "Good Afternoon Professor Johnson,". Also be sure to introduce yourself if you're emailing this person for the first time. If you're emailing a professor, let them know what class you have with them. If you're emailing a potential employer or networking with someone, be sure to introduce yourself and say why you're reaching out to them, and if you were referred to them, by who. If you’re sending an email to an ambiguous address (i.e. [email protected]), be sure to start by introducing yourself and say who or what department you're trying to get in touch with. This allows whoever first receives the email to identify you and easily redirect your message if necessary. 

Keep it concise. 

Whether you’re reaching out with a question, following up on a job application, or just simply networking, it’s always a good idea to be clear and concise. Be sure to make it obvious why you're reaching out to that specific person and try to limit the length of your email, otherwise you may risk losing their attention. 

One example may be in reaching out to a professor. If you’re fixing an issue on your end, always start the email with how you solved (or attempted to solve) the problem, and then explain what the problem was in the first place. For example, “I’ve shared my final report with you through Google Drive, because the submission link on the Moodle page wasn’t loading properly,” shows initiative and sounds much more proactive than, “The submission link on Moodle isn’t loading properly. Should I share my final report with you through Google Drive?” 

Some Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO triple check that you’re spelling the recipient’s name correctly. Nothing looks more careless than misspelling something that’s right in front of you!
  • DON'T enter the recipient’s address in the “To” field until you have finished composing your email and attaching documents. This'll help prevent accidentally sending unfinished messages. It happens to the best of us.
  • DO break up your paragraphs wherever you can. Nobody likes reading a wall of text.
  • DON'T try to be humorous or sarcastic. It’s often hard to pick up on these things through text, and you want to avoid miscommunication at all costs.
  • DO proofread your message at least twice. Three times doesn’t hurt and neither does having a friend look over it. If you’re sending a longer and/or more important email, compose your message a day ahead of time, so you can proofread it one more time with fresh eyes before sending it.
  • DON'T forget a clear and concise subject - some employers or professors won't even read emails labeled (no subject)! 
  • DO mimic the recipient’s behaviors when you’ve been emailing back and forth. Behaviors include everything from tone, type of greeting and salutation and level of formality.
  • DON'Tuse idioms, especialy if your recipient’s first language might not be English. If you don’t know what an idiom is, check out this guide for some examples.

Hopefully you’ve found these tips helpful. Your emails will be beyond professional in no time.