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Proper email etiquette is a vital skill in all aspects of life, whether the email is for personal, professional or educational reasons. One lesser-known aspect of email etiquette is sending emails to professors. Some professors may not care how formal or informal an email is. However, many others will use your email etiquette to judge your professionality as a student. Also, many students don’t know how to effectively ensure that a professor understands why they are emailing. 

This article will help provide a framework to ensure that you are emailing your professor using proper etiquette, starting with how not to write an email. 

Improper Email Etiquette

Subject: Quick question

Hey Maria, 

About the assignment due this week, what is the expected word count?

Thanks,

Sarah

What’s Wrong?

Despite this email being relatively short, there is actually a lot wrong with it and many changes should be made to abide by the etiquette necessary when emailing a professor.

To start, in the subject and body of the email, there is no context to help the professor understand what it is that Sarah is asking. Often, professors teach several classes with several assignments being introduced, that are due and have been marked simultaneously. A course code and assignment name should be provided so the professor can quickly understand what is being asked and in what context. It can be extremely frustrating for professors to have to read between the lines or to ask for further clarity on simple questions. This only further delays the promptness of the student receiving a proper answer to their question.

Next, the introduction in this email is far too informal. Some professors may not mind being called by their first name; however, the email should always address the professor in the most formal way if there is any doubt. This means ‘Professor’ or ‘Dr.’ depending on the professor’s title. Typically, when sending emails using a simple ‘hello’ is the safest option. ‘Hey’ may come off as too informal to some professors and ‘dear’ is sometimes overly formal. 

The closing of the email also needs improvement. Most of the time, a ‘thanks’ is suitable, but if there is any doubt, don’t abbreviate and instead, write ‘thank you.’ Alternatively, if you are not writing a question, you should write ‘sincerely,’, ‘kind regards,’ or ‘best,’ to close your email. In terms of the email signature, first and last names should always be written. The student’s ID number should also be included if the professor needs to look into personal class information for that particular student.

This should already be assumed, but lastly, remember to check for spelling and grammatical errors, as well as general clarity. 

Now that some common mistakes have been pointed out, the following is the same email, but using proper email etiquette. 

Proper Email Etiquette

Subject: HI 347 Final Essay Question

Hello Dr. Marshall, 

Regarding the Final Essay for HI347, could you provide some clarity on the expected word count?

Kind regards,

Sarah Baker (Student Number)

Working towards proper email etiquette can go a long way in receiving information faster and building relationships with professors. Although it can be confusing sometimes, try to remember to be more formal when in doubt. Also, never forget to read over your email several times and check for grammar errors!

 

Nicole Clyde

Wilfrid Laurier '22

Nicole is a third-year student at Wilfrid Laurier University working towards an Honours BA in Global Studies with a Concentration in Peace and Conflict and a Minor in Philosophy. While she is not studying you can usually find her walking her dog, cooking, or at the gym.
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