This blog usually focuses on technologies and innovations for teaching and learning, especially in collegiate environments. Most of the readers are folks who are involved in these capacities in some ways in institutions of higher education. This week, I’m going to take a little detour. I’m writing this week’s post to students.
I don’t mean to be snarky or condescending with this post but you’re driving your professors crazy with your emails. My Facebook feed has been exploding with colleagues discussing the tone and professionalism of their students’ emails. With an eye towards educating those problematic email senders, I thought I’d compile a short list of email Do’s and Don’ts to help students craft better emails.
- DO read your syllabus before emailing. Most of the emails from students can be answered by looking through the syllabus. Sure, it was distributed at the start of the semester but it probably includes answers to the questions you have. Wondering if you have class this week? It’s in the syllabus. Wondering about the attendance policy? It’s in the syllabus. Planning to ask about the readings for tomorrow? I bet it’s in the syllabus. Start there.
- DO use a salutation to start your email and address your professor professionally. Sure, some professors don’t mind being called by their first names. Many others, however, prefer a more formal address in communications. Start the email with a “Dear Dr. Smith” or “Good Morning Professor White.” I know this is really formal for today’s communication avenues but an email to your professor isn’t the time to drop a “Yo” or “What’s up!”
- DO identify yourself by name. We teach a lot of Mary’s and Lyndsey’s. Let us know which one is emailing. It’s like the dentist. While you only have one dentist, each dentist may have thousands of patients. Narrow down the field when you email your professor by including your first and last name. Don’t assume that your email address will help them deduce who you are.
- DO include the class about which you’re emailing. When you say you have a question about next week’s class, understand that professors often teach classes on multiple days. Instead of being general, say something like “I am enrolled in your Wednesday morning section of ABCD 101.”
- DON’T ask whether you’ll “miss something important.” Professors mostly teach classes about which they’re tremendously passionate. We’ve dedicated huge chunks of our adult lives studying the subjects we teach and hold advanced degrees in the content area. Is it important? Absolutely. Instead, simply ask, “What will I be missing?” You’ll get a kinder response in return.
- DO give your professor some time to respond. One night a few years ago, I received multiple emails and follow-ups from a single student. The student assumed since I hadn’t responded that an additional email (or three) might be warranted. The problem with the student’s logic was that all of the emails were sent between 2 – 4 AM. While some professors are available by email at all hours of the day, give your professor at least 24 hours to respond before following up. If you’re emailing at a time when the college is typically closed (during breaks or over the weekends, for instance), allow extra response time.
- DO read the syllabus before emailing. I know this is the first item on the list but it’s so important that I chose to list it twice. Seriously. Read your syllabus.
- DO include a relevant subject line. Every day, professors receive hundreds of emails in their inbox. Make your email stand out by including a subject line that alerts your professor to the contents contained within.
- DO use appropriate grammar and spelling. An email to your professor isn’t the time for LOLs and OMGs. It’s also not the time to use hip alternate spellings for everyday words. Your email should be crafted using all of the proper punctuation and grammar that your middle school English teacher taught you.
- DON’T use all caps, emoticons or emojis. In text-based communications like email, we often adopt non-standard forms to convey added emotion and tone to the written words. We may add a smiley face or a word in all caps for emphasis. But the effectiveness of this communication depends on how they’re processed by the recipient. Rather than relying on these alternate devices, use your language effectively to communicate more clearly.