The Dos and Don'ts of Sending Emails to Professors

Although email is a popular method of communication, students often have minimal experience using it. They’re much more used to texting — where it tends to be unnecessary to pay attention to grammar and punctuation and it’s common to add emojis. When you start university, though, you’ll need to learn to use email in certain circumstances, including for communication with your professors. If you’re not used to writing emails, there are a few things to keep in mind that you should and shouldn’t do.

Do: Send Emails from Your University Account

When you start university, you’ll receive an email address to use for all communication related to your academics. To ensure your professors see and open your messages, you should always use this account rather than your personal email. Emails coming from a personal address may end up in junk or never receive a reply.

Don’t: Expect an Immediate Response

Professors are busy people; it may take them a couple days or more to respond to your emails. If your query is urgent — such as if it relates to an assignment that’s due soon or if you’re unable to keep working on a paper until you have an answer — it’s reasonable to send a followup email if you don’t hear anything after two business days. Otherwise, you should wait a week before reaching out again.

Do: Add an Descriptive Subject Line

Let your professor know what the email is about from the start by adding a descriptive subject line. This will tell your professor how urgent the email is likely to be — plus, it will look more professional.

Don’t: Send Unnecessary Emails

It can be tempting to send your professor an email as soon as you realize you have a doubt. However, it’s worth seeking the answer elsewhere first when possible. For instance, you may find the solution in your syllabus or a previous email from your professor. Alternatively, a friend who is also taking the class may know the answer.

Your relationship with your professors is formal — the salutation in your emails should reflect this. Something like “Dear” or “Good morning” followed by the professor’s name is ideal. If you know how your professor prefers to be addressed, use this. Otherwise, “Professor [surname]” is fine.

Don’t: Write Extra-Long Emails

A second way emails can waste your professor’s time is when the message is much longer than it needs to be. Make sure you quickly get to the point and only include necessary information. If you need several paragraphs to explain the issue, it would be better to talk to your professor in person during office hours.

Do: Visit Your Campus Writing Centre for Support

If you have an especially important email to send, it’s worth paying your university’s writing center a visit. The staff can give you advice on striking the right tone, including all the relevant information, and structuring your email in a way that best presents your argument. They can also help you to proofread your email to find any mistakes you’ve overlooked.

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