Ask a Gator: Email

How to send emails that sound professional

Sending emails is not as common in high school as it is in college. In high school, you really only ever needed to email teachers if they asked you to send them an assignment, and even then, that did not happen often. In college, especially during these times, email is the primary mode of communication. This can be attributed to the fact that you generally no longer see every instructor, every day. Regardless of the reason, it is very important to communicate regularly with your professors with any questions or concerns without spamming their inboxes.

The first tip for emailing professors is to make sure that you need to email them at all. Make sure you have searched for what you’re about to ask them on Canvas, WedAdvisor or previous emails before reaching out. For example, I went to log into a third-party website where I am to submit my economics homework, and was informed I need a classroom code. Before asking the professor, I searched my emails to make sure I did not already have the code. I then looked on Canvas, then in the syllabus, and near the bottom was the classroom code I needed. There is no point in emailing a professor with questions you can easily find the answer to yourself; while professors do not mind helping students through emails, it makes you look very unorganized and almost lazy. It is okay if you accidentally email your professor an easily-answered question, but you should not make a habit of doing so.

If you do end up needing to email the professor, the first thing to note is the subject line. Try to avoid using whole sentences, and instead paraphrase it into a few words. For example, instead of “I have a question about class,” you should simply put “Question about class” as the subject. If your question is about a specific assignment, instead of “I have a question about project three,” you should put “Question, project three.” The subject of your email should be concise without being too vague. An example of a vague subject heading would be just putting “Question;” this is not an appropriate subject unless the question relates to the class in general and is not about anything specific. Also, do not make your subject heading capitalized unless it is absolutely urgent; even then, refrain from capitalizing the entire thing, and instead try, “URGENT: Question, project three.”

Next is the salutation or greeting. Never start an email with “Dear (Professor);” they are not a dear one, and even if they are, it is wildly inappropriate to greet a professor with “dear” in an email. Depending on how well you know them, and what they prefer to be called, there are a number of better options. A safe bet is just a classic “hello.” This is not too formal, but also not informal, and you do not have to worry about addressing them by name if you don’t feel close enough to do so. This greeting is best for an email in which you are asking the professor something important, such as a reminder about a disability accommodation, a request for extra time on a project and other important matters. If you feel comfortable addressing your professor more casually, I would recommend starting with, “Hi (Professor’s First Name).” This greeting is less formal than a standard “hello,” but is more personal. While there is nothing wrong with starting an email with “hi,” I would not recommend doing so on an important email. This greeting is better suited for emails regarding questions about course materials, questions about what was covered in class, a request for additional help, etc. While there are other ways to begin an email, I would always recommend using one of these two salutations.

As for the letter body, the content varies on a case-to-case basis. In general, you want to make sure that you have no typos or grammatical errors in your email. You are an adult emailing another adult, and you need to keep it professional; this includes using proper spelling and grammar. Be sure to read through it twice before sending it to ensure that there are no errors and that you’ve included everything you need to. If you do forget to put something in the email, and have waited too long to press “undo,” immediately reply to the email you just sent, and put in whatever it was that you forgot. The worst thing you can do in this situation is respond with “oops, sorry, I forgot to mention,” and finish it off with “lol.” Always refrain from using abbreviations such as “lol,” “tysm” and “atm,” to name a few. Also, do not use emoji or emoticons. These are perfectly acceptable to use in emails to your friends and peers, but they are almost never appropriate in emails to professors. Follow up to your own email with, “Hello, I forgot to mention,” and finish it off with something to the effect of, “thank you for your patience!” If you really feel the need to apologize for sending a second email, you can end with, “sorry for any inconvenience,” although that really is not necessary. Any professor worth their salt will not feel bothered or inconvenienced by a follow-up email.

Finally, the signature line. This section is often debatable, and really comes down to personal preference. I always like to sign off emails thanking the professor for their time and understanding; however, some people think that this is tacky, given that the professor has yet to give time or be understanding, since you just sent the email. Either way is generally acceptable. It is not usually acceptable to put a P.S. at the end of your email. If you do, first try putting it in before thanking the professors using transitions such as “also,” “by the way,” etc. If it does not fit well using one of these, you can use a post-script, but do not put it after your signature. In your email settings, you can set a customized signature that it will automatically put at the end of every email. Students have signatures set up, as well as a lot of professors. This, once again, is personal preference. For example, I have my first and last name, my cell phone number, my majors, college and my leadership positions on campus. This is because I primarily email people regarding either my studies at Allegheny or the clubs I am in, so it makes sense to have in my signature my positions with various campus organizations. Some people have quotes in their signatures, others have pictures and others just have their first and last name. Regardless of what you put, keep it professional and don’t make it extremely long.

To summarize: keep the subject heading short and to the point; use a professional, appropriate greeting; double-check for errors in the body of the email and refrain from using slang, abbreviations, and emoticons and use personal judgement on the signature line. If you keep all of these things in mind, your professors will know that you are serious about your education here and will respect you as a learner.