Monday, January 10, 2005

How to e-mail a professor

[By a professor, for students. As of August 2014, this post has been visited by close to half a million readers, from Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia And Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, the Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guam, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territory, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, the Virgin Islands, and Zimbabwe. Welcome, everyone.]

I've read enough e-mails to know that many college students could benefit from some guidelines for writing an e-mail to a professor. Here they are:

Write from your college or university e-mail account. That immediately lets your professor see that your e-mail is legitimate and not spam. The cryptic or cutesy or salacious personal e-mail address that might be okay when you send an e-mail to a friend is not appropriate when you're writing to a professor.

Include the course number in your subject line. "Question about 3009 assignment" is clear and sounds genuine, while "a question" looks like spam. "Question about English assignment" or "question about assignment," without identifying the class you're in, may leave your professor with the chore of figuring that out. For someone teaching large lecture classes, that might mean reading through hundreds of names on rosters. But even for a professor with smaller classes, it's a drag to get an e-mail that merely says "I'm in your English class and need the assignment." All your English professor's classes are English classes; she or he still needs to know which one is yours.

Consider, in light of this advice, the following examples:

An e-mail from "qtpie2005" with the subject line "question."

An e-mail from a university account with the subject line "question about English 2011 essay."
Which one looks legitimate? Which one looks like spam?

Think about what you're saying. Most students are not accustomed to writing to their professors. Here are some ways to do it well:
Choose an appropriate greeting. "Hi/Hello Professor [Blank]" is always appropriate. Substitute "Dear" and you've ended up writing a letter; leave out "Hi" and your tone is too brusque.

Avoid rote apologies for missing class. Most professors are tired of hearing those standard apologies and acts of contrition. If you missed class because of some especially serious or sad circumstances, it might be better to mention that in person than in an e-mail.

Ask politely. "Could you e-mail me the page numbers for the next reading? Thanks!" is a lot better than "I need the assignment."

Proofread what you've written. You want your e-mail to show you in the best possible light.

Sign with your full name, course number, and meeting time.

        Maggie Simpson
        English 3703, MWF 10:00

Signing is an obvious courtesy, and it eliminates the need for stilted self-identification ("I am a student in your such-and-such class").
One don't, and one last do:

Don't send unexpected attachments. It's bad form. Attaching an essay with a request that your professor look it over is very bad form. Arrange to meet your professor during office hours or by appointment instead. It's especially bad form to send an e-mail that says "I won't be in class today," with a paper or some other coursework attached. Think about it: Your professor is supposed to print out your essay because you're not coming to class?

When you get a reply, say thanks. Just hit Reply and say "Thanks," or a little bit more if that's appropriate. The old subject line (which will now have a "Re:" in front) will make the context clear. I don't think that you need to include a greeting with a short reply, at least not if you refer to your professor in your reply. And you don't need to identify yourself by course number and meeting time again.

Many e-mail messages end up never reaching their intended recipients, for reasons of human and technological error, so it's always appropriate to acknowledge that someone's message got through. It's also plain courtesy to say thanks. (Your professor will remember it too.) When you reply, you should delete almost everything of your professor's reply (quoting everything is rarely appropriate in e-mail). Leave just enough to make the original context clear.

So what would a good e-mail to a professor look like?
Hi Professor Leddy,

I'm working on my essay on William Carlos Williams and I'm not sure what to make of the last stanza of "Spring and All." I'm stuck trying to figure out what "It" is. Do you have a suggestion? Thanks!

Maggie Simpson
Eng 3703, MWF 10:00
And a subsequent note of thanks:
> "It" is most likely spring, or life itself. But have you
> looked up "quicken"? That'll probably make
> "It" much clearer.

It sure did. Thanks for your help, Professor.

Maggie Simpson
[How to e-mail a professor is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License. Revised September 26 and October 29, 2005; February 4, 2006. ]

More useful stuff for students:
Beware of the saurus
Grammarly and WhiteSmoke (Save your money)
Granularity for students
How to answer a question in class
How to be a student a professor will remember (for the right reasons)
How to do well on a final exam
How to do horribly on a final exam
How to punctuate a sentence
How to punctuate more sentences
How to talk to a professor
How to unstuff a sentence
Is this honor society legitimate?
"Rewording"
Rule 7
Seeing professors clearly
Slow down and read
Study = hard work
Studying alone, really alone
Syllabus week
Yo, professor!
And for professors:
How to e-mail a student
And if you want to read the most recent posts on Orange Crate Art, here's the front page.

[Some further thoughts: I'm astonished by the amount of interest in this post--over 1,600 visits in the past two days. Then again, there really isn't anything very similar on-line--or if there is, I haven't found it--so if what I've written is useful, well, I'm happy.

My one purpose in writing these guidelines was to help college students write to their professors with greater ease and maturity and a better sense of audience (instead of "i am a student in your class"). They're guidelines for writing to a professor, any professor, in the absence of other guidelines. And they're meant to keep the e-mailer in the high esteem of any professor to whom he or she is writing.

Most of the reasoning behind the guidelines is omitted for concision. But I'll elaborate a little here. Why, for instance, write from a university account? A professor filtering spam will almost certainly also have a filter to okay mail from addresses from her or his "edu." So if you want your mail to get through, an "edu" account is a smart choice. Many schools require students to use those accounts for official school business already. Writing from an appropriate address is smart practice for the future too. (I always say something when I see a tacky or juvenile e-mail address on an otherwise polished student résumé.)

Why say "Hi/Hello Professor [Blank]?" Well, what should a student call a professor? Some people like "Doctor"; some don't. Some people don't have a doctorate. Some people don't explain any of that to students. There was a great piece in the Chronicle about this subject not long ago--"What Should We Call the Professor?" Professor, in the absence of any other guidelines, seems like a good choice.

Having received many telegraphic one-sentence e-mails, often with no greeting, no thank-you, and no signature, I find them weirdly depersonalized: "I need the assignment." I do think a question is better, better even than a polite "Please send the assignment," because the question is more conversational, more human. (But if a student e-mails me and says "I need the assignment," I send it.)

Why sign with your name, class, and meeting time? It's a courtesy, yes, but it also avoids the awkward "My name is . . . , and I am a student in your such-and-such class," all of which is taken care of in the signature. It occurs to me that "My name is . . . , and I am a student in . . ." is telling evidence of the unfamiliarity of e-mail as a way for students to communicate with professors.

I appreciate the point several commenters have made about a follow-up thank-you being unneeded. Still, a lot of e-mail doesn't get through, and the follow-up, to my mind, closes the loop. Many people do a follow-up by using the subject line to say thanks, often followed by the abbreviation "eom" (end of message). That seemed to me too arcane to recommend. But I do like the idea of closing the loop by saying yes, I got it, thanks.

I hope that this post leads to much more talking on the part of professors and students about communicating by e-mail. All reports from the business world point to enormous problems of clarity, correctness, and decorum with e-mail writing. Maybe things can start to go better in college.

Added September 30, 2005; revised October 29, 2005.]

comments: 139

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the help. This was just the thing i was looking for and i think that everybody should read this.
Example:


Hi profesor Gusev

I'm sending this mail so you would assign me a project.

From:
Name LastName
index

tim said...

Hi Professor:

I work at a university in Idaho and am in charge of leadership development (especially in the area of extracurricular activites). This is a superb post that I will pass on to my students. Their professors will be very grateful for your insightful comments.

tim
http://studentlinc.typepad.com

Anonymous said...

This makes sense for professors who teach large lectures.

However, as a student, I hate feeling like just another number and grade to professors. Its my #1 pet peeve at my university.

If I'm in a class with under 25 students, where discussion is common, I expect to be able to email the professor with a question about the material and have him or her know who I am.

In large lectures, with smaller sections, I expect to be able to email the TA and have him or her know who I am.

Is this just because I'm a whiny, self-centered and self-righteous student? Probably, because most of us are. Still, it is professional courtesy that anyone would expect of someone they work with or for, day in and day out.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the comments, Tim and anonymous readers. Anonymous 2, I wholly agree that you should be able to count on a prof in a small class knowing who you are. (I know all of my students, by name and class.)

I've received many e-mails from students with no signature and nothing more than the cryptic e-mail address my school issues (e.g., "cukl6," no first or last name) to let me figure out who's writing. So my recommendation here is the result of wondering, "Who is this?"

ei-nyung said...

Hi Professer,

Just last week, I wrote a very similar post regarding what a good email to a co-worker looks like versus a bad email, with examples of each. :) I really enjoyed reading your tips, because it really is about being considerate and doing your part in the communication process as a student, instead of creating extra work for the recepient. Thank you.

AllanH said...

With only minor modifications for context, these rules/tips apply to any email situation -- even between friends.

Those of us that recieve high volumes of email are always frustrated by friends/colleagues who just have no clue about email ettiquette and do things like change the subject on every reply or use all-caps or don't quote back. And yes, spelling and grammar still count -- even when you're saying "Let's meet for some beer at the pub!".

:-)

Thanks for posting this. I've added it to my del.icio.us (I found it through it's popular feed).

Cheers!

Allan

Anonymous said...

I will add this to my Yahoo thing, too. I'm e-mailing a lot of professors these days...

Anonymous said...

Lucky for me I have never had a class tought by such a prima donna

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? This is common sense. What kind of dumb, b-rate institutions are you guys affiliated with?

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I'm a Uni lecturer in the UK, and this really hit home. I am going to put the URL in my students' module guides from now on!

Just one point - it would be great if I could know all the names of students even in small (<25) classes. Both I and the students themselves would get more from it. If this was the only group I came into contact with, no problem. But remember, I have lots of these groups. And had lots last year too. And the year before.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything here but the final "Thanks" reply. I can only imagine if everyone I email throughout the day replied with that type of acknowledgement. I would spend a large portion of the day just deleting these types of replies!

If someone shows courtesy in their request, your reply should be the end of the email conversation. There is no need to clutter email inboxes with one word "Thanks" replies. However, if the request is answered over and beyond the call of duty, someone should certainly show courtesy in that instance with a reply.

Just my preference. Nice post.

Liz Marks said...

A colleague passed this on to me. Definitely posting it on my class websites :> I often teach three sections of the same class so having students mention which section they're in so I can find them on my roster is extremely helpful.

Though I too actually prefer not to get replies unless they're bringing up a new question or subject.

Anonymous said...

You remarked that you are surprised by the popularity of you post. I believe it's so popular because it's been added to del.icio.us by 57 people. I thought you might find that interesting.

http://del.icio.us/popular/university

David said...

Bless you. Keep fighting the good fight.

Askrra said...

Good set of instructions, but as a student in a non-english University have found that e-mails should be writen in english.

Also have found that most Perfessors ansewer in one-line ansewers that go along the lines of "Come to my office hours"

Please, profesers and lecturers, when are these hours, they are not posted on line, only in the departments office!

Thank you

Melanie said...

To the anonymous students complaining about this post:

The guidelines above are perfectly reasonable. In a business environment, they would be considered standard. In any case, isn't it in your best interests to make life easier for your professor when you email him or her? It stands to reason that a student following the guidelines above will leave a good impression, whereas qtpie_69@hotmail.com who is brusque and rude won't.

banzai said...

[to rude Anoymous posters]
It also stands to reason that if you are asking someone for a favor (sending you the assignment), being polite about it works way better than being snide.

[Professor Leddy]
Common sense rules, thanks. I work as a sysadmin at a university and we plan on using these as a framework for guidelines for students who email us with problems or questions on our servers.

And since we open a "problem ticket" for each contact, a thank you will let us know that our suggestion has solved their problem and we can close the ticket.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the appreciative words, Melanie and banzai.

Cindy said...

Just a note: I think your tips are incredibly helpful, the only criticism that I have is with your example of the student question about the Williams essay example. Thing is, I tell my students that in general if they have questions of this sort, they should be addressed in my office. The medium of email should simply be used (in these kinds of cases) to set up the appointment and perhaps explain what the nature of the question is. And, just a note to Askrra: I'm not sure what kind of institution you attend, but at mine the instructors always make their office hours available to students on the syllabus, which is handed out on the first day of class. I am, however, constantly amazed at the number of students who don't know this because they don't bother to read the syllabus at all.

Anonymous said...

I found these tips belittling to me as a student. While some are understandable, most of it is so strict that I feel like I'm bowing down to the professor instead of treating them as a normal person, as other professors have told me they like better. Maybe it's just because my particular professor wanted me to look at this and I did all the (right) things.

Anonymous said...

As a university professor I don't want anyone to bow down to me, but I do expect some respect for me a person with a life. Students have come to expect constant and immediate atention every question and get indignant if it is not instantaneously forthcoming.
I do not feel that I am 'on call'. I have generous office hours when students can come, sit down with me and usually get a much more satisfying answer or solution to their problems.

Anonymous said...

I very strongly feel that a “thank you” acknowledgement is required for any e-mail request - the lack of it is simply rude.

You are asking someone for something (information, help, .. ) and they are responding. That minimally merits a “thank you”.

Would you think it would be ok to walk into your Prof’s office, ask a question, get the answer and then simply turn around and walk out without saying a word (or hanging up the phone after you get your answer)?? I would hope not. A thank you is simple courtesy.

Using technology doesn’t mean you can be rude; there are still people at the other end of your e-mail. I would not treat my students or colleagues that way, and I expect the same from them.

Thank you.

ps: I also agree with the generally useless/wasteful inclusion of the whole message being replied to. Either delete it totally, or only leave in the relevant parts.

Michael Leddy said...

Cindy, your comment helps make clear that individual guidelines are exactly what profs need to make clear to students. (The guidelines I've written are to use in the absence of any other guidelines, as I say in my post.) I though would much rather get the question by e-mail and write back, while the student is perhaps still working on the essay. (That happens often, and I think it's rather cool.)

Anonymous 1, maybe you could think of these guidelines as meant for someone who's not already doing the right things. To me, they really do apply to writing to a "normal" person -- write from a suitable address, use a clear subject line, say hello, and so on -- all basic courtesy, no? News articles about e-mail communication in the working world would indicate that many people could begin to get much better at it in college.

Anonymous 2, I guess that my attitude about e-mail and yours differ. I too put in lots of time in office hours, but I don't mind answering questions online, if they can be answered well in that way. I would say that the quality of the e-mails I get from my students has greatly improved since I began asking everyone to read these guidelines.

And on that happy note, I will say thanks to everyone for the comments.

Michael Leddy said...

Anonymous 3, I didn't mean to ignore you -- you were posting while I was writing the previous comment. As you can see from the other comments here, there's no consensus about saying thanks. To my mind though, it's never a bad idea. Thanks for your comment!

Antonio Ramirez said...

Another good reason to sign with name, class, and section number is to avoid further email exchange that would otherwise be necessary.

For instance:

Student: Hello, can you please let me know what my grade was?

Me: OK, but what section are you in?

Student: Oh sorry, it's section 219B.

Tarakuanyin said...

I'm a professor and I intend to direct students to this post from now on. I have suggested similar guidelines in my syllabi, but haven't done so in such detail. Also, about the thanks, I agree. I always drop students a line to let them know I've received their emails, and I appreciate those few who thank me for sending them the assignment. It takes a fraction of a second to delete each one, and it gives me pleasure to receive them.

Then there are the few who say, "Did you get my email?" and when I say, "Yes, did you get my reply with the assignment included?" they respond, "Oh, I didn't check." Hmmmmm.....

Michael Leddy said...

"Then there are the few who say, 'Did you get my email?' and when I say, 'Yes, did you get my reply with the assignment included?' they respond, 'Oh, I didn't check.'"

I've had that happen too, Tarakuanyin, sometimes after writing rather lengthy replies about complicated questions and problems. Those situations are what prompted me to suggest saying thanks. But now I'm sometimes adding "(no need to reply)" after my signature to cut down on pro forma thank-yous.

Anonymous said...

Professor Leddy,

I'm afraid I don't understand why writing "My name is So-and-So, and I'm in your Such-and-Such class" in the beginning of an email is considered impolite or lacking in understanding of one's audience. It seems to me that without that tiny introduction, the email seems too abrupt. If I'm not mistaken, one of the points you made in your article was that an email to a professor should be like a polite, mannerly conversation. Well, in a real-life conversation, one wouldn't just come up to someone and start randomly saying things or asking for favors - they would have to introduce themselves first. "My name is So-and-So, and I'm in your Such-and-Such class" is just that.

Michael Leddy said...

That's a good observation. I don't think it's at all impolite to say "My name is," etc., but I do think it's somewhat stilted. If someone signs with her or his name and class, it seems to me that "My name is" becomes unnecessary. Not in some way wrong, but just not needed. If the subject line names the class and the e-mail begins with a greeting (making it already obvious that the writer is a student in a particular class), I'd say that the signature is enough to identify the writer in an appropriate way.

Keep in mind too that the examples in my post assume that the student is in a class and is thus known to the professor. But even if not, I still think that leaving one's name for the end (where it's going to have to show up anyway) is fine.

CJS said...

Michael:

Your original post on this subject was so relevant and so effective that I've permalinked to it from our School of Music's student "Resources" page. Excellent and practical advice--and can only improve professors' email quality-of-life!

Thanks.

cjs

Anonymous said...

Michael Leddy,

This was post was extremely useful, and was a great help. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi professor,
This post is greatly useful for a student like me.
Thanks.
XYZ

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Anons and CJS. I'm happy that students and faculty continue to find this post helpful.

Dilliana said...

This was a very interesting article, I learned that as a student it is important to send your student e-mail address from your school to the professor. That way, the teacher knows it was you who did send the e-mail, and not someone else.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this blog, but wanted to suggest one additional thing. Under your "Talking to a Professor" post, you mentioned that instead of asking "what are your office hours?" that the student should first check the syllabus to see if they are listed. That is how I feel about asking about assignments as well. I am a math professor and the assignments for the ENTIRE semester are included in the syllabus, along with what day's lecture will cover the relevant material and when the assignments are due. Even with all of that information, I still get students that miss class and then write me asking for the assignment. Students need to get in the habit of checking the available resources before sending these types of emails.

Djellel said...

Dear Professor,
Thank your for that very usefull blog.
I have one question about sending emails to abroad professors (Japan).
Is their any special rules to write an email to a professor asking him to be one of his research students.

Best regards

Michael Leddy said...

Hellp Djellel,

I think it's unlikely that a professor would be able to respond to an e-mail with this kind of request. I think that you would need to begin by applying to the school where you'd like to study.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the information. Do you have any advice regarding emails to law professors. I will begin law school this coming fall, so I do not know the Prof. and their preferences.

Thanks!

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., I'd suggest waiting to see if your professors offer any guidelines. If they don't, I'd just follow the guidelines here — they're suitable, I think, for any academic e-mail.

Anonymous said...

I am a professor, and I happened upon your page while looking for a link to place it my syllabi about emailing me. If I get ONE MORE email that does not contain capital letters or complete words, I may lose what is left of my patience with this issue.

do not write UR prof lk U R txting a friend!

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor Leddy,

I would like your response to two questions if you don't mind.

First, I've included an "Email Rules" section to my syllabus. I've slightly changed some of the things you suggested, but where should i place your name on the printed syllabus since such ideas mainly derive from your post?

Second, with respect to the above post, is it pretentious to ask students to refer to me in emails as "Professor" even though I am an ABD part-time faculty member. When I had students call me by my first name they emailed me in a less professional and slightly "too comfortable" format.

Just curious about your thoughts on these matters. Thanks, Dissertator

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for asking, Anon.

If you're giving students rules of your devising inspired by what I've written here, you could give my name, the post title, and the URL (informal but completely acceptable).

If you've read Ben Yagoda's "What Should We Call the Professor?" (there's a link in this post), you know that name preferences vary. I suggest "Professor" if a student has been given no indication about what to say. I like "Mr." and "Ms.," either of which seems like a good alternative to "Professor." You can cue students via your e-mail rules and syllabus as to what they should call you. To me, first names for professors have always seemed a little weird for all involved. The distance that comes with "Mr." or "Ms." or "Prof." is appropriate, I'd say.

Anonymous said...

I am a Professor and would only disagree with one of Professor Leddy's points. A student does not have to reply to my email with a "Thanks" - I assume you are happy to get what you asked for and lowers the clutter in my email account.

Michael Leddy said...

As I wrote, "I do like the idea of closing the loop by saying yes, I got it, thanks." I think it's good practice unless someone tells you otherwise.

Theresa said...

I am missing something - what is the difficulty with putting your office hours into a sig line that you use in your reply?

Some students have work during those hours, or will be unable to meet with you before they need their question/s answered.

There are serious students; if we're asking for something it's because we need it, not because we're trying to create difficulties.

This cuts both ways. I had a professor that announced that he was going to hold a review for the final exam. That day I waited at least 2-3 hours past when I usually would have left campus.

He never showed up, nor did anyone else in the class. Another teacher told me he was gone for the day. When I asked at the exam, everyone looked at me like I was stupid, and most said it was obvious he had been kidding. They blew off the class and I didn't - it wasn't funny to me.

The supposed review was on a different day than normal, thankfully one I did not have to work. I would have been in trouble then.

I have known of at least one studentwho dropped a class because of his inabiiity to get out on time; they had been told if they were late to work, they would lose their jobs. Some students have professors that will drop/fail them from the class if they are late. Things to consider. Being able to immediately look at your professor's office hours, in their reply, while trying to judge your time as well, is very helpful.

I try to treat my professors and classmates seriously and professionally, until I find to do otherwise. Usually I get the same treatment in return.

Michael Leddy said...

It sounds to me, Theresa, as though you've been in some situations with faulty communication. Most professors, the overwhelming majority of professors, include office hours on their syllabi. Most professors are willing to talk to students at other times too (notice in my post that I mention making an appointment).

A syllabus without office hours seems to me a bad sign — it suggests that the person teaching isn't really thinking about her or his responsibility to students.

jpatrick said...

Dear Professor,
Such fine and infinite rules and regulations for writing e-mails to a superior. However, since I am also of the same profession, I am writing to congratulate you on covering all aspects of e-mail ettiquette with the exception of equality of status.
I am looking forward to this class as a review of my best literary English friends. I also teach European literature, the Greek and Roman classics and enjoy how English literature is based on the latter. As an English adjunct,I also teach music history, theory and instrumentation at NOVA, Manassas Campus, Virginia, for the past few years. Full time,however, I teach Latin at Central H.S., Woodstock, Virginia, and take classes with ELI on a regular basis in art, history, world literature, German, and other language classes.
Sincerely yours in the celebration of ongoing scholarship,
Jean M. Patrick, Ph. D.

nitesh said...

This is very helpful. Thank you.

JP said...

I am so happy to have found your guidelines. Thank you for taking the time to write this for students.

I have two problems on which I would very much appreciate some advise on:

1. I have an on-going illness that sometimes prevents me from e-mailing back a professor saying thank you at a timely manner. What is an appropriate late e-mail reply to a professor?

2. My illness creates a lot of difficulties in my academic life so that many times I have to arrange extensions or end up dropping the course. When I am not sure what I should do at that moment about the course in a difficult time, how should I communicate that to a professor via e-mail? (I know seeing them in person is probably the best, but often at these times, I am unable to.)


Thank you so much!

Michael Leddy said...

JP, for #1, I'd suggest explaining the situation in advance: "I may not be able to reply immediately," and so on. For #2, I'd suggest telephoning during office hours. It's easier to talk about alternatives and choices than to work them out via e-mail. If a phone call isn't possible, I'd suggest e-mailing and asking your professor what he or she thinks you should do.

I wish you the best in dealing with illness and your studies.

And thanks, Jean and Nitesh, for your comments.

JP said...

Thank you so much for your advice!

Marie said...

Oh my. You had to tell them this? College students? Oh my again.

Sigh. I lead a very sheltered (and, it would seem, polite) life.

Michael Leddy said...

JP, a belated "You're welcome."

Marie, yes. But I don't mind! Many students treat e-mail too casually ("Hey prof") or too stiffly ("Dear Professor, I am a student in your," etc.). I'm happy to do what I can to improve the quality of academic life (for me and for anyone else).

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you can help me in writing a friendly but informative e-mail reminder to a professor who submitted a wrong grade for me. I had told my professor about it but I haven't seen any grade changes in 2 weeks and I have something like this already planned:

"Hi Dr. (So and So),

I was looking over my final grades for (class and course number) online, and my transcript has not shown any grade changes to an A according to your records.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take for a grade change to be made and I was wondering if I should expect any changes soon. Thank you for your time and I apologize for any inconvenience.

My Full name
Student ID number"


Would this be clear and precise enough for a professor? Thanks.

Michael Leddy said...

You've drafted a clear and thoughtful e-mail, Anon.

I'd make one suggestion. The final sentence is kinda formulaic. I'd suggest thanking your prof for taking the time to change the grade and then offering some good wishes for the summer.

Best wishes in communicating with your professor.

Anonymous said...

great post

мя ΛЩƧӨMΣ said...

Thanks very much for this info.

artsysstr said...

Michael,

I really appreciate your post, as an instructor with an average of 4 Art Appreciation classes online every term.

For the reason that I may have 100+ students in four different classes, I ask my students to include the course# or section# in the SUBJECT line, as well. ( All student email is archived by the instructor by section# ). Also suggested is a phone number in the BODY of the email, in order to expedite communication.

I'm particularly glad you emphasize using a college email address. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most important to students is the email doesn't end up in the instructor's spam.

Great post. Helpful to students and instructors alike. Thank you.

Paula King
UNM Prof
ARTH 101, Online
UNM Taos campus

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., мя ΛЩƧӨMΣ, Paula, thank you all for your comments. It makes me happy to have written something that so many people find useful.

rmcdonog said...

Thank you for the helpful information and thorough presentation.
Sincerely,
Robert McDonough

Nels said...

A few months late, but for the student dealing with a serious illness (JP), I would advise her or him to find out who on campus handles all issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are supposed to be the ones to work with you in contacting your professors and developing legal, ethical, and fair strategies for handle classwork as it relates to any illness. Professors are legally required to make certain concessions in regard to certain illnesses, and the university's ADA contact is the one to make sure that happens.

This is a great post that I'm having my students read for class today (in preparation for writing an email to me as part of a professional writing assignment).

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor,

Thank you for your useful guidlines. I have also read your guidelines on how to talk to a professor.

And I wonder if you could give me advice on how to email a professor asking if he has any comments on my paper. I know a professor who teaches at another university, and I have asked him to review my paper, and he was very kind accepting my request. He said he would reply earlier. Now, it has been over 2 weeks and I have not heard from him. Would you please suggest me what to say in my email so that the professor would know that I do not mean to be pushy, but just to check if he has any comments?

Thank you for your time.

Anonymous Student

Michael Leddy said...

Hello Anonymous Student,

People in academic life often need to be prodded a bit when it comes to following through. They often know this about themselves too.

I would suggest writing an e-mail that mentions the date on which your sent your work and adds a sentence or two about looking forward to receiving comments. The professor will probably realize that he needs to follow through. Or he might beg off as too busy. But either way, you’ll know what’s happening and not just be waiting without a response.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much. Now I feel more confident to email the professor.

Anonymous Student

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor,

Thank you for these guidelines. I was wondering if I used an appropriate format writing to my professors and found them very helpful. I will definitely pass them to my friends. I wish you Merry Christmas and a happy New Year...

Student

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your good wishes, Anon. I’m glad you found these guidelines helpful and wish you the best for 2010.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post. I was to ask my professor about some certain things and it did help a lot.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this document on how to write a professor an e-mail. I learned a lot that I didn't know before.

Ellen Robison said...

In e-mailing a professor, I learned one does not use cutsey wording, but writes in clear and concise explanations of any problems. Also, a Professor is never addressed as "Dear Professor--", "Hello, Professor" being more impersonal.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Anon., Anon., and Ellen, for your comments.

Ellen, to my mind, the use of “Hello” or “Hi” is not impersonal at all. “Hello” or “Hi” is friendly and colloquial. “Dear” sounds more like something that begins a letter. It’s the absence of any word before the recipient’s name that seems, to me, brusque and impersonal.

bowman_chase said...

thanks for writing this Mike!

PS - I love how you originally said "an university" and then somehow corrected yourself and made it "a university" later on.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the correction. I’m surprised that the mistake stood as long as it did.

Gigi said...

Michael,
I just found this after a quick google search on how to write an e-mail to your professor after receiving a very informal e-mail (Hey,what's up) from one of my students!
No class information and no signature.
I am sending this post to all of my students. It seems lately the e-mails are getting more and more informal and harder to decode!!
Thank you!

Michael Leddy said...

Gigi, you’re welcome. I hope it helps (it should).

Josh said...

This is so clear and helpful -- thank you. I've started putting a link to this website on my syllabi (also asking that students give me at least a day or two to respond, and don't use email as a 911 emergency service for last-minute requests)!

Michael Leddy said...

Josh, you’re welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting.

andrea martin said...

Hi Professor Leddy,
I wanted to take the time to thank you for the wonderful information you have given me. It is my first time in college and my first time in school in over 16, years. It really made sense to me and I have always worried about e-mailing my professors. I was always afraid to say something stupid or unintentionally offending. Thankyou so much
sincerly andrea

Michael Leddy said...

Andrea, thanks for your comment. I’m glad to know that you’ve found this post useful. I wish you all the best in college.

katherine said...

Thanks for the info! This was really helpful.
My university, however, has vaguely named "Instructors" who may or may not have a PhD. How would one address these? Certainly not "Hi Instructor ....", right?
Thanks!

Michael Leddy said...

Katherine, you’re welcome. If the instructor has given no clue, I’d say that “Professor [Last name]” is the best choice. Ben Yagoda’s “What Should We Call the Professor?” is worth reading on these questions (there’s a link in the post).

Camille said...

Hi Professor Leddy,

Excellent tips! But there's still one problem with the name conventions that I haven't seen addressed in any post on this topic. I always address my emails to "Prof. ", but the vast majority of them sign their replies as "First Name" (yes, I go to a tiny West Coast liberal arts college). Is this an invitation to address them by their first name in subsequent replies? Or are they simply signing as they always do, and expect me to continue with the same level of formality that I started with?

Michael Leddy said...

When I was in grad school, a professor of mine, Bill Youngren, made his preference clear in replying to a note I’d written him, addressed to “Dr. Youngren”: “It’s Bill!” And after that, it was. Your profs aren’t being as insistent, but it does sound as though first names are their general preference. If in talking with profs you call them by their first names, I’d say to do the same in e-mail. If doing so just seems too weird, keep typing “Prof.” I don’t think they’ll mind.

By the way, on the Internets, I’m “Michael.”

Anonymous said...

I am a sophomore now and I just wanted to thank you for what was probably the most helpful advice I have received regarding communicating with professors via email. Thank you!

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Anon.!

kharda said...

Thanks for your guidelines, Professor Leddy.

I don't know you before, because i just use google to find any source that can give me some advice :).

And i get it here. Thanks once again :).

Kharda
Indonesia

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for commenting, Kharda. It makes me happy to know that people find this post helpful.

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor,

I really appreciate all the pointers you've given in this article. I have just one question: what should one do if a professor doesn't respond?

The logical thing to do would be to send a follow up email, but as we know, professors are busy people. How do we send follow up emails to avoid annoying professors who simply do not want to respond in order to refuse, say, a request such as writing a recommendation letter?

Would love to hear everyone's opinion!


Cheers
Ella

Michael Leddy said...

I would suggest calling or dropping in during office hours. If neither is possible, a written note in the prof’s mailbox might work.

By the way, when it comes to a letter of recommendation, it’s always better to ask in person if possible.

Daniel said...

Professor Leddy,

I am a fellow teacher at EIU (graduate student TA in the Communication Studies department) and fully intend on printing and passing out these recommendations to my class on Friday. I am really fed up with low-quality e-mails that are not well thought-out and, to be frank, just plain rude.

One recommendation that I have is to add in something about punctuation and capitalization. Though I think this is implicit in your post, sometimes students need to be given explicitly precise instructions. If they are not, they do not seem to use their common sense to fill in the gaps, it would seem. Then again, some don't listen even if you do tell them explicitly what you want anyway.

Either way, awesome post! Thank you!

Daniel Douglas

Michael Leddy said...

Daniel, thanks for writing. (On the Internets, I’m just Michael.)

Your point about punctuation and capitalization is a good one. I think that I probably left it out so as not to appear condescending. The advice to proofread and the sample e-mail at the end of the post kinda make that point implicitly.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am finding this very helpful. What do I say to a Professor in an e-mail if it is a request to re-write a test that I got a really bad mark on?
Thanks

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., I would not e-mail a professor with this request, for a couple of reasons. One is that no ethical professor can arrange a retake for one student without making it available to all students. A second is that it is better to talk about grades in person. I would suggest going in during office hours to get some advice about how to do better in the class.

A lowly graduate student said...

Thought you would appreciate the perspective from the graduate students' side...

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1047

:)

Michael Leddy said...

There’s much truth in that comic strip, grad student. I am close to several students who have had to write exactly this sort of e-mail to non-responding or ultra-brusque profs. My resemblance to the guy in the comic goes only so far as the beard.

Your ID made me smile — when I was a grad student, I too added the lowly. Reaching a higher level and becoming lowly: only in academia.

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor,

Thank you for this blog -- I've found it to be most helpful.

I'm a third year English student and there is a particular professor for whom I'd love to do research. Is it realistic for an English undergrad to get a research position at this point in time? If so, how should I go about doing it? Thank you in advance!

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., this sort of work would usually be reserved for graduate students. Another possibility, if your school supports undergraduate research, might be to do a project of your own with the professor.

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor,

I really Enjoyed Reading Your Blog.I Find It Very HelpfuL But Im A Little Confuse On Why Not To Start Off By Stating your Name First.Most Professors Want It Wrote Like That.Other Than That Thanks!

Michael Leddy said...

I can’t agree that most professors want e-mails written that way. Think about other forms of written communication: you don’t begin by announcing your name; you close with it, in a signature. Besides, your professor has already seen your name before opening the e-mail.

Most professors do like to see their students taking care with their writing. Unless you’re pulling my leg, you should take more care with capitalization and punctuation and verbs:

“I really enjoyed reading your blog. I found it very helpful. But I’m a little confused about why you shouldn’t begin by stating your name. Most professors want it written that way. Other than that, thanks!”

You’re welcome!

Anonymous said...

Hi Professor,

I would like to make a minor correction to your correction above:

“I really enjoyed reading your blog. I found it very helpful, but I’m a little confused about why you shouldn’t begin by stating your name. Most professors want it written that way. Other than that, thanks!”

You can't begin a sentence with the word "but"!

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., trust me: it’s perfectly acceptable to begin a sentence with a conjunction. Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage quotes H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage: “The supposed rule is without foundation in grammar, logic, or art.” Garner adds, “It is a gross canard that beginning a sentence with but is stylistically slipshod. In fact, doing so is highly desirable in any number of contexts.”

The only “rule” against beginning with a conjunction is the kind that teachers make up to prevent their students from turning in essays in which sentence after sentence after sentence begins with a conjunction. I’d liken this rule to other rules regulating behavior: no candy before dinner, no television after ten o’clock. But there’s no grammatical rule prohibiting a conjunction at the start of a sentence. And that’s the truth.

matt said...

Great article. Sounding intelligent in emails is a big hurdle that alot of young people have trouble jumping. Grammar is important in just about every aspect of communication, not excluding online communication.

Margarita Rosario said...

The most important things to remember is that you are emailing your professor and not your friend. You must refrain from using slang or text-messaging lingo. Be professional and courteous. Make sure to completely identified yourself when sending your email so that your email reaches the professor and does not end up in the spam or trash folder.

Dreaming again said...

The only thing I would add to this is ALWAYS go to first day of class when the syllabus is covered. Every single professor I've had has covered email procedures in this class.
Anything said there, or in the syllabus itself trumps any and all information in this email. (Following your directions would have gotten me in trouble on more than one occassion)

Most of my professors (small university w/class sizes about 25 ..30 max) request that you email them before class if you're going to miss. If an emergency keeps you from doing so, email as soon as possible. For some, this actually gives you an 'excused' absence that doesn't count against attendence points.

All but one professor (7 semesters) have said do not, under any circumstances ask me for missing assignment regardless of missed class. Ask classmates.

The one that doesn't care if you ask for missing assignments specifically said not to send acknowledgement 'thank you' email because it would clutter his box. But rather, if he has not responded within 2 business days, to resend email inquiry.

Every one is slightly different and many of them cover in that first class (that they expect you to be at to get appropriate information) and or the syllabus.

BUT that being said, if they dont', these are exceptional guidelines.

Oh, the other exception is my prof this summer ... his was do not email, ever, for any reason. He doesn't check his email and never has once checked an email account. (he's been teaching at the college since it opened in the early 70's)

Michael Leddy said...

Matt, Margarita and Dreaming again, thanks for your comments.

I think it’s great when professors address e-mail protocol in class. Note what I wrote in this post: that these are “guidelines for writing to a professor, any professor, in the absence of other guidelines.” If a professor has announced an e-mail policy, you should of course go by that.

Anonymous said...

HOW WOULD YOU END AN E-MAIL IF THE PROFESSOR FORWARDS YOU A QUESTION BACK?
~~sorry for the capital letters but there are so many comments.

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., I see all new comments. You don’t need to shout. :)

The reply from Maggie Simpson in my post should answer your question.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Thank you for this. I wish I would have read this about four years ago. It is very helpful.
I have a question about fan mail. I was researching something and found some of this Professor's research, specifically her dissertation. I don't "know" her, but I thought her research was interesting, and I would like to thank her. Would this be annoying, or appreciated? How should I approach this?
Thank you

Michael Leddy said...

I think it’s always appropriate. As my son would say, Go for it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post! Now I know how to write to professors :D I'm not from UK or USA, so if we did practise writing a letter, it was always the one starting with "Dear Sir/Madam..." At least now I won't feel awkward e-mailing a professor.

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Anon. Thanks for writing.

Darcy said...

I'm so glad I ran across your post. I'm in the process of putting together a handout about proper e-mail etiquette for my students. I've become increasingly frustrated by the complete lack of awareness on how to send a proper e-mail. Use of text messaging grammar (if that's what it could be called) is my number one pet peeve. Students learn to capitalize "I" in the first grade and my college students seem to not know how to do this! In any case, great post and great information. Thank you!

Michael Leddy said...

Darcy, you’re welcome. Feel free to share this post with your students. (Viva Creative Commons.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Anon.

Putu Ngurah Wage Myartawan, S.Pd. said...

Hi, recently I emailed a professor (let's say her name is Ann Reebas) to talk about her paper that I read from a journal. In my first email, I addressed her as 'Prof. Reebas'. She kindly replied and she addressed herself as 'Ann' alone in the signature section of the email. Now, I want to email her back. My question to you is how should I address her in my second email so that it sounds proper? I need your advice. Great thanks.

Michael Leddy said...

Good question. If you’re a student, addressing a professor by her or his first name might seem a bit improper. But if a professor signs with a first name, I would take that as a cue to reply using that name. Many professors are completely comfortable with that kind of informality. Signing with a first name is, I’d say, a way of letting you know that.

Metab Alshaifi said...

Hi Professor Leddy,
First I would like to thank you about these useful guidelines. Since I am a non-native English speaker, I found what I was confused about. Writing the course name in the subject, and Signing the information about me and the course are something I had never thought about. Furthermore, I agree with you about sending a "Thanks!" replay to my professor because it was an essential solution to technical problems that happened in my previous job. However, is "Could you please find the attachment about something?" a polite way to request opining an unexpected attachment from the professor? If not, could you please state the polite request for that?
Thank you,
Metab

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your comment, Metab. If you have to send an attachment, you might write “I have attached [the report, the article, whatever the document is].” I don’t think you need to add a request that the recipient read it. Or you might also say “I have attached [the report, etc.] for your consideration.” As they say on the Internet, “Hope this helps.”

P.S.: On the Internet, I’m just Michael. :)

Steffanie said...

Hi Michael,

I was wondering do you think it's appropriate when ending an e-mail to say Take Care, See You Soon or something on those lines? (If so, any other suggestions?)

Normally, I will sign it Thanks with Name and Course, but my teacher told me to send an e-mail of what I thought of his class. Thanks doesn't seem fitting.

Any advice would be helpful.

Thanks!

Michael Leddy said...

Steffanie, yes, I think that’s a good idea. In a more recent post on How to e-mail a student, I suggest that professors sign off in such ways too. I think it keeps things more human. Take care. :)

David said...

I really liked your guidelines, except I would change one thing, i.e., when replying to an e-mail, the person's reply should go above the quoted, previous e-mail message, NOT below it, and there is no need to edit the quoted part. This is the standard, which totally makes sense because the new message is at the top of the e-mail rather than having to scroll all the way to the bottom. Most e-mail systems automatically quote the original e-mail leaving a blank line or two above it to write your reply. Also, this is how most people do it, so it is a bad idea to do it some other way than the way it is already expected; unless there is a really good reason for changing the way everyone else already does it. The person can read the reply, and if needed, refer below to any previous messages.

Michael Leddy said...

David, thanks for your comment and suggestion. I’m not sure that what you suggest is the standard, or that there is a single standard. I like what John Gruber says about e-mail style: “The fundamental source of poor email style is the practice of quoting the entire message you’re replying to. If that’s what you do, then it doesn’t matter whether you put your response at the top or bottom. In fact, if you’re going to quote the entire message, top-posting probably is better. But both are poor form.

Writing an email is like writing an article. Only quote the relevant parts, interspersing your new remarks between the quoted passages. Don’t quote anything at all from the original message if you don’t have to.”

Notice that in the sample reply to a professor in my post, everything has been deleted except three short lines of what the professor wrote. I wouldn’t recommend quoting an entire e-mail and placing a reply after it.

Kendra D. said...

Thank you for this post. It was very helpful in identifying two key things from a professor's point of view: 1. How the professor interprets the information presented. 2. Considerations to make for their time. It seems like simple ettiquette but it can be easily overlooked in the haste of everyday life.

Michael Leddy said...

Kendra, thanks for writing. I’m glad you found this post helpful.

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor,

Thank you for this informative post. I always wondered whether I should send a follow-up thank you email after a professor's reply. I didn't know whether or not my professors would be irritated with a spam of thank you emails in their inboxes.

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Anon. Keep in mind that these guidelines are meant to be useful in the absence of other guidelines. I think it’s better to say thanks than not to. Some would disagree.

Michael Leddy said...

To the commenter who asked about how to begin an e-mail to a professor: I lost your comment, but if you read the post, you’ll find an answer to your question.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I've always felt very uneasy when having to write to any of my professors. You tip really helped me feel confident about what I write

Rachel Sp. said...

I really appreciate this article - it confirmed that I am on the right path with how I communicate with my professors. Also it showed me a couple new things as far as clarifying how to address a professor in email [to not be too casual] and making sure to conclude the conversation while acknowledging a conclusion was met.

Thanks Rachel S

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Rachel.

Jennifer Troxelle said...

This was indeed very helpful and useful in preparing me on how to respectfully and professionaly email my professors with questions/comments. I will indeed make sure to follow up with a reply when receiving an email from my professors. Thank you for these insightful tips.

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Jennifer.

Jamie Ambrosino said...

Hi Professor,

Thank you for this information. I have always been unsure about email etiquette, this has been very helpful.

Thank you again,
Jamie Ambrosino

j.alexis v said...

Hi Professor,

Thanks for posting this article. I feel as this should be an requirement to all students who are beginning their first year in college. Ive actually read an article similar to this about two semesters ago; it doesn't hurt to be remind of the proper way to send a email to professors in college. Again, thanks!

Jessica V.

Anonymous said...

I did not realize that it was not appropriate to use a personal email account when contacting a professor.

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, all.

Jesse Curtis said...

Hey Professor:

When I read this article I was a little confused; I didn't know if I was read how to email professor or or how a professor should be emailed. What I did learn is that you should always be professional when communicating in any form.

From:
Jesse Curtis

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, that’s true. You really should.