Emailing your instructor
(written by Jean Marie Linhart, Ph.D.)
When emailing your instructor, you want to be intelligent, polite and
professional. This is not sending text messages to your
buddies. Most of you know this already, but I see these rules
violated regularly. Here's what I'd like to get in my inbox:
- Identify yourself:
Ideally your email is set up so that it
sends your full real name as well as your email address. We do not
like getting emails from anonymous addresses like
firstname.lastname@example.org, and even less when
email@example.com doesn't bother to identify him or herself.
That might be a great email for use with your buddies, but then you
must make sure your outgoing address also identifies you by your
real name. This may take some time figuring out the computer or
calling in some technical support, but it is worth it.
- Set up your email account so that your real name appears with your
email address. If you don't know how to do this, find out
and get it done.
- Always sign off with your full name, first and last
- Subject: Include a subject indicating what the message is about, and
possibly also the course and section. Don't leave it blank!
- Greeting: Always open with a greeting, using the title you
would normally use for your instructor. I'm fine with Hi Jean Marie
from colleagues, but I expect Hi Dr. Linhart from students. Use the
highest level of courtesy if you are at all in doubt!
- Dear Dr. Linhart
- Hi Prof. Smith
- Hello Ms. Amundsen
Notice I used a title (Dr., Prof., Ms.) above.
Unless your instructor has given you permission to use his or her
first name, always use the instructor's title. Often this is
Dr. or Professor in a university setting. You should always
default to Dr. or Prof.
- If the person you are writing to does not have a Ph.D. (or
equivalent), then the proper address is Mr. or Ms..
Do not use Mrs. unless your instructor has told you to. Not
all female instructors are married! Ms. is safer.
- It is an issue among female instructors that we are often
addressed as Ms. or Mrs., whereas our male colleagues
are Dr. or
Prof., even when we have completed the same qualifications as
the men. Please help make the world a better place and make
sure you do not make this mistake.
- Identify your course and section: Instructors often teach
more than one course or section. Identify your course and section in
- The body of your email: Be specific about your inquiry.
- Note that in my class, questions about homework/class logistics
(when are office hours? what is the next exam over) do not get sent
to my email. They get posted on a discussion board.
- If you ask about homework, specify which homework and which
problem, don't assume the instructor will figure it out from
- Keep in mind that often instructors cannot discuss grades over
email or the telephone. Save these questions for office hours.
- When asking for an appointment, specify when you would can
make it, at least generally: Could I have an appointment to come see
you between 2 and 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon? If that doesn't work
with your schedule, I am also available Thursday from 10-11 am or
from 3-4 pm.
- If you are asking for special consideration, please ask promptly,
explain all the circumstances surrounding the request, and keep in mind
we may not be able to say yes.
- Closing: Always use one. Some examples
Notice that you conclude with your full name. Even if
your full name is on your email address, always include it here!
- Sincerely, Your Full Name
- Cordially, Your Full Name
- Best regards, Your Full Name
- Thank you, Your Full Name
- Always reply promptly with a thank you when you have a question
- Keep in mind that sometimes we must say no. Accept
the no with a "thanks for considering my request", rather
than an argument. An argument with a no rarely turns it
into a yes, and it will almost always annoy your instructor.
I guarantee you it will annoy me.
There are some more tips here:
(C) 2009/2010/2011 Jean Marie Linhart, all rights reserved.