Thursday, February 10, 2011

Student e-mails revisited

Chris' post last year about student e-mail styles and habits garnered a lot of discussion, and this older post on 'How to e-mail a professor' (from Orange Crate Art, Michael Leddy's blog) offers some good positive advice to students about how to e-mail a faculty member.

There are several tips there, but here's the summary:

  1. Write from your college or university e-mail account.
  2. Include the course number in your subject line.  
  3. Choose an appropriate greeting. 
  4. Avoid rote apologies for missing class.
  5. Ask politely.
  6. Proofread what you've written.
  7. Don't send unexpected attachments.
  8. When you get a reply, say thanks.

I'd only add one more to Leddy's suggestions: For many instructors, their e-mail inbox is their main electronic workspace, and it's often very crowded. Your instructor's time and workspace is a scarce commodity, so respect it. In particular: Don't send your instructor e-mails with questions that are already addressed on your course syllabus. 

Other suggestions for students as to how to compose an e-mail to faculty?



  1. Michael, two suggestions:

    -- I'd give some concrete examples of what counts as a not-appropriate greeting, such as one of my favorites, "Hey".

    -- though this isn't really a tip about how to write an email, I still think that it's relevant: allow at least a few hours, if not more, for a reply from the instructor. My students' daily rhythms mean that they're often sending me emails well after midnight, and then expressing surprise or annoyance when I don't reply right away.

    (I think that many of us expect the recipient to be right there, eager to get our email and to answer it, so I'm not saying that only students do this. I just think that it's useful to remind them that email is like voicemail, not like chat.)

  2. I think "hey" is a step up, sometimes. Many I get have no greeting at all, nor a sign off. Just a request - or even a demand.

    I think students nowadays think of communication as texting, so it's all about efficient and quick transmission of content. The vehicle of transmission is seen as irrelevant, so the same content would be sent to mom, friend, worker, boss, teacher, even the president of the US.

    You would think this sort of thing would get covered in K-12, but it's clear that it is not.


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