An email to a professor should be treated like a business letter. Email may be regarded as an informal medium, but it is also used for business purposes.
When emailing your professors, it is best to err on the side of being too formal than to be to informal.
Write a few words indicating the purpose of the email. This is not the place for a salutation. Do not write “Hey professor”, or “hey” in the subject header. Instead write something like “Question about this week’s assignment” or “Request for a meeting”.
Use professors’ names in the salutation. Unless instructed otherwise by the professor, use their title followed by their last name (e.g., “Dear Professor Jones” or “Dr. Jones” or simply “Professor/Dr. Jones”).
Don’t use smiley faces, emoticons, internet acronyms, abbreviations, and shortened spellings (e.g. “IDK”, “LOL”, or “U” for “You”).
Don’t confuse email style with text style. Electronic shorthand implies a level of intimacy that is inappropriate for communications with your professors.
Spell correctly and write grammatically. You should proofread your email just as you should proofread all written word. It is important as a college student to care about how you present yourself in writing.
Keep most messages under a screen in length. Include enough information so the reader can understand the message. Your message should read clearly. Provide background or context if necessary.
Minimize the email exchange. For example, when requesting a meeting, state your purpose and list the times you can meet in the initial message. Your respondent may then be able to answer you with only one additional message.
Be selective and brief. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I find this information on my own?
- Am I requesting information on that is available on my course syllabus, the university website, or BlackBoard?
If you are emailing to lodge a complaint, seek help for a problem, or ask for a letter of recommendation, personal contact or an office visit may be best.
Additionally, use these guidelines not only with your professors, but also with other university staff, job supervisors, class deans, and resident mentors.
Finally, allow adequate time for a response. Keep in mind, your professors have many tasks and responsibilities. Instant replies are unlikely. Allow a day or two, maybe more to receive a response. You may resend the message if you have not been contacted in about five days.