Thursday, February 19, 2015

Email 101 for College Students Part II--Advice from Readers

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called "Email 101 for College Students" that got a considerable amount of traffic.  You can read this post here.  My main goal in writing the post was to give students some good advice on how to communicate with university professors via email.

The post must have touched a nerve because I have received several comments on this post from faculty and friends from around the country.  I have condensed these and added my own thoughts to them below.

1.  Subject line.  Carefully construct a good subject line to communicate the purpose of your email.  I am probably the worst person in the world on this issue and I often forget to add a pithy subject line category which is probably why I didn't give good advice on this topic in the first place.  However, if you are writing about a particular class, a good subject line might be: Question on Assignment in SBLY 1.

2.  TIming of email.  Students are generally nocturnal creatures while faculty, for the most part, live in a 9-5 world.  Thus, email sent at 11:30pm will not be seen until 9am.  Between 11:30pm and 9am several other emails come into the In Box putting your email low on the priority list.  To fix this, set those late night emails for delivery at 8:00am.  The email will be the first thing Dr. Riseandshine will see in the morning and you will be seen as a bright eager hard worker while you are sleeping in waiting for the alarm to get you to your 11am class.

This is a good business habit overall.  Many companies are banning managers from sending emails after hours.  Late night email stresses employees and creates a negative work environment.  Think of how your email will be seen by the person receiving it.  Will the person be okay with late night emails or not?

I often work late and write emails to colleagues/students/friends.  Some emails I send out if I have a good relationship with the person or if they send me late emails first.  However, I always hesitate before hitting the send button at night.  It takes just a moment to set the delivery time and I often find myself choosing a morning delivery.

3.  Sincerity.  One of the best things you can do in email is to try to show sincerity and thoughtfulness.  When you are a busy college student or professor, it is easy to fall into the trap of brief text type emails that are droid-like communications between processors.  These types of emails lack sincerity and humanness.  When working with university faculty, try to show a bit of who you are.  Add good intros and closings to emails.  Open yourself up a bit about what you do and who you are as a person.  Below are two different emails.  Which one would you like to receive?

Example 1:

What day is the next exam?

Example 2:

     Dear Professor Brinkmann:
     I am sorry to trouble you with my small issue, but I lost my syllabus and I do not currently have access to the online course network.  Would you be so kind as to send me an electronic copy of the syllabus?  I am trying to ascertain the date of the next exam.
     I hope this note finds you well.  We only have a few more weeks of this cold weather.  I cannot wait for spring!

Which of the two examples would you respond to first?  If you were to recommend a student for a prestigious internship, which one would you recommend?  There is no doubt that the first example is the common form of email most professors receive today.  This is largely due to the native text language of our college students.  Yet we need to try to prod the students to become more humane in their communication skills in order to help them in the job market.  Taking a few moments to add a good intro and conclusion to your email (as well as a Dear Professor and a Sincerely at the beginning and end) goes a long way to make your emails stand out.

4.  Email/Call/Office Hours.  Do you really need to email?

I don't know about all university faculty, but I am finding myself overwhelmed by emails.  It started about 4 years ago.  About that time, everyone started sending emails on small issues--even issues that could be handled by getting out of a desk and walking a few feet down a hallway.  It is not that uncommon for me to get 100 emails a day.  Some companies have banned emails overall as inefficient ways to communicate.  I wouldn't go that far, but there is no doubt that there is way too much out there.

I do triage on email every day and save important thoughtful emails for the evening or weekends.  Quick emails I try to get done with quickly.

I am sure that I am missing some emails from students.  That is why I am urging everyone to think twice before hitting send on emails as of late.  Do you really need to send an email?  Would a quick phone call work?  Could you spend an extra minute finding the information on your own?

There is a major secret that most students do not know about university faculty.  They have office hours and students rarely come to them.  If you have the time and have a question, go see the professor.  Such meetings build bonds that will help you get letters of recommendation, internships, and other good things.  While an email might be a quick way to get an answer, an office hour visit pays off much better.

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