Monday, February 9, 2015

Email 101 for College Students

Click for photo credit.
When college professors socialize, one topic of conversation that sometimes emerges is the poor state of student email protocol.  We often bemoan the informal and often disrespectful tone of emails we receive from students.  We all have gotten emails that start with something like:

     "Hey Professor,"

or my favorite:

     "Hey teach,"

Plus, many of the emails are in text format such as:

     "Late to class CU 2day later."

Or have open ended information such as in the above.  When exactly am I supposed to CU and why should I care? And who is ""?

I am not someone who takes offense to these informal emails.  After all, our students live in a digital text world.  This is their native tongue.  

I just feel sad for students that communicate in this way.  While most students communicate very clearly, effectively, and professionally, there is a large group of students who seem to not understand that the way they communicate to university faculty is inappropriate and gives a very bad impression.  They are woefully unprepared for the real world of professional communication.  In addition, they do not understand that it is inappropriate to communicate to professors in such an informal tone.  

Professors are the gatekeepers for the professional world and we can unlock doors and provide opportunities.  We are unlikely to do so for individuals who do not communicate professionally.

Plus one of the things we hear most often from employers is that college students need better communication and writing skills.  We have an obligation to help students with poor email skills.

So, I thought I would give a quick primer for students on how to communicate to university faculty via email.

Here is a basic email format that can be followed:

Dear Dr./Professor X (use a title and full last name, even if you are on a first name informal basis):  

The reason that I am writing to you is [insert reason] (You need to state the reason for the email.  Professors can get dozens of emails from students each day and your email is not special. You need to be clear as to the reason why you are writing).

I have [insert #] questions regarding the [homework, syllabus, class content, etc.].  They are: [insert questions].

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my email (a polite sign off is appropriate in all emails).


[name, class title, time] (Make sure you use a full first and last name.  Professors may have several Mark's or Andrea's in the class.  Add the class title and time.  Professors may be teaching multiple courses or multiple sections of the same course and this information provides context to your email.)

The above email might take more time, but it is much better than:

     "hey teach my assignment will be late will it hurt my grade if i turn in 2morrow"

Although it might be unfair, most professors will react negatively to a text style email like the one above and be much more sympathetic to a student who communicates much more professionally.

For students asking for letters of recommendation, formality is imperative.  Along with a formal email, student should also include a copy of their resume, information about the position to which the student is applying, and full addresses/instructions as to how to submit the letter of recommendation.

I hope this helps some of the students out there!  I know that most students are not taught how to communicate to professors in school.  Just remember that texts and informal emails are fine for friends and family.  They are not appropriate for professors or the workplace.  At least initially.  Once you have built a relationship with a professor or an employer, communication can become much more informal.  If you are unsure as to the best approach, go formal.

No comments: