[SEE END OF ARTICLE FOR LINKS TO GUIDES]
“How many e-mails do you receive every day? Probably a lot, right? Now imagine a professor who has four classes of 25 students each, or a professor with two lecture hall classes of 80 or 90 students each.”
That thought exercise is from a student-written guide on “How to e-mail your professor,” one of many “how-to” guides on this subject available online.
E-mail has been a basic fact of academic life for so long that it’s often taken for granted, by both students and faculty – but their expectations for e-mail communication are often not the same. Faculty members who stumble on one of these “how-to” guides often have the same reaction: “I’m adding this to my syllabus!”
The guides include pointers such as:
- “Include a meaningful subject line. While this is true of every e-mail you send (that you wish to be read), it’s especially important when you’re attempting to communicate with somebody [who’s] busy…. If your professor does not already have a preferred convention, then a good default is to start with your course department, number, and section (or day and time of course), and then the topic of your e-mail. For example, PSYC100 Section XX: Question about data collection for project.”
- “Before sending your e-mail, be sure you don’t already have the information you need. Did you check your syllabus? Did you check your professor’s website?… You might already have what you need; if you do, asking for it again will make you seem lazy or unfocused.”
- “No one really likes emoticons and smileys. Trust us on this one…. : ) ”
But one size does not fit all. To start with, these guides don’t all give the same advice. For example, some “how-to” guides say flatly that students should always use a college e-mail account, to help avoid spam filters and/or to make a more professional impression than might be left by a whimsical name on their personal e-mail account. Other faculty members dislike their colleges’ e-mail systems and mainly use a different account themselves; they don’t mind if students do the same.
The guides also vary in style and tone. Some are short and to the point. Others are more detailed with specific examples. Others are so long that the students who could use them most are perhaps the least likely to read them all the way through. A few are written by students, which brings a different perspective, perhaps some added credibility.
Here are links to a few popular guides, one of which will probably be a good fit for your own style of teaching and communication:
A couple of student-written guides:
Top of the Google search results on this topic, by Michael Leddy of Eastern Illinois University:
And a counterpoint to Leddy, by a faculty member at University of Pittsburgh: