Email etiquette can be a struggle for students as the topic is never taught in high school. But it’s very important to learn this skill as professors in universities & colleges are etiquette professionals. And your future boss will be one, too. It’s never too early to begin to establish your personal brand as one who is into the details and thoughtful of others.

Please use the Queen’s English

An email is not a text message to friends. Think of it as a business letter in a digital format. There should be a salutation, the body of the message and an appropriate signoff. Also, be attentive to grammar; capitalization; spelling; syntax and most important, the content. If the email has no capitalization, then your professor knows that it was likely composed on a smartphone. While there’s nothing wrong with doing that,  the lack of capitalization looks like you aren’t into the details. It’s considered poor etiquette, generally.

Clarity of content is also much appreciated. Your professor wants to help but if she can’t make head or tail out of the question, then you are no further ahead. Your professor has many talents but mind reading isn’t one of them. 

Professional looking email address

A professional looking email address is needed now that you’re in college or university. Keep the fun one for family & friends. Once again, first impressions are being made about you. And from a practical standpoint, if the email address seems a bit dodgy, your email may end up in the spam folder. 

Peruse the Syllabus for Answers to Queries before Emailing

If you have a burning question about the exam schedule or what content will be covered, check out the syllabus or website, first. Often these questions will be answered in class, too. Check your notes!!

Never appear lazy or inattentive by shooting off an email about a topic that’s already covered in another place that you have ready access to. Your professors are happy to assist but those kinds of questions are really tedious. Be proactive and do your own digging for information.

Proper Salutation

A salutation in an email is similar to greeting someone before you have a conversation in real life. You would never start talking to someone without at least saying “Hello”, first. It would seem very rude. Well, if that email lacks a polite salutation then it comes across as rude to the recipient, too. When that recipient also is your Professor, then you definitely want to appear polite, friendly and professional. They like to be addressed properly. 

Err on the side of being formal. For example, Dear Dr. Smith as opposed to Yo Dave. It may feel fussy but for initial digital conversations, be formal first then some informality can happen as the semester progresses. Remember that even if your professor is more casual in class that doesn’t mean that he/she doesn’t expect a professional tone in your emails. A good rule of thumb is to consider the audience. Is this a good friend or peer? Then I can be more casual. Is this person an adult that I don’t have a particularly close relationship with like my parents or other relatives? Then I need to be more formal in my correspondence with this person. 

Professor Who??

Your instructor has worked many years to achieve the status of being employed at the University or College level in his/her career. Please make the effort to type their title correctly in the salutation. If you’re not sure, check the syllabus (point #3). Once again, consider your audience. This isn’t a peer. Take the time to address your instructor correctly. You will stand out among your classmates if you make this one small effort. It means you’re respectful of those in authority and you’re into the details. 

Avoid gendered addresses. If you’re emailing a woman, please don’t refer to her as Mrs. Dr. Smith. It’s very irritating. So is using the term “Sir” as it makes you look like you’re still in high school. Keep in mind that not all professors are doctors…not all doctors who teach are professors. Graduate students who lead tutorials should be addressed at Mr. or Ms. unless they tell you differently. This is very confusing for a first year student but making the effort to get it right isn’t unnoticed.

Precise Formality for First Emails are Best

Use the highest level of formality in your initial email to your Professor. Please spell their first and last name correctly. This is part of making a good first impression and it shows that you are thoughtful. Plus, people like to be addressed properly whether it’s in digital format or in person. 

If the professor responds to the email by signing off using their first name, then follow their lead by using their first name in subsequent communications. 

Provide Background Information

Your professor really appreciates some background information to a query in your email. Why?? Likely, they have many students in other classes in other faculties or even other campuses. And they receive dozens of emails every day. Making it easier for them to know who you are is very appreciated. In the email, remind them of your first and last name, the class, the date and time, and where the class is located. Offer any preamble or prior conversations that were had over this topic.

Too often, text or email messages get sent in a hurry without any other details. This makes it very difficult for the professor to answer your question. 

Personable as Opposed to Being Too Familiar

Now that you’ve established a pleasant, casual approach with your professor, watch that future communications don’t devolve into text acronyms and emoticons. Your professor still wants you to construct grammatically correct sentences with accurate spelling. Emoticons are best kept for your peers. 

Begin to establish a professional attitude in university as you are moving toward your career aspirations. Being casual doesn’t mean being careless.

Professors Love to Receive Questions Except This One

“Did I miss anything in class last Monday?” To which a professor might remark, “Nothing at all…I never provide anything of value in my lectures.” 

You can see that an email like that is an absolute insult especially if you are expecting a reiteration of her class as if it’s her responsibility. The student’s responsibility is to ask a fellow classmate for the missed notes.

Personal Gratitude is Appreciated

Before you sign off, include a valediction – a complimentary farewell. Something as simple as “Thank you for your help” is perfect. Professors like to be acknowledged for their assistance as anyone else does. Even mentioning the fact that you know how busy they are is appreciated and goes a long way toward developing a solid relationship with your professor. 

Your signoff is just as important as the beginning of the email. You are continuing to set the tone for the message. An abrupt end is rude and strange just as we never finish conversations face to face in that way. Words like “Regards” or “All the best” are excellent. Avoid using “Cheers” as it’s not considered professional and the same with “Yours truly”.

Consider a signature block that can be added to your email automatically. It’s easy to set this up in the section under Settings. The block should include your full name, email address and complete phone number. 


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