The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator

Student Centre: How to Write an Email to a Professor

Email is my job.  Actually, teaching is my job but the number of emails I get on a daily basis makes the task of answering each in a timely fashion the most pressure in my line of work. Responding to these requests is important. I know I would be frustrated if I wasn’t responded to so I write emails like it is my job.  Now, with that being said, there are a number of email faux pas that need to be addressed. I will always reply, but I am very forgiving….other professors may not take too kindly and may in turn not dignify the email with a response.  So here are the biggest errors I see. Don’t do these. Ever.  No, I mean it.

1. The doctor title is important. Hey (first name here)? If you aren’t sure if your professor has their PhD, call them Professor (Last name here).  I enforce the title with students because it draws a boundary and it is appropriate to be respectful of those in authority over here. Period.

2. Write full sentences and words.  Can u send me ur syllabus I wud luv to take ur course…..Really? Show that your primary education has served you well and that you are able to properly write a full sentence.  Texting language is never appropriate.

3. Don’t demand a response.  If your professor has not emailed you back and it has been less than 24 hours, it is likely that they were teaching the full day and collapsed at night time or that they actually haven’t been able to get to your email yet since they have an inbox with 200 other new emails that were sent the same day.  I have tried to answer in 48 hours (with the exception of the weekend, I need to take at least one day away from emails).  This year I will likely have to work on a 72 hour turn around time because I literally get around 100 emails a day and these are not from friends. My friends are not allowed to email me. If you emailed on a Sunday at 2 AM, your professor will hopefully get to you by Wednesday.  I spend Fridays doing clean up on my inbox, just to make sure I haven’t missed something (which often times there is at least a handleful of emails that I opened, got interrupted and then missed the fact that I didn’t get as far as hitting send….so I’m scanning for reply indicators and copies of all replies in my sent box).  If after a week, then certainly, email your professor again. Your professor isn’t angry at you.  They aren’t ignoring you on purpose.  My email answering system has changed a lot over the years and I still don’t have it perfected.  We are trying…really we are.

4. Read the syllabus! The protocol for asking questions is posted in every syllabus.  Should all content questions to be posted through the online learning management system? Post the question there.  Are you not sure the procedure for missing an exam? Guess what, it is stated in the syllabus.  These types of questions take up valuable room in the inbox and slow down the response to questions that should be posted through email.

5. Don’t send carbon copy emails to a number of professors.  There were 2 situations this summer when students sent the exact same email requesting a letter of reference to at least one other professor.  In both emails, I could tell it was a form letter and my name was replaced from another.  I also talk to my colleagues……when I can read a syrupy email telling me that I am their most favourite professor ever!!! and find out that the exact same email was sent to the professor down the hall…’s a little insulting.  If you want a professor to spend 2-3 hours to write a thoughtful letter of support for your application to professional school, take 15 extra minutes to write  a specific email to request that letter of reference.

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