In This Article
What Is Email Etiquette?
Student Email Etiquette Tips
6 Essential Email Considerations
Dos and Don’ts for Email Etiquette
Imagine you spent all night cramming for a big marketing quiz.
You were exhausted, but you managed to get to class and take the quiz. Then you stumble back home and pass out.
When you wake up from your nap, you notice your grade is posted—D.
You freak out and think, “This must be a mistake!”
So you grab your computer and write an email to your professor to ask why they gave you such a low grade. You feel your hands shaking as you type the message.
Before you hit send, you pause to consider if this is the type of message you want your professor to read.
Email etiquette can make a huge difference in the relationships you have with your professors—and your future employer. In this article, we will discuss what email etiquette is and give you some tips to ensure your messages are clear to those reading them.
What Is Email Etiquette?
Etiquette refers to polite language or behavior. What’s considered “polite” is subjective—meaning you should use language and behaviors based on the society and people you are interacting with
Just think about this for a minute: Would you act the same way with your friends that you would with your boss? Of course not.
So, you wouldn’t send an email with the same language and tone in your personal and professional lives either.
One of the most common ways you will communicate with others in college and in your career is by email. While email has a lot of advantages, there are also some downfalls. It can be hard to detect humor, sarcasm, or a variety of other emotions if you aren’t careful how you structure your email.
Email etiquette is a way to think about your messages from the point of view of the recipient so you are sending clear and effective messages.
Proper email etiquette tells your recipient (i.e., your professor, boss, advisor) you are professional, someone they want to take seriously and work with. It is just as important to give a good impression through email as it is in person.
Using proper email etiquette can help you get grants to go to college and get great letters of recommendation to land your dream job after.
Student Email Etiquette Tips
Now that you know what email etiquette is, how do you create an appropriate email that will help you build strong connections? Use these tips to help you get a good college job and to ensure a good working relationship with your professors.
1. Always start with a formal salutation
This means starting with a greeting like, “Dear Dr. ______.”
Don’t use “Hey” or some other informal salutation.
Always use Dr. in the title when emailing a professor unless you know that they are not a Dr. Then you can use their title (e.g., Dean or Director).
Always use their last name unless you are told otherwise.
If someone corrects you on their name (for example, using only one part of a hyphenated name), make sure you correct it moving forward.
If the person gives you explicit instructions not to “be so formal” then you can feel free to be less formal in the salutation like “Hello, Sarah.”
2. Put your main idea in the subject line
If you are emailing about your grade on a quiz, your subject should be something like “Questions on Chapter 6 Quiz.”
Make sure it’s descriptive so the person receiving it knows what the email is about before they even open it. This also allows them to easily come back to it if they need some time to think about their response.
3. Introduce yourself in the first sentence
Professors and other college professionals see a lot of students. Until you’re sure that the person knows you well, you should follow this format:
"Dear Professor X,
This is Jennifer from your 10 am Intro to Marketing class. I am writing to you to ask about my grade on the Chapter 6 Quiz."
By noting the class name and time, you will help the professor identify exactly who you are and be able to separate you from the other Jennifers in their classes.
4. Be brief
Don’t hide the purpose of your email in a pile of explanations that no one really needs to know. Just get to the point.
If you’re letting the professor know that you will be late for class, just tell them you will be late for class (and how late).
You don't need to go into an explanation unless:
This will be a recurring issue.
You have been late multiple times before.
You need to ask for the professor’s help.
5. Avoid asking for big (or personal) things over email if possible
Do you need an extension on the exam or the final paper? Have you experienced a family tragedy that will affect your class participation or an assignment?
Do yourself a favor and ask for an appointment instead. This is important for 3 reasons:
You might want to disclose more personal information, which is better done in person than in writing.
You make a personal connection with the professor and begin to build a relationship.
It’s harder for people to say no to a face, whereas it’s much easier to say no to an email.
6. Be polite
Don’t use harsh language, no matter how frustrated you might be by a class or an issue. Remember to use etiquette that aligns to the person you are talking to. Be polite and respectful. If you’re worried that the wording might seem disrespectful, have a trusted friend read it over before you send it.
If it’s a difficult issue you need to discuss, pause before sending it. If you feel emotional about the issue, take some time to take care of yourself first.
7. Have a closing statement
Your closing is almost as important as your opening. Here are the things that should be included in your closing statement:
Kind regards, or some other salutation
The class you attend, including the time
"Thank you for your help with this.
Intro to Marketing, 10 AM - M,W,F"
You may have included all of this information before. But given the volume of emails professors and other academic professionals receive, it’s best to make sure they see this important information, even if they’re skimming your email.
6 Essential Email Considerations
Wait! Before you send that email, make sure the email is necessary and accurate. Being rushed or sending an email that is emotionally charged will send the wrong message to the recipient.
Take the following into consideration:
1. Is it on the syllabus?
If you’re asking a question about class, make sure the answer isn’t on the syllabus or on your online learning platform first. If those documents feel long and hard to get through, use the “find” function on your computer to quickly search for keywords.
When you ask a question you can easily find the answer to, your recipient may think you’re lazy or not taking initiative. They may respond simply by telling you to “look at the syllabus.”
2. How’s your spelling?
Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct! Remember, even with spell check, you should proofread all your emails carefully. Are there any abbreviations you’re using that the person may not be familiar with? If so, spell them out the first time you use them.
You can use an online spelling and grammar tool like Grammarly to ensure your emails have the right spelling, grammar, and tone for your recipient.
3. No emojis or emoticons please!
While emojis are fun to use in text messages, their meaning can often be lost or misconstrued. You don’t want that to happen in an email with a professor.
Avoid emojis to ensure there is no confusion or misinterpretation about what you mean. Similarly, make sure you use a common and professional-looking font, like Arial or Times Roman.
Using a “fun” font can create clarity issues or make an otherwise serious and well-written message seem foolish.
Even if your professor is a person who checks email outside of work hours, it’s always polite to send them during work hours.
If you want to write an email at 2:00 am, that’s fine! Use the “send later” function to schedule it to send during work hours. And don’t expect a response immediately.
Give people a minimum of 24 hours before you send a follow-up email—and that soon should only be reserved for the most urgent of emails. Typically, 2-3 days is still acceptable in most organizations.
If you need an appointment with your professor or academic professional, limit the number of emails going back and forth to set up a time by implementing these quick tips:
Check the syllabus for your professor’s office hours.
Can you make it at that time? Great! Email the professor to let them know you will be coming on a particular day and time.
Check the university’s calendar system (usually connected to email). If you can see the calendar of the person you want to meet with, send an email confirming that they are available during a day/time that you see empty on their calendar.
If the person you want to meet with doesn’t have office hours (or you can’t make any of those hours) and you can’t see the person’s schedule, offer up 3-5 times over multiple days that you are available to meet.
6. Be honest
Don’t poke around hoping for an offer of an extension or incomplete. Just ask. Instructors are really good at ferreting out lies and excuses. You will come across as more responsible if you ask outright—just like you would in a workplace.
Honesty is a universal part of etiquette. Everyone appreciates knowing what is needed or desired and being able to move forward from there.
Dos and Don’ts for Email Etiquette
1. Check your email!
There is nothing more frustrating than when you send an email, someone responds, and you don’t respond for another week. When you reach out to someone, watch for their response.
Still waiting for a response? Check your “Spam” folder to ensure you didn’t miss their message. The best way to be thorough with email is to not leave any emails unread.
2. Re-read your email before sending
Are there spelling issues with the person’s name? Did you reply all…when you shouldn’t? Did you make your point clearly?
Re-reading your emails can save you a lot of headaches.
3. Take a break before sending an emotional email
If tensions are high, try to wait a MINIMUM of 24 hours before actually sending that email.
Pro tip: Don’t put anyone in the “To” line. That way you won’t accidentally send it before you should.
Often, if you wait 24 hours, you’re better able to make a clear argument without heightened emotion.
4. Use complete sentences
You might know what you’re talking about when you use a few keywords, but your recipient might not. Be specific and use complete sentences so your meaning is clear.
1. Send an email with multiple subjects
Keep it simple. No more than one or two subjects (at most!) in an email.
If you DO address multiple subjects, make sure you use a lot of directional words, like “Now I’d like to address a second topic,” so your recipients don’t get confused.
Include a final paragraph briefly addressing your two points/requests.
2. Use “Mrs.” without explicitly being told to by that person
Women are often denied their professional title and are just referred to as “Mrs. so and so.” This makes their marital status front and center, which should not be the default in either business or education.
If you’re in business, use “Ms.” If you’re addressing someone in education, use an appropriate academic title like “Dr.” or “Professor.” If they tell you they are not a Dr., you can then move to Ms.
3. Wait until the last minute
While emergencies happen, you should almost never use email for a last-minute request. When you do that, you are implicitly demanding the person put aside everything they had planned to work on and address your situation immediately.
If you do have a last-minute emergency, try to address it in person, over the phone, or by video call. Apologize and offer an explanation for why this rare last-minute deadline is necessary.
Afterward, do everything on your end to ensure this type of emergency doesn’t repeat itself.
4. Use “text talk”
While LOL, OMG, or TTYL might be common in your text messages, they have no place in a professional email. Spell out your words completely—and really think if you need to tell the person you were “laughing out loud.”
Speaking of talking, use caution with the text-to-talk feature on phones when sending emails. This feature can change your words, creating a different tone in your message. If you do use this feature, make sure to do a thorough job proofreading before you send it.
College is a journey of self-exploration.
Not only are you learning and growing through academics, but you are also becoming the person you want to be in the world. You have to learn to manage your time and create a budget to manage money, both integral skills to have for the rest of your life.
Your interactions with others can help you build powerful connections which may propel your future. This is why etiquette in email is crucial—you want to leave a good impression.
The key is to take the time you need for each interaction. Carefully craft your messages and re-read what you wrote to ensure everything is both clear and concise.
Among the hundreds of emails your recipient may get every day, make sure yours leaves a good impression. Email etiquette will help you find success in college and beyond.
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