LOL, OMG, WUT? Writing a Professional Email

As classes are now in full swing, many students find themselves needing to communicate with professors beyond the classroom setting. The easiest way to do that effectively is, of course, dropping by a professor’s office during his or her office hours. However, with busy schedules and different office hours for each professor, sometimes it can be hard to find the time to drop by a professor’s office, and sending an email is often the next best way to get in touch. With today’s smartphones, it takes just a quick moment to jot a note to a professor and send it instantly.

Not so fast! Emailing a professor – and any professional, I may add (your coach, area coordinator, academic coaching expert, etc) – requires a level of respect and courtesy. Sometimes, students forget that email is still a form of communication, and that it is important to set the right tone when communicating both in person and online with any individual who is considered a professional. Getting into the habit of sending out appropriate emails is helpful not just in academics, but certainly also will aide with internships, job interviews, and the real world. So, without further ado, here are some tips on how to write a professional email:

1. Write a subject line. Professors are busy people, and may receive a multitude of emails every day. Including a concise subject line will help them remember your email and retain the important information. For example, if you are emailing about a missed class, a subject line of “Missed class 10/31/14” will let them know the exact date you are addressing before they even open the email. Similarly, writing “Essay #3 Assignment,” “Advising Appointment,” or “Lecture Notes Question” will let them know the purpose of your email ahead of time. A short subject line is very helpful and demonstrates thoughtfulness.

2. Use the right title. When writing the email, it is appropriate to begin with “Dr. Appleseed“- writing “Dear Dr. Appleseed” is also fine, but not truly necessary. Title is EXTREMELY important; if your professor is a doctor, he or she spent many years earning that title, so it is definitely necessary for you to use it. If you are unsure of if your professor has a doctorate, you can search them on the Utica College webpage and read their credentials, or look at the syllabus for the class. When in doubt, you can also address them as “Professor Appleseed“. Then, when the professor emails you back, look at how they signed their name and use that as an indicator of how to address them in the future. Another important part of the correct title is correctly spelling your professor’s name. Take the extra minute to ensure your spelling is correct; you don’t want to start off the email on the wrong foot!

3. Be concise, but OMG, don’t use abbreviations. Emails are not short stories. A professional email should be to the point and only a few paragraphs at most. If you find yourself needing to write a small novel, perhaps the topic would be better discussed in person. Likewise, if you are addressing a subject briefly but could add more information, you can end the email with “Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. I am also available to meet with you if you would like to discuss this more in depth in person.” As far as the email itself, keep it short and sweet- but don’t use Internet slang (LOL, 2GETHER, HW) in order to keep it brief! Remember, you are communicating with a professional, not your Facebook friends.

4. Wrap up the email respectfully. As I mentioned before, leaving the lines of communication open with your professor will let them know you are willing to talk more in person if necessary, which is always a good thing. If you are sending an email because you need something (such as help with an assignment, or to set up a time to meet), finishing up with “Thank you very much, and I look forward to hearing from you”  demonstrates that you are appreciative of their help. This also shows that you are expecting a response. This is important because professors are busy people, and may not necessarily feel inclined to respond to an email unless a student specifically indicates that they would like an answer. If you do not need an email back, a simple “Thank you” is always suitable ending. You always want to finish an email with the expression of your gratitude for their time. Don’t forget to sign the email with your first and last name, so that your professor knows who is writing to them!

5. SPELL CHECK! Double, triple, and quadruple-check your email for any spelling and grammar errors. Nothing ruins a professional email faster than a silly mistake! Typos are totally normal, but can be easily avoided by looking over an email before pressing send. It is always worth the extra minute to look over your email and make sure it is a flawless piece of scholastic merit before sending it off into the permanent abyss that is the World Wide Web.

It may seem strange at first to write emails that include subject lines, professional titles, cohesive messages, conscientious endings, and plenty of spell check. However, with enough practice (and trust me, in four years here, you will get plenty of practice), writing a professional email will become second nature. Good luck, and TTYL!

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