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How To Email Your Professor and Sound Professional at ESU

You walk into your college classroom for the first time, and in the front of the room stands a stuffy, scary professor who looks up and down the rows with a sadistic glint in his eye.  You gulp as you take a seat in the back, intimidated by this man’s academic aura. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit; many of the professors I know are the nicest people around, but sometimes, they may seem like this otherworldly spectra who single-handedly have the ability to make or break your GPA.  Obviously, if you feel this way about your professor, then communicating with him or her may pose as a fear factor task.  While the following advice is geared more to email communication, feel free to apply some of it to face to face conversations as well. Keep reading for tips on how to email your professor and still sound professional!

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1. Pose the email as a letter to a person of power.

Essentially, you are writing to your boss.  If your current profession is labeled as student, your professor is your boss and your grade is your commission.  Therefore, you must talk to your professor as you would a professional.  Maybe even consider thinking about writing to the president when constructing your email.  As it is a letter, include the appropriate heading. This is not a text to your BFF.

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2. Address them appropriately.

If your professor has a doctorate, definitely remember to address them as doctor.  Nothing is more insulting to a person who spent numerous years in an institution of higher learning getting their PhD than if he or she is not referred to as Dr.  Speaking of insulting, make sure you also spell his or her name correctly.  Some people get mighty huffy when their name is misspelled, especially if they dealt with issues of spelling all their lives.

3. Include which class you are from.

Chances are your professors are teaching more than just your class, and there are at least 30 people in each of their classes.  They probably may not remember you, especially if you do not speak up in class, or they may not remember which class you are from.  If your professor teaches an Intro to Sociology class and a Marriage and Family class, he or she may give you the wrong information.  So, start your email with your name, the class name, and even the days and times you attend.  If you forget, do not fret (hey, that rhymes!), but expect that you will get another email back asking for that information.  If your professor is a terrible email-er, meaning they take years to email back, one more email may be detrimental.  I would also add this information in the subject section.  Something like “Marriage and Family assignment question” can help your professor get in the right mindset even before he or she opens your email.

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4. Be polite but professional.

Again, this is a letter to your boss.  Your audience is a professional academic.  Therefore, you must remember to keep up a polite tone in your writing.  Try to sound educated, like you are writing them a paper.  Avoid using texting language and abbreviations.  You want your professor to respect you like you respect them.  Furthermore, check your email for errors of the spelling variety.  Have a friend look over it or read it out loud.  If you are emailing an English professor, then have a Writing Studio tutor look over it (I’m half joking about this.)  Lastly, if you are emailing your professor about an error they may have made, do not…I repeat, DO NOT… have an accusatory tone in your email.  Turn things like, “You forgot to put my grade in” to, “I would appreciate it if you double checked my grade for this assignment.”  Think of it as being politically correct.

5. Make sure you send your email to the right professor.

Nothing is more embarrassing than sending the wrong email to the wrong professor.  If you’re sending this email to different professors, and you have to copy and paste it, make sure you change the name of the professor each time or just forego any names completely.  This advice may seem silly, but I’ve done it a couple of times, and I do not want it happening to you.

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6. Include a professional closing.

Again, remember your manners when talking to an adult.  When you email your professor be polite in your email, but also thank them at the end.  I like to use the following closer: “Thank you for your time (or help if they helped you).  I look forward to hearing from you (or seeing you in class if this is the last email).”  Then, close the email like a letter (Sincerely, John Smith), cross your fingers, pray to your deity (or deities), and click send.

7. Double check to make sure you have attached any documents you mentioned you were going to attach.

WAIT! Before you do click send, remember to attach anything you said you were going to attach.  I almost always forget to attach the document I emailed my professor about.  Thankfully, Gmail recognizes when I say I will attach something and reminds me before I click send.  But, I always have to send that second email with the attachment.  Speaking of attachments, make sure that the format your document is in can be read by any program.  PDFs and Word Documents should be okay, but avoid Mac only or PC only programs because you do not know which computer your professor will be reading your email from.  Also, for Open Office users make sure you save your attachment as a Word or PDF document.

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8. Make sure the email actually sent.

Okay, this is yet another big problem of mine.  I constantly think I press send, but, many times, I either forget or I press something else.  Maybe your internet isn’t working and it doesn’t go through.  Trust me, it happens. Then, you look like a dunce if you mention it to your professor or send a second email.  Sometimes, your document can go into drafts.  Before you log off, check the drafts folder.  If it’s there, then it is not in your professor’s inbox folder.

9. Don’t be afraid to follow up if you don’t hear back from them.

If you email your professor and haven’t heard from them in more than a few days, send a quick email reminding them that you had emailed them.  Sometimes, the plethora of emails your professor gets may leave your email unnoticed.  Or, they too may have forgotten to press send.  Sending them a POLITE reminder may speed up the process.  I’d say that if you sent them an email on Monday, then you can probably follow up on Thursday or Friday, especially if the urgency is high.  If you sent the email any time after Wednesday, I’d say give it some extra time.  Some professors may only check their emails when on campus, and they may be on campus only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example.  If you send an email late on Thursday, then they may not see it until Tuesday.  I’d say that if you follow up after a week, you should be okay.  You can always go see your professor face to face for imminent danger (danger may be a bit of an exaggeration).

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10. Save all email correspondences.

I say this is important because you never know when you have to cover your own butt.  If a problem should arise, your time stamped emails will exonerate you of any guilt. If you email your professor, don’t delete the email threads for no reason! I would say that the same goes for sign-up sheets and phone call history.  If you text with your professor, then screen shot the important ones.  Better safe than sorry.  Moreover, if you attach things to your emails, then you basically have these documents for a long time.  I’ve found a paper I wrote in my freshman year of community college through email and used it as a writing sample.

What are some other tips on how to email your professor and still sound professional? Comment below for our readers and share this article with friends!
Featured image source: jakfruits., bambisoapbox.files.wordpress.com
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Jenny Bront

Jenny Bront is a senior English Major at ESU. She loves literature, writing, and latin dance. Her biggest goal in life is to set the record for craziest cat lady.

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