How Not to Write an Email to Your Professor

Email-not-availableUnfortunately, this is the kind of thing I frequently find in my inbox, from something like “dragonboy785@gmail”:

Hey Prof!

I need the notes from last week. Did we do anything important in class?

Besides being rude and demonstrating very little investment in the course, I can’t possibly respond to it because (1) I don’t know which student wrote it or which course it refers to (I usually teach three courses each semester, with 30-50 students in each), (2) I don’t give notes to students and (3) there is no possible good answer to the final question.

Here are some guidelines to follow when corresponding with your professors.

Definitely don’t start with “Hey” or “Dude” or the prof’s first name (unless she has given you permission to use it). Use “Dear Prof. Lastname,” and spell the last name correctly (check the spelling on the syllabus, which of course you keep with you always, right? you should).

Don’t use text-speak. Complete sentences are your friend. Like it or not, your intelligence, social skills, literacy, and professionalism are all judged by your writing whenever you send an email in any serious context. Make an effort to be clear, correct, and concise.

Don’t give your professor orders. Your professor is not your secretary. She’s there to help you, but also to evaluate you. It’s not in your best interests to be a jerk. (Helpful hint that applies to all of life: always be nice to secretaries, too.)

Don’t give your professors intimate details of either your relationships or your illnesses. We don’t need to know how many times you vomited. If you’re ill or going through a personal crisis of any kind, say so, and make responsible arrangements to make up your work, take an incomplete, or if it’s not too late and seems advisable, to drop the class. If you foresee falling seriously behind in your work for more than one class, you should also contact your dean of students (with documentation if possible). Be realistic about what you can and can’t do.

Never, ever ask, “did I miss anything when I was absent?” This implies that you normally assume nothing is happening in class. Be more specific—ask for announcements and handouts, and state that you are already making arrangements to copy notes from another student (and do so!).

Never ask a question for which the answer is already on the syllabus. Read the syllabus early and often! It is full of information that is important to your success in the course.

Don’t make your professor guess which “Jessica” or “John” you are. State your full name and the class you’re taking, and if you are referring to assignments or readings, be specific: “the primary source paper due next week” not “the paper,” and “the Suny textbook,” not “the book.”

Don’t send your message from an email account that has a suggestive or ridiculous username such as “sexxxytime69@yahoo” or “prettyprincess@gmail.” These kinds of account names should never be used for school, employment, or any other serious purpose. People will make fun of you for years over something like this.

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