Email Etiquette


Don’t email your professor asking what you missed in class when you were absent.  The syllabus lists what material was covered.  You can also ask fellow students.  Ditto for handouts.


Don’t email your professor asking if you missed anything important when you were absent.  We’re the professor.  It’s our class.  We think it’s all-important!


Don’t email your professor asking if they will excuse an absence that you have no documentation for.  Most professors allow a certain number of absences without requiring an excuse.  We also don’t need to hear the details of your stomach bug or festering splinter.  We do, however, want to know about serious illnesses, deaths, military service, jury duty or other absences with documentation.  Finally, if you are taking a vacation, that is not an excusable absence.  Be prepared for those absences to come off the amount provided by the professor that require no documentation.


Don’t email your professor asking/complaining about grades.  This is always better discussed in person before or after class or during office hours.


Don't wait until a day or two before an assignment is due to ask for feedback or advice on it.  Doing so reflects poorly on you.  At such a late date, you no longer have time to seriously take any advice a professor might be able to give you.


Check your syllabus before asking unnecessary questions.  Don't ask about information that is readily available on your syllabus.  Professors, who have to balance an enormously demanding schedule, may take offense at being asked to provide information that has already been made available and been discussed on the first day or class.


Use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Whatever professional field you enter, adherence to basic writing skills will serve you well.  By ignoring such basics, you risk making a negative impression, which will be extremely hard to erase.  This includes not using IM speak (LOL, BTW, ROFL), profanity or slang.  Don’t use all CAPITAL LETTERS either; we assume you are shouting at us when you do so.


Include a detailed subject line.  Never leave the subject line blank.  It’s best to use your last name, the course name and something like “student question.”  That way, your professor can prioritize your email and respond to you quickly.


Provide your full name at the end of every email.  Your professors may very well have multiple "Jennifers" in any given semester.  Also, your nickname may be familiar to your friends, but your instructor may have no idea who "Sticky Buns" or “FLAHottie” is.


Keep your message concise and precise.  If you find yourself writing more than two or three brief paragraphs, consider making an appointment with your professor.


Think about what you are asking before writing and sending your email.  Most of us are pretty busy, so if you can get the answer from the syllabus, class website or even by asking quickly before or after class, we tend to prefer it that way.  However, if there is a time constraint and you can’t find your answer in the syllabus, feel free to email.


Allow time for a reply.  When you email a professor at 2 a.m., do you think they are waiting up for your message?  Most people are asleep then.  When we wake up, we have many things to do in the morning before coming to work (our class).  We have lives outside of teaching this class. Please keep that in mind when you are getting upset that we haven’t responded within 20 minutes to your email.  It’s email, not an instant message.  I always try to get back to people within 24 hours.  Twenty-four or even 48 hours is a standard window for an email response during the business week.


Reply within 24 hours.  Try to reply within 24 hours to the email your professor has sent back to you.  You sent us an email, remember?  Then we replied.  Then nothing.  Because you don’t check school email more than once a week.  But your question was so urgent; you just had to know the answer immediately!  Then nothing.  If you expect teachers to reply to you promptly, then be prepared to do the same for them.


Treat your professors with respect, even in email.  Always use your professors' proper title: Dr. or Professor Last Name.  Also, spell their name correctly, since we make the effort to address you by your proper name and spell it correctly in email.  Also, the informality you use in IM or emails with your friends is not appropriate with your professors.


Don’t try to be intimidating to professors.  We’re older and we’ve been through a lot of school, so we know the tricks.  Don’t email me to tell me what I’m going to do for you.  Don’t “insist” on things.  I will treat you with respect and ask you to do the same with me.


Avoid angry outbursts.  Do not send or reply to a message when you are angry.  Wait until you have calmed down, and then compose the email.  We understand you might be upset with a grade or decision we have made and are more than willing to hear you out and explain our reasoning.  But if you approach us in an angry fashion, we’re people too, and it puts us on the defensive.  And remember, email is forever, so if an issue is unable to be solved between your professor and you and a dean is needed to mediate it, your emails will likely reappear.  We keep records of everything.


You are what you email.  Your email messages to your professor help shape their professional impression about you.  In some settings, email is the primary means by which the professor will be able to form an opinion about you.  Remember that you may find yourself asking a professor to write a letter of recommendation for employment, graduate school, or a scholarship.


When in doubt, email.  Now that this rant has been delivered, when you have a question, email first – after reviewing the above guidelines.  Immediate feedback may be more beneficial than any possible misinterpretations of assignments.  Professors like to know how the class is going, and email may be the best mechanism for relaying that.  Anything that is time sensitive should be emailed first, and then followed up in person.