If you’re a student, the chances are you will need to email a professor from time to time. Because professors are teaching large numbers of students, they get an absolute deluge of email. That’s why it’s in both your best interests to learn how to email them correctly. Trust us, taking a little time to understand the right etiquette, approach them in the correct way, and share the information they need will make life easier for both of you.
That means you won’t strain your relationship, and that’s better for everyone. Here’s the SaneBox Scoop on emailing your professor.
Work out if you actually need to email your professor at all
Many emails could be avoided if you don’t mind doing some legwork yourself. Another student might have the answer you need, or it might be in the syllabus, your course notes or textbook. Use your Google-Fu and search the university website, or see if a counselor could be better placed to answer your questions. In short, don’t email your professor unless there’s no other option.
Ask yourself if email really is the best way
As a business that provides perfect solutions for managing email, you might think we’d be encouraging email at every turn, but that’s just not the case. Sometimes the best approach is a conversation, whether that’s in person or over the phone.
Use the proper greeting for your professor
Your professor worked hard to get where they are, and they give their time, energy, and expertise every day to help people like you. Show that you respect their position and your relationship by using the proper greeting. That should generally be “Dear Professor *Last Name*”
Be professional and use the correct tone
Although your email doesn’t need to be ultra-formal, it is important that it be professional, polite, and approaches your conversation as that between a student and a professor. Please, don’t use textspeak abbreviations like LOL, L8R (urgh!) or send the same type of email you would to your friends.
Explain the purpose of the email in the subject line
Keep your email subject line concise and clear. As your professor is scanning through their inbox, they’re going to answer emails where it’s immediately clear what they need to do. In fact, if it’s just a simple question, just put it in the subject line.
Bonus points if you include your course information, the section number, and other relevant info in the subject line. Your professor may even have a way they want email subject lines written, so if they do, find out what it is and use that.
Remind them who you are
Your professor probably deals with hundreds of students every month—do them a favor and remind them who you are. If you haven’t got the information in the subject line, tell them your name, the course you’re in, the class you attended, and any section information or other references that will make answering your email earlier.
Tell them why you’re emailing
Get to the point quickly. Tell the professor why you’re contacting them in the first couple of lines. Then, specifically state anything you need an answer to. Structure your email in such a way that the professor doesn’t have to think too much or second-guess what you need from them.
Don’t just approach them with a problem, suggest a fix
If you have a problem that needs solving or a concern that needs addressing, try and think about what the best solution would be. Once you’ve done that, mention it in the email and ask the professor if that would work for them. Showing you’ve already done the legwork is much better for your professor than expecting them to come up with the fix.
Double-check you’ve included all the information you need to
Will a professor be able to answer your email using just the information in the email? If not, go back and add in any other necessary details. Your job, when you’re emailing your professor, is to make their job as easy as possible. You’ll get a faster, better reply, and that’s best for both of you.
Remember to attach anything you need to
Your professor doesn’t want to have to email you back because you forgot the attachment! If you need to send something with your email, the paperclip is your friend. (And no, we’re not talking about Clippy—we hate that guy.) Hey, you can even use our SaneAttachments tool.
Proofread your email—then proofread it again
Typos, spelling mistakes, and grammar errors are those irrational things that can mean your email isn’t treated as seriously. Proofread your email, and if it’s long or sensitive, give it to someone else to proofread. Then, proofread it again for good measure.
Send the email to your professor
Now it’s written, it’s time to send your missive. Click send.
Expect to wait a bit for a reply
If your email needs a reply, you might have to wait a few days. Professors have a lot going on, and they’ll get to your email as soon as they can, but they’re not superhuman (although they are working on something in the lab.)
Specific areas you might need to email your professor about
- Being absent from class—if you’re not going to be able to make a class, because you’re sick or have other reasons, clearly state which classes you won’t make and why. Also, let them know what you will do to catch up on any missed work.
- Failing to hand in assignments on time—if your assignment is going to be late briefly explain why, apologize, and tell them when you will get the work to them. Don’t make excuses.
- Requesting a deadline extension—if you’re not going to be able to complete work on time, it’s always best to let your professor know as soon as possible. If you need an extension clearly state why, and when you expect to hand the work in.
- Disputing a grade—if you don’t agree with a grade briefly explain why and include supporting evidence. Keep any emotion out of it and be polite.
- Always send email from your academic email account, not your personal one. Professors may have filters in place to prioritize email coming from other academic accounts.
- Don’t ask about grades in an email– FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) rules often mean that professors aren’t able to share confidential, personal information about students (like grades) via email.
- Don’t make excuses or demands—people hate that! Remember to keep your email in an even tone, polite, and courteous.
- Sign off your email by thanking them for their time.
- Once you have a reply from your professor, shoot them a quick email back to thank them.
And that, friends, is it. Happy professors, happy students, good grades—what more do you need?