10 Elements of an Effective, Non-Annoying Email: A Teaching Resource

Decorative: An envelope with a paper going into it on which is written "Read Me," plus a click arrow on the envelope itself


A. "How to Email Your Professors (Without Being Annoying AF)" (post; doc) outlines "the conventions of email etiquette in the academy" for students who have "never actually been taught how."

  • The "Why Any of This Matters" section helpfully contextualizes this information for your students.

1. The text also includes the following:

  • "10 Elements of an Effective, Non-Annoying Email" (see Part B below).
  • A template for students to "follow in constructing [their] email to a professor" (see Part C below). 

2. See also:

B. "10 Elements of an Effective, Non-Annoying Email" (each elaborated further in the post/doc)

1. "Salutation"

  • [E]stablish that you view your relationship with your professor as a professional one."
  • "Use 'Dear,' or if that feels horrifically formal to you, ... use 'Hello' or 'Hi.' (“Hi” is pushing it. See note about exceptions below.)

2. "Honorific" 

  • "The simplest way to do this is to address them as 'Professor.'"
  • "If they have a PhD, you can technically call them 'Dr.' but you’re safer with 'Professor.'"
  • "[I]f they are teaching a college class they are inhabiting the role of Professor and can be addressed as such." 

3a. "Name"

  • "It’s on your syllabus, it’s on the department website, it’s probably Google-able too."
  • "Use their last name."
  • "Spell out the whole thing. Spell it correctly. If there’s a hyphen in it, use both names and the hyphen." 

3b. "Exceptions to #1-3"

  • Deviate from the above guidelines "if, and only if, you have received an email from them where they use an informal salutation and sign it with something other than Professor Last-Name."
  • "[D]on’t deviate from what they call themselves."
  • "Never try to use a first name unless you have been given explicit permission to do so."
  • "If the prof cryptically signs their emails with only initials, best to stick to Professor Last-Name."
  • "Do not under any circumstances begin an email with 'Hey.'" 

4. "Meaningless Nicety"

  • "It never hurts to say something like 'I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful weather today,' or 'I hope you had a relaxing weekend,' to start off." 
  • "It shows that you see your professor as a person who has some kind of life." 

5. "Reminder of How They Know You"

  • "If there’s something distinctive about you that would jog their memory and make them look upon you fondly, include that ... [e.g.] 'I stayed after class to ask you about the reading that one time.'" 
  • "If you haven’t met them yet, explain your desired relationship to them, such as 'I am interested in enrolling in your class next semester.'"
  • "If you’re fairly certain they will know you by name, you can leave this out." 

6. "The Real Reason for Your Email"

  • "The important thing here is to get in and get out, while remaining courteous."
  • "Concisely state what it is you need from the professor without offering a bunch of excuses or going into excessive detail or sounding like you are making demands."
  • "If you can’t explain why you’re emailing in a sentence or two, consider making an appointment to meet with the professor in person, in which case your line here will be 'I was hoping we could meet to talk about X. What would be a good time for that?'"
  • "If they can’t meet and just want to discuss it over email, they’ll let you know."

"7 & 8. Where You Prove You Are a Wonderful Person"

  • "Before ... sending the email, ... check the syllabus and your notes (and the class website if there is one) to see if your question has ... been answered there."
  • "If you’ve actually done [this] and you still have a question, then your contacting the professor will actually provide helpful information to them that they might not have been clear about something."

9. "Super Polite Restatement of Your Request"

  • "If you’re asking a question you need an answer to, ...say something like, 'If you could let me know at your earliest convenience, I’d really appreciate it.'"
  • "If you need them to fill out a form, or contact someone on your behalf, or do something that requires more action than just answering your email, state that very clearly here."

10. "Sign-off"

  • "'Thank you' is nearly always appropriate."
  • "You can do 'Best,' or 'All the best,' or 'Sincerely,' or whatever, but some form of thanks here does double duty as both sign-off and expression of gratitude."

11. "The Hidden Element - The Follow-up"

  • "If your professor hasn’t responded to your email, and social cues tell you they probably meant to by now, you can send a gentle follow-up."
  • "You can format the follow-up using all the elements here, but you can add in “Just following up on my previous email,” right before you get to Element #6." 

C. A template for Students to "follow in constructing your email to a professor."

Dear [1] Professor [2] Last-Name [3],

This is a line that recognizes our common humanity [4].

I’m in your Class Name, Section Number that meets on This Day [5]. This is the question I have or the help I need [6]. I’ve looked in the syllabus and at my notes from class and online and I asked someone else from the class [7], and I think This Is The Answer [8], but I’m still not sure. This is the action I would like you to take [9].

Signing off with a Thank You is always a good idea [10],
Favorite Student

D. "Make Your Emails Count: How to Write to Your Instructors" (3.54 m; This video can be embedded in online syllabi, files, etc.; also available in French


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