Recommendations for Students Writing E-mail to Faculty*
*disclaimer: individual faculty may vary; take heed of syllabi or alternate instruction as necessary!
1. Use your UML e-mail address. It is something like First_Last@student.uml.edu.
This does several things: first, it (usually) keeps your message from falling into the UML spam filter. Second, it helps the recipient know who you are (your first and last name are right there) and that you are a student here, not just some random person. I’m much more likely to read an e-mail that I know is from a student than an e-mail from an address like sexykitten420XXX@whatever.com.
Finally, it is part of your professionalization – as a student, but also as (eventually) a professional in whatever field you choose. Yes, you may have been using your yahoo or gmail or whatever address for your entire life, and that’s the one that you like. But in nearly any job that you will eventually hold, your employer will issue you a work-specific e-mail address, and expect you to use it for work-related correspondence. This is good practice.
Another good practice is to be sure to check your UML e-mail account regularly, as this is how the University (and your professors) will contact you with important information. You can set up your UML mail to forward to another account; check with the Information Technology (IT) department on campus for more information.
2. Address faculty appropriately. That means starting your e-mail with something like “Dear Professor Smith” or “Dear Prof. Smith,” or “Dear Dr. Smith.”
I see a lot of e-mails that ignore a salutation completely. I also see a lot that are way too chummy. The safest default is to refer to him/her/them as “Professor” or “Prof.” Some faculty would prefer to be addressed as “Dr.,” but keep in mind that not all professors have a PhD. Your best bet is to consult a syllabus or e-mail from the faculty member to see if he/she mentions a specific preferred mode of address. But if you don’t know, or haven’t met the faculty, the way to go is “Professor.”
3. Identify yourself (in relation to what you need from me/this e-mail).
This is particularly true if this is the first contact you’re making with a professor. Are you my advisee? A student in my class? A student who wants to be in my class? If you write “I need the assignment,” how am I supposed to know which class, or which assignment? Be specific.
4. Be specific, but not gruesome.
If you have missed class or are going to be late with an assignment, it is tempting to want to explain, in great detail, why this has happened. There is such a thing as too much information. I don’t need (and in many cases don’t want) to know the gnarly details of your disease, your breakup, your pet’s health crisis, your home repair disaster, or your car trouble. Again, keep it professional.
5. Use standard English, please (also, manners).
Many (though not all) faculty are irritated by e-mails that read like text messages. While the message “l8 4 clas” is a quick way to let your buddy know that you’re going to be late for class, it is – in most cases – not the message a professor needs or wants. Use clear, complete sentences, check your spelling, and, ideally, use some consideration, especially if you’re asking for something. If you need an extension, assistance on an assignment, or bail money*, it’s appropriate to include a “please,” and it’s also nice to say “thank you” when you get what you need.
*You really shouldn’t be asking your professor for bail money.
6. Do not send attachments (unless specifically told otherwise).
Unexpected attachments – frequently in formats that we can’t open – are a frustrating aspect of e-mail. They will also sometimes cause your message to go straight to a spam folder. Unless you have specifically been told to e-mail an assignment or other material as an attachment, don’t assume that you can or should do so.
The above advice is my own, and as I said, you should follow whatever advice other faculty give you (check the syllabus!). Practicing good e-mail habits now is wise, both for your current career as a student and your future career in the world beyond. Questions? e-mail me (appropriately!): Bridget_Marshall@uml.edu
This page updated 18 August 2023.