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Email Etiquette

Sometimes you are going to need to contact your professors outside of class, and you’ll usually do that by email. You might not have thought much about how to write an email, since email is often viewed as a more casual form of communication than a formal letter, but poorly written emails are a quick way to make yourself look bad to professors.

Before you hit send, read your email aloud and ask yourself:Click to visit the Email Hall of Shame

  • Does it sound professional?
  • Does it sound like it could be a letter (not a text)?
  • Does it sound respectful?
  • Is everything spelled correctly?
  • Did I use proper punctuation and grammar?
  • Did I identify myself clearly so my professor knows who I am and which class I'm in?

 

Quick Tips

➤ luvmesomezacefron@aol.com: Email Address

If your email address is sexxxxxy2016, koolchik05, or nolimits601, you might want to rethink that.

If you send an email to a faculty member with a weird personal email address, that's how they'll remember you. And that's definitely not what you want when you are trying to present yourself as a mature, responsible student. Use your USM email address when you are corresponding with faculty and staff.

 

➤ Plz Read This!!!: Subject Lines

Urgent stampA subject line should clearly and briefly represent your purpose for emailing. "Hey..." "URGENT!!!!!" and "A Question" are not good subject lines. "SOC 101 Paper Assignment" is a good subject line.

Keep in mind that the person you're emailing may have hundreds of emails in his or her inbox. By briefly stating the purpose of your email in the subject line, you allow your recipients to get an idea of what your email is about during their initial scan, and it also makes it easier for them to find your email again if they can't answer it right away.

 

➤ Yo Teach!: Addressing Faculty and Staff

Always use a formal address, such as Professor, Dr., Ms., or Mr.

It's important to address the person you're emailing by name. If you don't remember your professor's name, check your syllabus or look on SOAR. Never use your professor's first name unless you've been specifically told that it's okay. "Ms." or "Mr." are only appropriate if your professor does not have a Ph.D. Most do, and should be addressed as "Dr." If you are not sure whether your professor is a doctor, you can never go wrong with addressing him or her as Professor.

 

➤ It's Me!: Identify Yourself

Unless you know the person you're emailing well, make sure you identify yourself clearly.

It's always good to state your name and to let your professor know which class you're in. If you're emailing your advisor or a staff member, you should include your student ID in the email to make it easier for him or her to look up your records in SOAR.

 

➤ You Need To Check My Grade: Asking Nicely"It's on the syllabus" tee shirt

If you want someone to do something, make a request, not a demand.

People always respond better to requests than they do to demands, and your professors and campus staff are no exception. You will get better results if you ask politely. State your question, concern, or request briefly and clearly, using standard English. Maintain a polite, respectful tone and avoid using exclamation points, emoticons, texting abbreviations, or coarse language. Avoid asking questions that are answered on the syllabus or assignment sheet, such as “When is our paper due?” or “What is our homework for tomorrow?” Emails that are not professional in style or tone, or that ask questions that are clearly answered on the syllabus or assignment sheets, may be ignored.

 

➤ XOXO, Me: Closings

Use a formal closing, and always sign your full name at the end of an email.

Formal closings include: “Sincerely,” “Respectfully,” “Thank you,” or “Best wishes,” and using one makes you come across as respectful and professional. If you are emailing back and forth, it is not necessary to use a formal address and closing in each response, but you can never go wrong by ending an email with a "thank you," or "I appreciate your time."

 

➤ Uh, It's Been a Whole Hour: Patience

Allow your recipient a reasonable amount of time to respond.

24-48 hours is reasonable. An hour and a half is not reasonable. Professors often have a different sense of what is within a reasonable timeframe to respond to your email than you do. They typically do not check emails on their phones, and they aren’t always at their computers. They also get a LOT of emails, so you shouldn't expect a response before 24-48 hours. If you get one, tell them thank you!  If you have not heard back within 48 hours, you can follow up politely. If you don't get a response to the follow-up, check with the department office to make sure you have the right address and that your professor is not out of town.

 

The Email Hall of Shame

 

The following emails contain actual phrases that Southern Miss students have emailed their professors. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

THE NOT-SO-GOOD EMAIL

To: john.smith@usm.edu
From: sue2009@yahoo.com
Subject: unfair grade
-----------------------------------------------------------------

their is a mistake on my grade for my paper their is no way i deserved a d!!!!!!!!!!! i showed my paper to my mom and she said it was awsome so i don't see how u think it shood get a d!!!!! I NEED TO MEET WITH YOU RIGHT AWAY TO GET THIS STRAGHTENED OUT!!

SEE THE PROBLEM?

This is almost guaranteed to end badly. This is what this email is telling the professor: 

  1. I'm not going to bother to address you respectfully because I'm mad, but I'm going to assume that you know exactly who I am and which class of yours I'm in so I won't bother to identify myself.
  2. I don't feel the need to use capitalization or punctuation unless I'm shouting at you with capital letters, and in case you don't realize that I'm serious, I'm also going to throw in a bunch of exclamation points.
  3. I don't bother to spell check my emails, but my paper, well, that was error-free.
  4. My mother is a better judge of what's good or bad academically than you are. In fact, you might want to give her a call the next time you're grading papers and see if she has any advice. 
  5. Because I earned a poor grade on my paper, you need to drop everything and attend to me RIGHT NOW!

TRY THIS INSTEAD

To: john.smith@usm.edu
From: susie.cavanaugh@usm.edu
Subject: Concerns About My Paper
------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Dr. Smith,

This is Susie Cavanaugh from your World Civ class, section H002. I was disappointed with the grade I earned on my last paper, and I am writing to see if I can make an appointment with you for some extra help. I am free Monday, Wednesday and Friday after 2:00, or Tuesday and Thursday before 10:00. Would one of these times be convenient for you?

Thank you,
Susie Cavanaugh

 

THE NOT-SO-GOOD EMAIL

To: sarah.clark@usm.edu
From: bokbok65412@yahoo.com
Subject: Sick
------------------------------------------------------------------

Miss Sarah,

I was sick on Thursday and I couldn't come to your Biology class so I am writing to see if you can tell me if I missed anything. Also, could you let me know what pages we need to read by Monday?

Thank you,

Jim

SEE THE PROBLEM?

Seems polite and respectful. What's the problem?

  1. Your professor may be getting a huge number of student emails every day. If your preferred email address does not contain your first and last name, consider using your USM address so your professor can recognize your name quickly when he/she is scanning his/her email.
  2. Miss Sarah is a respectful term for your mom's best friend or that nice lady at the supermarket. The person you're addressing is Dr. Clark if she has a PhD, Ms. Clark if she does not, or Professor Clark if you have no idea.
  3. Professors tend to dislike it when you ask if you missed anything. Unless class was canceled, of course you missed something. You missed a whole lesson that your professor spent time and effort preparing. You should try to get notes from a classmate instead of asking your professor to go over his/her entire lecture again just for you. In fact, it's a good idea to swap email addresses with at least one other classmate at the beginning of class so you can share notes when one of you is unable to attend. 
  4. Be absolutely certain that the information you're asking about is not on your syllabus. If it is, what you're saying is that it's more convenient for you if your professor reads your email, looks up the information on the syllabus, and emails you back, than it is for you to look at the syllabus you have.

TRY THIS INSTEAD

To: sarah.clark@usm.edu
From: james.bachman@yahoo.com
Subject: Missed Class
------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Professor Clark,

I'm sorry for missing your Biology 101 class on Thursday but I had the flu. I will get notes from a classmate on Tuesday, but if there is any additional reading or work I should do to make up for missing the lecture, I'd be happy to do it.

Thank you,

Jim Bachman

 

THE NOT-SO-GOOD EMAIL

To: genevive.carlton@usm.edu
From: angreegurrl07@yahoo.com
Subject: Extra Credit
------------------------------------------------------------------

i probably failed this class because i had sum problems this semester and i didnt have time to do all the reading ecause there was wayyyyyy too much reading in ur class. 

if i don't get a c in ur class i will loose my scholarship, and i cant afford to pay for my classes and i will have to go home if i loose it. could you please look at my exam again and see if you could give me a c or if there's any extra credit i could do because i don't want to loose my scholarship because of this one class.

thank you.

SEE THE PROBLEM?

Not so good for a lot of reasons. Here are a few:

  1. Your email address is the first thing your professor will see. If you want to be remembered as angreegurrl07 or hawtttttchick12, go ahead, but it might be better to either use your official USM or to create a gmail address that includes your name for official correspondence.
  2. Blaming the professor and the class for your poor grade? Probably not the best move. If you have concerns about the class, consider making an appointment to talk to him/her during office hours—before you have a problem with your grade—and make sure you express your views in your course evaluation.
  3. The grade you get is the grade you earned, and if you have a scholarship or anything else that requires you to maintain a certain grade point average, it's your responsibility to earn the grades you need, not the professor's to make sure you get them. It's not ethical for professor to give you grades you didn't earn because you "need" them, and asking your professor to do something unethical is a bad idea.
  4. While some professors may be willing to give you extra credit assignments, if you wait until the class is over to ask, what you are saying is that you didn't have the time to put into the class during the semester, but you want your professor to create a new assignment, grade it, recalculate your grade, and have the grade changed during the busiest part of his/her semester. Additionally, many professors will not offer extra credit assignments to one person that they don't offer the entire class, so your request, if granted, would require a tremendous amount of extra work for the professor.
  5. Many professors consider text abbreviations (ur, idk, etc.) disrespectful in an email. No professor appreciates an email full of misspellings and typos. Take a minute to reread your email before you send it. Your words represent you; make sure they're representing you in the best possible light.

TRY THIS INSTEAD

To: genevive.carlton@usm.edu
From: quesha.samuel@usm.edu
Subject: Extra Credit
------------------------------------------------------------------

My name is Quesha Samuel, and I am in your Spanish 201 class. My grades have not been the best in your class so far, due to some personal problems I've had this semester. I know I can do better, so I am writing to you before midterms to see if I can set up an appointment to talk to you. 

This class is important to me, and I want to do well, so I am hoping you can give me some advice on what I can do at this point to turn things around.

Thank you for your time,

Quesha Samuel

 

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