This straightforward commentary by our associate l. a. morrell provides excellent perspective on the too-often-forgotten fundamentals associated with written communication. Her experiences in academia are well-aligned to those we’ve had in the business world…
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email in the college world
by l. a. morrell, ma
although i have pondered the importance of email etiquette over many years, it was in a recent conversation with a friend and business owner, kate leavy, that my ideas for academic email were cemented. my husband is a doctor of philosophy in computer science and a professor. he often receives emails that do not readily identify the student writing nor the class in which they are enrolled. and, as a teacher and college instructor, it has been my experience that many emails i receive not only fail to identify the student but are also, quite frankly, rude. rude not necessarily by the email content but by the lack of appropriate decorum and explanation of the student’s reason for writing the email and their desired outcome.
first and foremost an email is a letter. you are not chatting with a friend or colleague in a forum that automatically identifies you per message. you are electronically communicating with another person or persons using a mail protocol. i may seem to be stating the obvious but the key concept i present is that email is mail, a letter. there are common formats and courtesies expected when one writes a letter and sends it through conventional mail. these conventions need to translate into writing an email. i outline the conventions i believe are essential in any email, and certainly in one addressed to a professional whether that be a teacher, professor, colleague, employer, and so on. this article specifically speaks to how a college student should approach the classroom instructor in an email.
first, use a salutation. do not just start “talking”. start with “dear professor doe” or “hello professor doe”. this simple method ensures the recipient they are reading something for them. after the salutation put a comma and leave a blank line before starting the body of the communication.
next, introduce yourself in the first line of the letter. “this is jane smith and i am in your ict 101 introduction to software class.” this one-liner allows the recipient to put the rest of your letter in its much needed context. you do not need to put this in a separate paragraph. you can then continue on with your reason for writing the email.
the body of the letter, the email, should go on to politely and professionally explain the reason for the communication. be precise and clear in your statement. try to include an example from the class to explain why you are writing. and, importantly, include what you hope the outcome will be for writing. for example: “i am writing because i am confused about the expectations for our final project. the syllabus says it should be a five line code with the output ‘hello world’. i am not sure what language you want me to use or how i should submit the assignment. do you mind clarifying this for me?” this simply states your intent and what you hope happens in response to your letter.
your last comments should be pleasant. close politely in a separate paragraph. thank the instructor for their time and try to say something positive about the class, the assignments, or the program.
finally, end the letter with your first and last name and email address. it is always nice to include a one to two word closing, for example “sincerely” or “regards” before your name.
so, an email to a professor or class instructor would look like this:
dear professor doe,
this is jane smith and i am in your ict 101 introduction to software class. i am writing because i am confused about your expectations for our final project. the syllabus says to write five lines of code with the output “hello world”. i am not sure what language you want us to use or how to submit the project to you. could you please clarify these for me?
thank you very much for your time. i am enjoying this class and look forward to continuing in the ict program.
taking the extra small amount of time to properly address and write your email to your class instructor is good practice that prepares you to present yourself professionally to potential employers and professional colleagues. happy emails!
In addition to her affiliation with Paul Charles & Associates, L.A. Morrell has a distinguished track record of success in professional and academic settings. Her writing style, as you may have noticed, has been influenced by the works of e. e. cummings. She can be contacted through our web site.