7 Things to Keep in Mind When Emailing a Professor

By Christine Ascher on March 10, 2018

Whenever you’re communicating with a professor, it’s important to make a good impression. Your professors are one of the greatest resources that you’ll have while in college, and can have a big impact on your future–especially considering they may be writing you letters of recommendation or serving as references for you in the future. Because of this, it’s a good idea to make sure that all of your communication with your professors is up to certain standards—even when emailing. To ensure that you’re making a good impression, keep the following tips in mind whenever you’re communicating with your professors via email.

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1. Be Professional

Even if your professor tends to be more casual in class, it’s nevertheless a good idea to maintain a professional tone when you’re emailing them. While this does not necessarily mean that you need to sound stiff or overly formal, you should avoid slang and other casual diction. In general, just remember that you’re writing to a professor, not a friend, and phrase your email accordingly.

2. Be Respectful

Professors receive countless emails from their students on a regular basis, and are constantly answering questions, so make sure that you’re respectful and express appreciation for their time in your email. It’s a good idea to thank them at the end of your email, in advance of their taking the time to read and respond. You should also include a proper greeting and closing at the beginning and end of your email, so that it doesn’t seem like the message was sent off with little thought. A simple greeting and closing will show your professor that you put some time and thought into what you wrote.

3. Remember their Title

A fairly common mistake that students make when emailing their professors is to use the wrong prefix when addressing them. If your professor has a Ph.D., for instance, refer to them as “Dr.” If you’re unsure of how you should address them, a good rule of thumb is to call them “Professor,” rather than Mr. or Ms.

4. Be Clear

Remember when writing your email that even if something seems evident to you, it may not be to your professor. Professors receive all kinds of questions from their students, and unless you’re specific, they may not understand exactly what you want to know. Provide as much information as possible regarding your question; for instance, if you have a question about an upcoming exam, make sure they know that you’re aware of what has been said in class or is written on your syllabus and are looking for additional clarification. Otherwise, they may assume that you’re asking a question that has already been answered.

5. Set Realistic Expectations for a Response Time

While some professors may respond to emails right away, this is not always going to be the case. Remember that your professors are busy, and that it may take them a bit of time to get back to you. With that in mind, avoid emailing your professors with questions that need to be answered right away—don’t ask them a question about your homework an hour before it’s due, for instance.

6. Read Over Your Email Before Sending It

In email correspondence, it’s tempting to type up and send off an email quickly without reading it over first, only to realize later that you misspelled a word, or made some obvious mistake. To avoid this, take the time to reread your email before you send it off. While it’s not a huge deal if you have a small mistake in the body of your email, proofreading will ensure that you make a good impression.

7. Avoid Asking Questions You Could Answer on Your Own

Again, professors typically receive a large number of emails each day, especially if they teach bigger classes. As a result, your professor probably spends a lot of time responding to emails, so keep that in mind when emailing them with questions. Avoid asking them questions that you could answer relatively easily on your own; for instance, sending off an email just to ask about an exam date that you could find on your course syllabus will probably not be appreciated. If you’re unsure about a term or concept, try looking it up online to see if you can find an easy answer before reaching out. While your professor is surely more than happy to answer any questions that you can’t answer on your own, it might give them a negative impression if you’re constantly emailing them to ask about information that you could easily find using other resources.

Communicating with your professors is inevitably a part of college, and the better you’re able to communicate, the better your relationship with your professors will be. While sending off an email to your professor certainly doesn’t need to be a long process, you should pay attention to the way that you present yourself—it’ll pay off later in your college career.

By Christine Ascher

Uloop Writer
Hi! I'm Christine and I'm currently a senior at the University of Southern California, where I study English Literature, Economics, and French.

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