Five Quick Tips for Writing Effective E-mails

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E-mail is an increasingly preferred tool for communication between students and faculty. When communicating with your professors via e-mail, it’s important to remember that many faculty view an e-mail message as a letter that was delivered quickly rather than a quick conversation. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing e-mail messages to your professors.

Use appropriate salutations and titles

Generally speaking, e-mail messages should begin with a proper salutation. If “Dear Dr. Smith” seems too formal, begin your message with “Hello, Dr. Smith” but avoid the kinds of casual greetings you would use with friends (e.g., “Hi" or "Hey”). When in doubt about how to address the faculty member, go with title and last name: "Dr. Wong"; the faculty member will let you know if it’s okay to use his or her first name in future correspondence.

Identify yourself

Faculty interact with a large number of students every semester. At the beginning of your message, refer to the class you’re taking with the faculty member or how the faculty member knows you, especially when you’re contacting someone who doesn’t know you very well. Conclude your message with more than just your first name. Provide your full name and NUID number.

Avoid texting acronyms

If you’re responding to e-mails on a Blackberry or smart phone, it’s tempting to abbreviate or shorten words and phrases (e.g., "u" instead of "you," or "r" instead of "are"). However, abbreviations are easy to misinterpret or may not be understood at all.

Beware of tone

Perhaps the most difficult part of writing an e-mail is achieving the right tone. If you’re writing an especially sensitive e-mail, let your final draft sit overnight and reread it before sending to make sure the message is appropriate. You also can ask a colleague or friend to read your message and offer feedback about how the message might be perceived. Remember, e-mail creates a permanent record of your communication that you have no control over after you click Send. So if you’re worried about the tone of your e-mail, you might want to skip the message altogether and ask for a meeting with the faculty member.

Keep it simple

Long e-mails with too many questions can get confusing. If your message is more than one or two paragraphs, rethink the purpose of the message. You may want to start with the most important question or topic. A lengthy e-mail may be a signal that the subject warrants a face-to-face meeting rather than a written communication. 

E-mail communication is an important part of building positive relationships with your professors. It’s always worthwhile to take the time to make sure your messages are clear and appropriate.

Resources

Jerz, D. & Bauer, J. (2000, December 12). Writing effective e-mail: Top 10 tips. Retrieved October 7, 2010.

Toth, E. (2009, April 28). Don’t e-mail me this way. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved October 8, 2010.