When I use the word “etiquette,” I don’t mean to conjure up rules about how to sit in a skirt. Instead, I suggest that there are guidelines regarding email that will help you to better communicate with the other person. You don’t have to be overly formal, but you do have to be precise. Good writing effectively communicates your thoughts, even in an email.
Almost every day, I receive an email from a student that begins, “yo” or “hey” or “Mr.” (The “Mr.” is always the most baffling.) At the very least, in the beginning of an email conversation (Gmail groups emails into conversations), greet your reader. Say “hello” in a manner that is appropriate to your reader. For example, if you are writing to your friend, perhaps you don’t even need a greeting. If you are writing to your professor, perhaps a quick “Dear + name” or “Good morning” is appropriate.
I’ve received emails that are missing all punctuation and capitalization. Once, I received an email that simply said, “huh?” Frankly, I can’t always understand these emails. I want to; believe me, I do. If I did, I could quickly respond and continue with my work. Without understanding, I have to ask a number of follow-up questions and it takes longer than necessary. Meanwhile, the student has a question and can’t work on his or her work.
Therefore, in the body of your email, include all relevant material. Most of us adjuncts teach a number of classes at a number of schools. If you mention what class you are in, what assignment you are working on and give other relevant background to your question (are you responding to the assignment sheet? Feedback on your last essay?), then I can more easily help you.
I encourage students to ask questions, especially in online classes. Perhaps something is unclear and I can help everyone by answering the question on the Blackboard page. It is helpful to know what you understand because it allows me to better teach the class. Don’t see this as a post about why you shouldn’t write to your professor, but rather how to do it more effectively so that you can learn as much as possible.
Don’t forget to sign your emails, especially if your email address is something like “fuzzypartygirl22.” Let me know who you are. This also helps to keep your emails out of the spam folder. Even better, use your school email account.
I receive so many incomprehensible emails that I’ve started to include a quick section about email etiquette on my syllabus. Here is what I wrote on one syllabus this semester:
Careful writing and reading are important skills that you will use throughout your lives, no matter what profession you choose. This course offers you a number of opportunities to practice those skills. For example, if you write me an email asking a question, please edit, revise and spell-check your email before you send it. Here is a great link to a page that discusses proper email etiquette.
Email etiquette stretches across professions. In fact, this Thanksgiving, my family and friends in a variety of fields, from academia to the legal professional to the medical profession, mourned the loss of email etiquette.
What would you add to these suggestions?