Emailing Professors 101

It’s a scene we’ve seen a hundred times over. The professor asks, “Any questions?” Clearly, the class has questions, but no one will ask, so there is silence before the professor dismisses everyone and the class is left with their own questions about their questions.

“What if it was only a question I had?”

“What if I looked dumb in front of the class?”

“What if I don’t understand this later?”

In these cases, crafting an email to your professor is a key technique to get the exact information you want and to let the professor know what things to clarify in class later. Here are a few key tips to creating that concise, constructive, and considerate professorial email:

  1. Be proactive about sending your email. Waking up in a fit at 2 AM wondering how to cite a thing and blurrily emailing will not get you your best result nor will it give the professor time to answer. Once you think of a question, write a memo on your phone or text yourself the question and email the professor that same day.
  2. Use formal language in the email. Formatting it as a letter, while perhaps old-hat, is a reliable way to present your question as composed and important. “Dear Dr. SuchandSuch” and “Regards/Sincerely, Curious Student” are key phrases to bolster your own image to the professor and get their attention.
  3. Lead with what you understand about the subject you are asking about. This will prevent any repeating information from the professor which will feel better to you since you will only get the information you asked for.
  4. Include a specific timeframe in which you want your question answered. Just sending the question is both bad manners and will not guarantee a response. Inserting a phrase like “please let me know by the end of the week” or “please respond as soon as it’s convenient” give the professor a sense of your urgency without you having to type “I NEED THIS NOW PLZ.”

Most of all, don’t be scared to contact your professor when you have a question. Odds are you are not the only one with that question. Your classmates and professor will both benefit just from being asked. So draft and send away scholars!


-Cassie Reid

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