Using Email to Communicate with Professors
Being able to communicate effectively is a vital skill for both academic and professional
success. The opportunity to demonstrate effective communication exists daily - from
interactions with peers to interactions with professors and supervisors. In composition
courses, students learn that the art of writing is simply one venue of communication.
Thus, mastering the fundamental writing skills is a necessary pre-requisite for effective
communication in a variety of academic and professional environments. Although you
will likely face any number of situations which require honest, grammatically correct
and effective communication, emailing professional academic professors/instructors
is the most prominent.
Tips for Writing an Email in an Academic Setting
Put a name/title of email in the subject line – For example, if you are inquiring about a grade you received on an assignment,
put "Grade Concern" in the subject line. Keep your words simple and specific.
Introduce yourself and/or remind the instructor of your name and what class you are
in – Keep it somewhat casual, but assume that a brief introduction is always okay,
unless, of course, you have recently corresponded with this instructor on multiple
occasions. Introducing yourself is particularly important early in a semester since
most professors are inundated with new students and classes.
Address the instructor/professor in the manner she/he requests – Many instructors will indicate on their syllabus, their preferred title, including
"Instructor Smith,” "Professor Smith" or "Mr./Mrs. Smith."
Be clear and concise in the email – Clearly state your request or intention for the email and what you are hoping to
receive. For example, if you are planning an absence and want to notify the instructor
in advance, clearly state when you will be absent and ask what can do to prepare
in advance, to ensure that your grade does not suffer. DO NOT go into elaborate details
about why you will be gone or over-explain your point; however, do be clear with
your word choice.
Be brief – Just as students and working professionals are busy, assume that your instructor
also has a busy schedule. In the email, keep the sentences brief, aiming for roughly
3-5 sentences (or a paragraph). This is a general guideline, and there may be exceptions
for when a longer email, with several paragraphs, is more appropriate.
Sign with your name at the end, preceded by a traditional closing, such as “thanks,” “sincerely” or “warmly.”
This keeps it both professional and thoughtful.
Revise for proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar – Always review your email before sending it, including performing a thorough spell-check.
Even if you feel pressed for time or anxious, it is vital to demonstrate your best
writing skills in every interaction with an instructor or boss. Doing so not only
demonstrates your skill level and intelligence, but also shows him/her that you are
Sample Academic Email
Dear Professor Smith,
I am a student in your English 122 class, at 9:00 on the Greeley campus.
I wanted to let you know that, due to a family illness, I will not be attending class
on Thursday, July 25th. While I accept responsibility for the missed participation
points, I am wondering if there is any work I can do in preparation so that my absence
does not impact my grade. Thanks so much for your time.