Living in the age of internet communication often blurs the lines of what is appropriate. There’s a major difference between what you would text your friends versus what you’d email your professors.
Learning this now will help you communicate effectively in professional settings throughout your academic career and beyond. With that in mind, here are five types of emails you should never send in any setting.
As a general rule, writing anything when you’re angry is a mistake. Whether you’re texting a friend, responding to your boss, or upset about a grade from your professor, you should always take a couple of hours to cool off and think of a respectful, clear way to communicate your concerns (bonus points if you include helpful suggestions for how to solve the problem together!). Taking the time to write a collected, thoughtful response will make you look professional and will almost always get you to your desired solution much quicker than the alternative.
The Question with an Obvious Answer
Email inboxes across the world are crowded with unread emails because they look like timewasters. Always be certain you don’t have access to the answer anywhere else before emailing to ask about it.
This is especially true as a college student. In each of your classes, you’ll receive a syllabus containing all of the information necessary for success. This includes what books you need and where to buy them, grading policies, all of the dates for your exams and assignments, and more. So, if you’re thinking about emailing your professor to ask what day your collaborative group project is due, the day of your midterm, or whether or not they’ll round your final grade, you should check the syllabus. Otherwise, you might get a response that says “Please check the syllabus,” which is a waste of time for both of you. Show that you’re on top of things by looking for information yourself (which might get your grade rounded at the end of the semester).
No emergency should be dealt with via email. Emails are for issues that can be solved properly within at least two days. If you forgot to submit an assignment and you realized it a couple of hours too late, emailing your professor urgently to reopen the assignment or offer a grace period for you is less than ideal. While mistakes happen and your professors want you to succeed, they also don’t live behind their desks waiting to answer your questions immediately. Emailing about issues that aren’t actually emergencies shows that you didn’t manage your time well, and they may not be willing to assist you with that (especially if it has become a habit).
The Rough Draft
It’s true when they say every document can benefit from another round of proofreading. Even though most email platforms have built-in spellchecking, nothing will ever catch spelling and grammar errors the way a thorough proofread will. Read your email aloud in order to catch awkward wordings and obvious errors. Get rid of anything that feels repetitive or unnecessary, and add in some paragraph breaks to make your message easier to read. Show your boss or professor you took the time to communicate this concern in a professional way. It pays off in the end.
The Vague Request
It’s likely some of your early college classes are going to be pretty full, which means it will take your professor some time to learn your name. They have hundreds of students across multiple classes, which is why any email you send to a professor should contain a certain amount of clarifying information.
Here’s an example of what your email shouldn’t look like:
“Hi Dr. Smith,
I’m Jane from your English 101 class. What’s the assignment for next week?”
There are a few issues in that message. First, the sender didn’t include their first and last name, making it nearly impossible to decide who the student is. Second, there are likely multiple sections of English 101, since so many students are required to take it. This student should have included their specific course section number. Also, without the section number, the professor can’t guide the student to the answer in the proper syllabus (because yes, this is an email with an obvious answer).
Here’s what your email should look like:
“Hi Dr. Smith,
My name is Jane Doe from your EN101-06 course that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-11:50. Could you please tell me the assignment for next week? Thank you for your time.”
This email is much more specific, and it also adds in a professional tone that was missing from the first one.
Make sure you show your professors you respect them and their time, and they will be highly likely to do the same for you in return.