Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to e-mail your college professor

Actual e-mail received (and illustrated) by Dr. Janet Frick

See that e-mail up there? That's an example of how not to address your college professor.

We talked with UGA Psychology Professor  Dr. Janet Frick, about e-mail etiquette, as the above sample is hardly unique among all she's seen in over 15 years of teaching.

When she started her career, e-mail from students was more formal and thoughtful, possibly because at the time, "it was much more effortful for students to have access to a computer," she says. 

But over the past couple of years, Frick has noticed a change in the quality of e-mails she gets from her students.

"Today's undergraduates are a little 'Post E-mail,'" she says. "They are more likely to text. That engenders a quicker style, a  less formal style, a  familiarity." And they transfer that style to their e-mail.

It pays to be respectful in your e-mails for many reasons. For instance, Frick admits that students with solid e-mail etiquette stand out, that they appear to "be more polite, take school more seriously, and approach school as a professional environment."

Here are some quick tips from Frick on how to convey that respect to your professors:

• Make the subject line informative—instead of "hey," try, "Help needed with online quiz."

• Use the proper address. Unless you've been told otherwise by your instructor, always address them as "Dr." or "Prof." While it's a safe bet to call many high school teachers "Mr." or "Ms.," some college-level instructors bristle at that. Never use "Mrs.," even if you know your instructor is married—she may not have the same last name as her partner.

• Introduce yourself. Professors teach a lot of classes with a lot of students. Keep it short and helpful: "Hello, this is Joe Smith, I'm in your intro class at 11 a.m."

• Keep the tone respectful. Imagine you are writing the parent of a brand-new boyfriend or girlfriend.

P.S. - Frick gently responded to the student who e-mailed her the above sample, making suggestions on how to improve his next e-mail to her. The student thanked her for her advice!



  1. Love this post, Mary Jessica! So needed!

  2. Ms. Jessica,
    Shouldn't your e-mail introduction above have the title of the class capitalized? Should the full name of the class be used? Something like this:
    "Hello, this is Joe Smith, I'm in your Introduction to Literature class at 11 a.m."