You Need to Upgrade Your Emailing Skills ASAP!

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Published on April 28, 2020

Although the mainstream use and vast popularity of Email began in 1995 due to the introduction of the AOL messaging system (and eventually developed into a necessary form of communication in the 2000’s), various students and working professionals have failed to master the correct formatting of online messaging in the year 2020! 

Many frequent Internet users would probably consider themselves to have already obtained master levels of computer literacy, their emails may prove otherwise. In fact, there is a science, structure and formatting within emailing that is essential to presenting yourself formally to professors and bosses within a business or a school environment.  

As HCC English Professor Kirk Hughes notes, “Most professors welcome direct communication from students via email. It’s an efficient and asynchronous mode of communication that gives us freedom to schedule our responses as best fit our energy, time and attention.  It’s also a boon to students who need clarification, reiteration, or help finding resources for their assignments.”   

Extensive research and  interviews, however,  has revealed that the biggest factor in creating an effective mode of conversation is email etiquette. This online tool was derived explicitly from examples of formal letters, as well as social, cultural and traditional norms accepted within face to face and interpersonal conversation. Both Yoora Park, writer for the University Network and author of “How to Email Your Professors and Bosses” and Hughes agree that taking a friendlier and more human approach to online messaging produces greater results, along with more natural conversations with your superiors. In fact, Professor Park, through her years of teaching and online conversation has concluded that, “this well-intentioned young generation can definitely use some help in the department of email etiquette…[and] writing a good email is a MUST in college and in the workplace alike, so take heed.”

The first step in displaying appropriate email civility begins with addressing the recipient of your message in a manner that both reflects, and respects, your work environment. For instance, it is imperative to start your message with either the introductions “Dear,” “Hi,” or “Hello,” depending on your level of comfortability with the note’s receiver, or the amount of interactions you have had with them. This preferred mechanism of initiating talk with superiors, is universally followed by stating the person’s earned title and name, such as “Dr. Phil,” “Professor Mark,” or in rare educational cases, like emailing a TA, “Mr. Johnson.” 

Addressing the email’s recipient by name adds a heightened level of intimacy and connectedness between the sender and its reader, which leads directly to our experts’ next tip; “Acknowledge your professor as an individual. You have a specific reason for emailing your professor, I get that. But don’t jump straight to your point, asking or requesting something from them. Recognize that they too, have personal lives outside of their academia– they are not their roles,” writes Park.  A great recommendation to solving this commonly unforeseen obstacle is having your second sentence parallel a question, or statement, similar to these: “I hope you had a great weekend,” “How was your week?” or “I hope you are staying happy and healthy during these unique circumstances,” (perfect for Rona Season). On the other hand, while creating a naturally shared space, in order to conduct realistic and professional conversation is undoubtedly essential, having a polite demeanor and an attainable call to action, are equally important.

The most imperative portion of your email, should undoubtedly be addressing your question, concerns etc., that you have prepared to ask your direct superior; however, these tips will serve exceptionally well in any formal, civil or mature online atmosphere. For example, Professor Park reflects the utmost importance of voicing your polite demands by stating, “Now’s finally the time to reveal your real reason for writing. Do you need to make an appointment to see the professor outside of his office hours? Do you have a conflicted exam schedule? Whatever it is, make it succinct and straightforward, but be courteous.” Remember, in many cases, the primary reasoning for sending an Email is to address a question that is in dire need of response. Due to this fact, professors and bosses, more often than not prefer your questions to be concise and directly to your focal point of focus or concern. In other words, there is no need for any extra details. Professors and bosses are both in a position of authority that require strong leadership characteristics; In order for their students or workers to manufacture successful results, guidance, assistance, motivation and mentorship are essential. Therefore, students should never feel hesitant, or obligated to “beat around the bush,” when attempting to have their issues resolved. In fact, students and workers are typically a reflection of their superior’s directive, motives and their ability to guide youths collectively to success, so please take use of their knowledge and heightened qualities of leadership.

Hughes offers some specific steps for helping both students and professors use email more effectively: 

  1. “Include the course number in the subject header line:  I ask my students to include 101 , 241, 173 in the subject/ header line of any email. This both helps me get my head into the right ‘room’ as I prepare to answer, but it also lets me ‘batch’ emails so that I can answer multiple emails from the same class at the same time.” 
  2. “Choose ‘substantive’ subject/header lines.  Instead of writing ‘Question?’ in the subject/header. write ‘MLA Question Citing the Bible.’ This makes it easier/faster for the professor to answer, but it also helps with later references to the email.”
  3. “Include a ‘signature” at the end of the email with full name, class name/number… and contact info., even a banner number would be great.   This can be done automatically by setting up a default signature in most email systems, or it can be typed in. Either way it helps with all kinds of professorial record keeping when we need to reference grade books, attendance sheets, Degree works etc.”

Even during this horrid outbreak, Hughes urges students to not only practice and display formal writing while aiming for a professional tone, but always thank your professor in advance for their help and reply. Please be cognizant that this has been an immensely trying and stressful time for absolutely everyone, the least we can do as students would be thanking our professors for adjusting to and appeasing our confusing online requests.