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Do you want to ensure that you’re taken seriously by your professors? Read on…

Hey prof, can i meet with u 2morrow during ur office hours

i have some q’s about the assignment due friday

i need help lol

The language in this example is quite common on social media and one-to-one communications (texts, emails to friends, etc). In my experience, this kind of written language has even made it into spaces where it has no business being. As you can probably tell from the title and the example, I am talking about student emails to professors, a topic that most students NEVER receive any training on. If you’re a high school student who will be going to university in the near future, it will be valuable for you to take this advice seriously: Your relationship with your professor is a professional one and your emails should always reflect this reality.

I chose to write about this topic for two reasons. The first is because of the countless number of emails that I have received that closely resemble the example above. The second is the real (negative) consequence that this can have for you in university.  When I was an undergrad, one of my TAs explained to me, “your professors and TAs will form judgements of you based on the emails that you send to them.” My TA was right. Once I was in the position to teach and grade undergraduates, I quickly realized how serious this issue is.

In addition to abandoning informal language in your student-professor communications, there is another major element of email etiquette that you should be aware of. Always try to maintain reasonable expectations for response times from your course director. From many conversations that I have had with other university educators, I have realized that it is too common for students to have the expectation that their professor/TA will respond to an email immediately. I have heard of numerous examples where students have emailed their course director several times over the course of a weekend. You should be mindful that if you send an email to your professor on Saturday afternoon, it is perfectly reasonable for them to respond to your inquiry on Monday morning. Keep in mind that your professors often travel to conferences, work countless hours on research and publications, and many have families and personal obligations. If your email has not received a response, be patient. Typically, you should give your professors/TAs 24 to 48 hours to respond. In most cases, your course director is not trying to ignore you. To avoid this altogether, you may even take a moment at the beginning of each term to ask your professors how long it usually takes them to respond to student emails.

For your benefit, I have put together a list of 5 dos and don’ts. Each of these suggestions is based on my (and colleagues’) correspondence with undergraduate students.

5 Things to avoid. Do not:

  1. Use slang unless it is a topic of conversation in the course.

  2. Refer to your professor as “prof” or by first name unless otherwise stated.

  3. Write to your professors or TAs as if they are your friend or family.

  4. Demand a response in an unreasonable amount of time.

  5. Write an email while you are upset about a mark (I will be posting on how to appropriately and convincingly contest a grade in the near future).

5 Things to remember. Do:

  1. Be courteous and professional.

  2. Begin your email with, “Dear Professor ____________”.

  3. Use proper grammar and spelling (as if you were writing a paper).

  4. Be fair with your response time expectations. Typically, 24 to 48 hours is reasonable. However, weekends and exam/assignment time (because of high volume) may require more.

  5. Ask your professor or TA for a meeting if you require a very substantive response.

If you’re unsure about how to put all of this advice together, take a look at the example below. It should be noted that there are many different ways to express the following content. No matter how or why you are crafting an email, just remember to be courteous, clear, and concise.

Example 1 – Asking for help on an assignment

Dear Professor ____________,

I am currently enrolled in your course SOC 101. I have been having some difficulty with finding resources for the upcoming assignment due on November 1, 2016. I would like to address the topic of immigration and economic growth in Canada. I have consulted the work of Avery and Hawkins, as suggested during last week’s lecture, but I am looking for other sources to build my bibliography.

Would you be able to provide some suggestions for further reading? If this question requires a conversation, I would be happy to visit you during your posted office hours or at another convenient time.


Student Name

There are many places where slang and informal language is acceptable. Email communication between you and your professor/TA is not one of these spaces. I understand that this is probably something that no one ever mentions to you, but not being aware of how you’re presenting yourself to your professors can have immense implications. In your demeanor and your written communications, always be professional, clear, and concise. If you take this advice, you will ensure that your inquiry gets taken seriously.