How to Write Professional Emails
October 23, 2018
You’re probably wondering why we’re devoting a whole blog post to the simple task of emailing – after all, we all do it, right? What could we possibly blog about? Well…a lot, it turns out. Many of us work in academia or have colleagues and friends who are professors, and we’ve heard stories about, or been on the receiving end of, emails that were, well, less than professional. Yes, professional – as a graduate student, you are a kind of colleague to professors and other professionals. Your emails should be a reflection of who you are as a student and professional, and should not sound or look as though you’re texting a friend. Email etiquette, especially in school and work, is important. However unfair it might be, the tone and presentation of an email can influence how a professor, boss, or colleague sees you as a worker and as a person.
Here are some things to keep in mind when emailing fellow students, professors, advisors, coworkers, and professionals:
- Make sure your grammar is correct, things are spelled correctly (especially the person’s name!), and the punctuation is appropriate (ie, try not to overuse exclamation points). If English is not your native language, try to have a native speaker look over the email before you send it, or simply do your best and explain that you’re not a native speaker. Though it’s convenient to shoot off an email on your phone, quick emails often contain spelling or grammar errors, as well as autocorrect mishaps. Taking your time to proofread and read it over before sending it is always a good idea.
- Get to the point. Although you want to be friendly, your professor or colleague doesn’t need an entire backstory as to why something is late, or why a concept is difficult for you. Try to convey your question or problem as clearly and succinctly as you can, so that there’s no confusion or misunderstanding with the other person.
- Think about your email address. Always try to use your student email or work email when emailing about school or professional matters. If you have to use a private email, it might be worth looking at your outdated email address and what message it sends to others – do you really want your professor to think of you as “Kahluagyrl45” or “sickbeatz69?”
- First things first: salutations. The lack of a salutation is a no-no: launching into an email with “I need…” or “I can’t find…” is simply rude. It’s always best to acknowledge the person to whom you’re sending an email, and a greeting helps convey a more friendly tone. Keeping that in mind, don’t be too casual and write “Hey!” It’s always best to err on the side of being more formal. Oftentimes, the syllabus will let you know how the professor wants to be addressed, or they might say as much during the first lecture. If they have a doctorate, “Dear Dr. X” is generally a safe way to go. If the professor wants you to call her by her first name or something else, she’ll let you know.
- Be specific. You’re not the only student emailing the professor. Let them know which class you’re in, which section, and who you are. If you spoke with them after class that day, mention it. Sign the email with your first and last name.
- Don’t be too casual. Even if you develop a working relationship with your professor, boss, or colleagues, don’t let email slip. Never send emails with texting language like “How r u doin?” or “Y not?”
- Be polite. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but sadly, it often needs to be said. Thank your professor for their time, or acknowledge how busy they are but still took the time to speak with you.
- Pay attention to goodbyes. As with salutations, how you end the email is important, too. Don’t say “See ya!” or ignore the farewell altogether. You can say, “Thank you for your time,” or “Sincerely,” or something like that. Use your first and last name so that your professor knows exactly who you are – you’d be surprised at how many people don’t sign the email at all, or only put their first name.
- Avoid cutesy signatures. We’ve all seen them – links to inspirational websites, or snarky/funny/pop culture quotes as an email signature. Remember, this is your teacher, boss, peer, or colleague. Although your love for Wayne’s World might help with trivia night, it’s not appropriate to have “Party on, Wayne!” as part of your email signature. If you have an email signature, keep it simple, with need-to-know information: your name, contact information, and title. Avoid graphics (unless it’s a company logo), animation, or colored font (yes, we’ve seen it!).
- Proofread again! Right before you send the email, look it over one more time for any autocorrects or things you might have missed. Some email servers have an “undo send” feature that gives you an extra 5 to 10 seconds to change your mind if you have accidentally hit send too soon.
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