Thursday, January 19, 2017

5 Steps to Composing the Academic E-mail

Crafting the perfect e-mail to send along to an instructor can be daunting, but following these five tips can change your e-mail game for the better.

Step One: Think of a direct, informative, and clear subject line.

The subject line is widely regarded among instructors to be one of the most important parts to an e-mail. Vague, nonexistent, or particularly lengthy subject lines result in e-mails that may be discarded by instructors. If the student cannot spend the time to properly format an e-mail that takes effort for the instructor to sort through, why should the instructor respond? Though this article is mainly for business e-mails, WikiHow suggests “summariz[ing] the email in a 68 word subject.”

Clear subject lines can ensure that recipients 
are more likely to respond to the e-mail. 

Step Two:
Consider an appropriate salutation and title.

Salutations are a sign of convention, regularity, and respect. Something as simple as “Dr. Nelson—” or “Dear Dr. Fields,” are common and expected upon sending the first message. And, in departing, “Sincerely,” followed by a name or anything else appropriate, is perfect in closing out an e-mail. (Oftentimes instructors will respond once or twice in the ensuing string of e-mails and drop salutations in response to the student, which then leaves it up to the student to continue using salutations or drop them accordingly.)

Step Three: Don’t be wordy.

The length of body paragraphs is quite crucial in breaking up important information so as not to come across as overbearing or cluttered in the e-mail. Recipients would much rather sift through an e-mail with multiple questions or concerns that is split up accordingly rather than one that contains a few blocks of text. 

Keeping it segmented and readable makes for an e-mail less intimidating to the recipient. says that “[a] popular rule that you could . . . use [is] the KISS Test – Keep It Short and Simple.”

Step Four: Thank them for their time.

Though salutations (both introductory and parting) are formalities that serve the purpose of respect and acknowledgement of another’s time, you can never be too forward in your thanks to an instructor. By signing off an e-mail with “Thanks so much for your time!” or “I appreciate any light you can shed on this situation” just before your closing salutation, you can ensure that your recipient reads your e-mail as having a serious and friendly tone because you wrote it as such.

Appropriate thanks & closing salutations show respect to the recipient. 

Step Five:
Be. Patient.

Since students are almost always the party needing a favor, whether that is guidance on a project/essay or clarity on something hazy, they serve the role of being patient in waiting for a response. (Recipients are not expected to drop everything that is ongoing in their lives simply to respond to a student’s e-mail right away.)

Normally, recipients may respond within a few days; however, a week is sometimes warranted in that instructors are typically professors with full workloads who have many other students e-mailing them simultaneously. A follow-up e-mail is never a bad idea so long as sufficient time (typically a week) has passed.

By checking off these five steps each time you send an e-mail to an instructor, you can be sure to expect a timely (and often appreciative!) response.

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, especially about ¶ length and concision. I sometimes get emails that have large blocks of text, and I don't read them right away because the wall of text is daunting.