With email, social media and office hours, college professors are more accessible now than ever before. But that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for students to address them the way they would talk to their friends and family.
“With undergraduates who are just coming out of high school, they aren’t really thinking of the different levels [of etiquette],” says Holly Meng, the Senior Specialist of International Business at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. “They think that they can ask a teacher whatever they want.”
Prior to joining Temple, Meng was a consultant and the founder of the Etiquette School of Grace, which provided etiquette training to international businesspeople. “Manners really affect people,” Meng reminds us. “It’s not just manners but reading people.”
Meng shares these tips on how students can write professional emails while in college.
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Have a clear subject line:“I’d write your course number and your first and last name and then your subject, [ex. Bio 101 Jane Smith lab report],” Meng advises. “If you write something like ‘Paper question,’ the professor still doesn’t know what paper, which class.” It’s important to remember that especially in large lecture classes, professors can have dozens of students and it can be difficult to keep track of everyone.
Lean towards formality:Meng advises students not to address a professor by their first name unless they are expressly invited to do so. “They are not your friends,” says Meng. “Usually on the syllabus, they indicate whether or not they have a PhD. In that case, you can say ‘Dear Dr. so-and-so.’”
Remember to proofread:No one likes emails riddled with spelling and grammar issues, especially the professors who are grading you. Remember to look everything over before you hit send, says Meng.
Give thanks:“Normally, when a student is emailing a professor, they are asking for a favor,” says Meng. “So say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ They are the magical words.”
A request for something like an extension is also not the time for emoticons or colorful fonts. “Don’t use things like ‘LOL,’” says Meng. “That’s not a good idea.”
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.