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Mathematics

Emailing Your Instructor

(written by Jean Marie Linhart, Ph.D.)
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When emailing your instructor, you want to be intelligent, polite and professional. This is not sending text messages to your buddies. Most of you know this already, but I see these rules violated regularly. Here's what I'd like to get in my inbox:

  • Identify yourself:
    • Set up your email account so that your real name appears with your email address. If you don't know how to do this, find out and get it done.
    • Always sign off with your full name, first and last.
      Ideally your email is set up so that it sends your full real name as well as your email address. We do not like getting emails from anonymous addresses like whoopaggie12@tamu.edu, and even less when whoopaggie12@tamu.edu doesn't bother to identify him or herself. That might be a great email for use with your buddies, but then you must make sure your outgoing address also identifies you by your real name. This may take some time figuring out the computer or calling in some technical support, but it is worth it.
  • Subject: Include a subject indicating what the message is about, and possibly also the course and section. Don't leave it blank!
  • Greeting: Always open with a greeting, using the title you would normally use for your instructor. I'm fine with Hi Jean Marie from colleagues, but I expect Hi Dr. Linhart from students. Use the highest level of courtesy if you are at all in doubt!
    • Dear Dr. Linhart
    • Hi Prof. Smith
    • Hello Ms. Amundsen
  • Title: Notice I used a title (Dr., Prof., Ms.) above. Unless your instructor has given you permission to use his or her first name, always use the instructor's title. Often this is Dr. or Professor in a university setting. You should always default to Dr. or Prof.
    • If the person you are writing to does not have a Ph.D. (or equivalent), then the proper address is Mr. or Ms.. Do not use Mrs. unless your instructor has told you to. Not all female instructors are married! Ms. is safer.
    • It is an issue among female instructors that we are often addressed as Ms. or Mrs., whereas our male colleagues are Dr. or Prof., even when we have completed the same qualifications as the men. Please help make the world a better place and make sure you do not make this mistake.
  • Identify your course and section: Instructors often teach more than one course or section. Identify your course and section in your email.
  • The body of your email: Be specific about your inquiry.
    • Note that in my class, questions about homework/class logistics (when are office hours? what is the next exam over) do not get sent to my email. They get posted on a discussion board.
    • If you ask about homework, specify which homework and which problem, don't assume the instructor will figure it out from context.
    • Keep in mind that often instructors cannot discuss grades over email or the telephone. Save these questions for office hours.
    • When asking for an appointment, specify when you would can make it, at least generally: Could I have an appointment to come see you between 2 and 4 pm on Wednesday afternoon? If that doesn't work with your schedule, I am also available Thursday from 10-11 am or from 3-4 pm.
    • If you are asking for special consideration, please ask promptly, explain all the circumstances surrounding the request, and keep in mind we may not be able to say yes.
  • Closing: Always use one. Some examples
    • Sincerely, Your Full Name
    • Cordially, Your Full Name
    • Best regards, Your Full Name
    • Thank you, Your Full Name
      Notice that you conclude with your full name. Even if your full name is on your email address, always include it here!
  • Always reply promptly with a thank you when you have a question answered.
  • Keep in mind that sometimes we must say no. Accept the no with a "thanks for considering my request", rather than an argument. An argument with a no rarely turns it into a yes, and it will almost always annoy your instructor. I guarantee you it will annoy me.

There are some more tips here: Business email basics

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