A little email etiquette goes a long way. See also UCD Classroom Etiquette.

From (undergraduate) student to instructor:

  • Start the email with "Dear Prof. Smith" or "Dear Dr. Jones", as appropriate - unless they have told you otherwise. Some faculty, particularly in the sciences, don't mind being called by their first names, but it never hurts to be more formal from the start. Do not refer to your instructor as Mr. or Ms. — and definitely not as Mrs. (It is offensive to many women if you make assumptions about their marital status, and even if a woman is married she may prefer "Ms.").
  • Indicate which class you are in. - Many faculty teach more than one class. Don't make them go check their roster.
  • Use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling, to the best of your abilities. - This is not the time for u 2 show ur prof how kewl u r. They won't get it and they will think you're either disrespectful or not very smart.
  • Don't expect an instantaneous reply, especially if you send late at night. - But within 24 hours is reasonable.
  • If you have a question that requires a long answer, go to office hours. - Some things are just too hard to explain over email.
  • Sign with your first and last name. - instructors want to know who is emailing them, and not all email programs give this information.
  • Check your email for a reply. - Nothing is more irritating for a instructor than to take time to compose a reply, only to be asked the next day, "Did you get my email?"
  • Reply to the instructor. - "Thank yous" are always appreciated, especially if the instructor has written a long email.

From instructor to student:

  • Reply promptly. - If you can't reply right away, at least give a quick response to let the student know you got their email and will reply as soon as you can.
  • Be positive. - If you're commenting on a student's work, try to find at least one relatively positive thing to say about it, even if most of what you have to say is negative.
  • Be polite. - The message you're trying to convey will be lost if it is delivered rudely.


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2008-10-20 23:58:20   Learning how to write meaningful subject headings can also make life a lot easier for both the sender and the recipient (not just instructors, but also counselors, academic advisers or peer advisers). When you consider that the "Instructor:Student" ratio is at least 1:100 (imagine teaching 3x sections of 30 students each), a subject heading of "Help - Midterm?!" isn't very conducive to you receiving any helpful responses, other than, "Who are you and what do you mean?"

Instead, try something involving your name, your class section, and the actual subject of discussion, as in the following examples:

"[BioSci 101A, Lecture Section 2] Kacey Lander — Question about Section 5 on the practice midterm: format to use for essay questions?" "[JPN01, 8:00 AM session] Chapter 5 Conversation — do we need to translate all 10 pages?" "[LIT105, Afternoon Language Lab Session] Cancelled or moved to another room? T.A. did not specify."

This practice is especially useful if you are a student employee who has to communicate exclusively via email to other staff members in different departments. Speaking as a university staff employee, we receive an average of 50-75 emails a day. Because everyone's concern is urgent and time-sensitive, emails with nondescript subject headings (e.g., "Tomorrow", "Front Desk", "Sick", "Can I leave early?") easily get lost in the barrage of daily announcements, reminders and FYI notifications. If anything, being able to write distinct subject headings helps us track multiple discussions and demonstrates that you are capable of communicating effectively in writing — which is usually a plus in a professional environment.

And I agree that ending with polite salutations such as "Thank you", "Thank you for your time", "Sincerely", or other variations is always welcome because it shows that you respect the other person's time. —T.Zukumori

2009-01-02 22:59:06   oh man...I just like to start my messages out "Hey Teach-". That's not appropriate? —AmandaAbughosh

2009-03-05 20:41:48   Thanks for the tips! Reading this makes me wonder who you are! —renee415

2009-06-15 21:34:38   O my, this is a nice thing to refer people to. But also, let me add: if you don't come to class or come rarely, don't e-mail your professor, even with questions that might not have been covered in class. Why? Because you could have asked before or after class, or contacted a peer. Not attending and expecting your professor to deal with you via e-mail sends this message: I can't be bothered to give you any of my time during the hours we are supposed to interact, but I demand that you give me your time whenever I need it. Yuck. Obviously, if you have a disability or illness that makes class attendance difficult, and are all set up with the UCD resources for that, that's a different story. —BethFreeman

  • Glad you said something! Students do this all the time. I think this has to do with the fact that many students walk around with this sense of entitlement and just expect other people to bail them out or clean up after them. It's just a lack of maturity and self-awareness. Hopefully, something that students will grow out of by the time they all graduate.—CurlyGirl26

2010-08-01 14:40:03   As a student, it's very frustrating when you apply for an internship under a professor, and don't even receive a reply, even when following all of the above suggestions. Even a simple "Sorry, don't need an intern" or "Sorry, you're not what we're looking for" would suffice. I put in a lot of time into personalizing my resume and cover letter for each internship. Some acknowledgment is all I ask for. —TheShah

  • I agree — without knowing more about the situation, that seems inexcusable. —CovertProfessor

2010-09-09 10:15:30   How do you start an email to a lecturer who is not a professor and only has a master's? I once ran into this problem and ended up dropping the salutation all together. —JeffLee

  • In my opinion, the person has the job of a professor and so should be address as "Professor X." The fact that they aren't tenure-track or don't have a PhD doesn't change the fact that they are doing the job of a professor. If they don't want you to call them that, they will probably say so, but I think it is better to choose the more respectful salutation from the start — you are less likely to offend someone that way. —CovertProfessor

2014-02-20 14:48:21   @Jeff Look at the syllabus and see what they call themselves. I usually play it up, and call them Dr. or Professor even if they aren't. It plays into their ego, like CovertProfessor implicitly said. —JimPage