How to Write an E-mail to a Professor

Image by CollegeDegrees360, Flickr

Image by CollegeDegrees360, Flickr

If you ever wish to forewarn your professor of an absence from class, clarify a question about an assignment, or arrange an appointment to discuss lecture material, you will need to send your professor an e-mail. Don’t worry! As long as you write in a concise manner, state your purpose clearly, and sign off politely, you can’t go wrong.

1. Make sure you are sending the email from your academic e-mail account.
Your school address has a better chance of allowing your professor to identify you and avoiding spam filters than your Hotmail account from the sixth grade.

2. Use a concise but informative subject line.
Include the title or course code of your class, and let the professor know what you are going to talk about in the e-mail. Subject lines like “HIST201 Question about research sources for project” or “BIOL211 Absence next week” should suffice.

3. Read the course syllabus.
Read the material your professor provided you with at the beginning of the course carefully. The syllabus might include specific guidelines for e-mail etiquette – rules regarding content may restrict the length of your e-mail. Also, the answer to the question you plan on asking might already be in the syllabus, which would save both time and effort on your part as well as that of your professor.

4. Address your professor formally, introduce yourself briefly, and try to be as specific and to-the-point as you possibly can.
“Dear Professor [Last Name],
I hope you are well. My name is [Your Name], and I am a student in your [Name of class] class…”

Professors get a lot of e-mails every day, and it can be frustrating to comb through a long-winded ramble to decipher what a student is actually trying to say. In the content of your e-mail, only give as much information as is absolutely relevant to the situation. If your e-mail is longer than four or five lines, you may want to request an appointment to further discuss your situation with them in person.

5. Be polite and use formal language.
Avoid slang, casual language, or contractions. At the end of your e-mail, thank your professor for his or her time and consideration, and sign your full name.
“Thank you for your time and consideration.
Your Name”