How to write an email to your professor in a few easy steps

Writing an email to your professor can seem like a stressful thing to do.

It is also something you (student) may have not been taught HOW to do.

In our tweety and texting world we find ourselves writing messages based on brevity and informality. 

While these quick forms of communication are useful in our social lives, they are not best suited for all instances. 

This may seem like “DUH!!!” information to some of you out there.

But reader, I’m here to tell you that many students cannot distinguish between texting format and an email. 

So, not to fear y’all. 

This guide is here to help write that email. 

sitting to write
sitting at the computer about to write

If you’re a professor at your wits end after receiving twenty-five emails starting with “Yo,” or you’re tired of your name being misspelled, or students ignoring your years in the academy, or your students’ the lack of reading comprehension skills: share this, like it, and send it to your students. 

Students: If you’re tired of getting emails from annoyed professors, give this a read and take the advice. You’ll receive fewer extremely formal emails requesting you to read the syllabus again.

I promise.

Let’s break down the why and the how of sending emails to your professor.

#1: Ask yourself: Do I actually need to send an email to my professor?

  • Ask yourself this question: Is there an alternate place I could find the information I am looking for? (i.e. the syllabus your professor spent a long time writing?) Check the syllabus first friends. I bet that most of your questions can be answered if you are willing to open your eyes and mind and read something thoroughly.
  • So, let’s say it is NOT in the syllabus. (GASP!) Check the other material first. More than likely your professor has sent an email, posted something on Blackboard (or whatever your school uses), or sent out an announcement. 
  • If after steps one and two you STILL cannot find your answer, it’s time to write an email.

#2: Write that email

So, you’ve exhausted all the materials and you find yourself needing to ask a question between classes Breathe, get out your formal language, 2% of your high school English class skills, and get ready to type.

Start with a subject line that let’s the professor know which class and section you are in followed by a 1-2 word descriptor. For example:

  • Subject line: Project Question CAMX5599-02 
  • Subject line: Absences this week-VIOL2302

Once you get that subject line, you are ready to start the body of the email. Next step is the salutation. Consider these:

  • Dear Professor,
  • Dear Dr. XYZ,

If you do not know if they have a doctorate, go back to that syllabus.

How did your professor introduce themself? Was it Dr.? Mrs.? Miss? Mr.? Professor? Still don’t know the answer?

Google them or look this person up on the university website. More than likely, they have a faculty bio. If there is PhD or DMA after their name, they earned a doctorate. You should absolutely refer to a person with this designation as doctor. (Also make sure to spell their name correctly.)

Why, you ask? Well…if you went to a medical doctor’s office you wouldn’t walk in and say “Yo, Mr. Can you give me some of that good medicine?” Medical doctors spend years in medical school so they can treat people. Guess what?! Your professors also spent years in school studying, writing, and researching. Doctorates typically take a minimum of three years to complete, with most of them taking four to six.

Some take even longer!

Your professor spent years of their lives researching and becoming experts in their fields. Treat them and address them with the respect they EARNED.

Moving on…

So far we have a subject line and an appropriate greeting.

Now it is time to write the body of the email.

  • When in doubt go more formal.
  • Use appropriate fonts: (Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial [Editor’s Note: Calibri!]) Not wingdings or swirly junk.
  • Write in complete sentences.
  • Ask your question or request in a polite manner.
  • Don’t say something is urgent if it isn’t. Ask yourself this question: is this really an emergency?
  • Try not to accuse your professor of not doing something or doing something. 
  • Approach the exchange as a professional opportunity.
  • Be brief, be polite, spell correctly, and capitalize “I” if you are referring to yourself. 
  • Signing off
  • Sign your email a closing statement and your full name
  • Looking forward to hearing from you. -Your Name 
  • Many thanks- Your Name
  • Proofread it.
  • Read your email at least twice before hitting send.

Here are a couple of sample emails: 

Example 1:

Subject line: Absences in VIOL2302

Dear Dr. Knight,

I will be absent from class today due to an appointment with my doctor. I understand that I am responsible for any material covered in class today. Attached is the assignment due in class. Please let me know if there is anything else I need to do for today.

Many thanks for your time,

Billy Bob Student

Example 2:

Subject line: Question about course: CAMX2233

Dear Dr. Knight,

After reading the syllabus, I am still unclear about the music making project. I have never done a project like this before and would like more information about it. Could we set up a time to meet outside of class? Perhaps I could come to your office hours today to go over my project ideas.

Many thanks,

Susie Q. Student

A few things to remember

When writing emails to your professors, remember that they WANT to help you. They went into academia to teach what they learned. The goal is to help you and help you learn to help yourself.

I encourage you to be patient with your professor and their response times. Generally, professors will provide students with a time frame they can expect email responses (48 hours is really reasonable!), when they can expect grades, and other communication expectations.

Many times you can find these expectations in a segment on the syllabus called: Course Expectations.

The one I am using beginning in Spring 2021 are below.

Course Expectations:

CAMX2301: Creative Arts Seminar Music Segment—Course Expectations

Dr. Nina Knight

Music Segment 2020

Instructor Expectations from Students:

Dr Knight will:

  • provide regular communication with the class through announcements, email notifications, and zoom office hours.
  • email responses to students within 48-hours of receipt during the hours of 8:00AM-4:00PM, Monday-Friday.
  • post grades for the concert report, project, participation, and test within one week of the submission dates.
  • provide the student’s overall music segment grade within one week of students completing the music segment.
  • communicate clear instructions for the music segment requirements in a variety of formats (emails, announcements, videos, slides and presentations.)
  • ensure a range of opportunities to engage in the music segment including journals, discussion boards, and videos.

Professor Expectations of Students:

Students will:

  • familiarize themselves with the course syllabus, segment syllabus, evaluation, grading criteria, course and individual segment requirements including: participation expectations, rubrics, paper guidelines, and project guidelines.
  • complete all coursework and submit assignments on time.
  • engage in the course, with their colleagues, and Dr. Knight with open, respectful, and appropriate communication.
  • respond to Dr. Knight’s emails in a timely manner.
  • keep track of all dates for testing and assignments.
  • make logistical plans ahead of time for tests and assignments.
  • ensure they are able to access the internet and a quiet space in order to complete the exam during its assigned date and time.
  • make attempts to problem solve any internet or technical issues that arise in the course. Students will communicate the issues with Dr. Knight and the IT department ASAP.
  • not cheat or plagiarize.

Plagiarism and cheating will not be tolerated—See SHSU Academic Integrity Statement

So the main advice is

Be kind, be patient, be professional, think before you write, and proofread. 

One last thing, if your professor emails you with information, please respond. You can even respond with “message received” or “thank you for the information.” 

Alright, y’all.

Get to it, get after it, and write well!