Email Etiquette: Crafting Quality Correspondence

Michael Lantvet is the ERC’s Assistant Director for Tutoring Services.

Email and texting are probably the most common ways that we communicate with each other.  Now that you’re here at BU, you’re probably going to do even more emailing than you ever have before (if that’s possible) and there are a few things you might want to know about before that first email goes out to a professor or administrator.

First up: “I love it when my students email me with questions that are answered on the syllabus.” said no professor ever.  Remember, if you’re going to email someone a question, try to make an effort to answer it yourself.  In some cases, there are about 300 students in a lecture but just 1 professor.  That’s a lot of emails.  A quick Google or BU website search is often all it takes to get a quick answer.

Second, you should probably not assume you can be completely informal with email, particularly with professors, staff, or administrators.  Start your email with a proper greeting like “Dear Ms. ________” or maybe “Hello Professor ________”.  Starting off with “Hey,” or no greeting whatsoever is a good way to start off on the wrong foot.  Also, keep the tone of your email in mind when you’re sending.  It could be that your request is coming off like a demand, or an innocent joke could be offensive.  Read it over before you click “send” to make sure you’re representing yourself well.

Finally, be respectful of time, both yours and others’.  Just because you’re up at 3:00 a.m. sending the email doesn’t mean you’re going to get a response right away.  Of course, replies are generally made pretty quickly; just don’t get too upset if you don’t get instant responses.  Sometimes your questions or requests take a bit of time, some thought, and effort.

If you’re wondering why it matters, think of it this way: An email might be the first impression you leave with someone. You’re going to be here for about four years and some of the connections and first impressions you make while at BU, will last a lifetime.

For a few more useful tips, the following websites have some great pointers to help you navigate the murky waters of modern email etiquette:

The Purdue Online Writing Lab

U.S. News & World Report 18 Tips for Emailing Your Professor

Business etiquette expert, Jaqueline Whitmore


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