E-mail Etiquette

An illustration of an envelope open with an emerging @ symbol coming out from inside the envelope.

Before Tinder, Yik Yak, Facebook, and before people were deciding on what phone to purchase according to what social medias it had access to, there was E-mail. It’s quick, convenient and lets you stay in touch with people you rarely see or call. It can be someone’s first impression of you, or it can be a communication tool that helps you more forward in achieving your professional goals.

But, e-mails can also a very tricky social outlet. When we are having conversations with people face to face, we can read their unspoken messages: facial expressions, body language, vocal tone and enthusiasm in their words. With e-mail, all we have are words. Many times I have sent an e-mail that I think is clever, funny and almost legendary. When I go back and read it later, (usually because I have not received a reply) I find that I really came off as quite the jerk. Truth is, word choice can make or break an e-mail.

This becomes problematic to college students when they have to communicate with Professors through e-mail. Often, especially in large classes, the only way a professor can identify students is through e-mail correspondence. Let’s look a not so thought out e-mail sent from a students to her boyfriend’s Professor:

Dear Dr. X

You don’t actually know me, but my boyfriend, StudentX, is in your CourseY. I would just like to apologize for the fact that he was not in class on Monday. He did something really schetchy this weekend and I sort of punched him in the face. He was too embarassed to come to class with the black eye, and it was my fault–although if he hadn’t done it neither would I–and I’m sure he’ll be in class on Friday.

Really sincerely,


There is so much wrong with that e-mail it may be easier to show a more thought out e-mail:

Hi Professor X,
I’m working on my essay on William Carlos Williams and I’m not sure what to make of the last stanza of “spring and all.” I’m stuck trying to figure out what “It” is. Do you have a suggestion? Thanks!

Eng 3703, MWF 10:00

You can see the difference. One student appears to be more serious and respectful towards the Professor than the other.

Remember that whenever you e-mail someone on the internet, it is forever. You can’t take it back. You are also forming an identity/relationship with others that can either help or hinder you when trying to achieve your academic goals.


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