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Email etiquette for students

emailMany college students misunderstand the level of formality appropriate in email to faculty and staff. The New York Times did an article on this topic way back in 2006. The situation hasn’t improved for me since then. If you teach and are frustrated by the email you receive from students, I’m making a plea to help them think about what their behavior communicates to others.

Share this video from the folks at Arizona State U’s Writing Center. You’ll be doing other instructors a favor. But most important — you’ll be helping amateurs learn they must adapt their writing if they want their future workplace colleagues to perceive them as professionals. Too many students continue to send email that signals immaturity when they enter the workforce. More on email at work tomorrow . . .

Photo Credit: Biscarotte via Compfight cc

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  1. I’ve been doing a professional email unit in my Intro to Professional Writing courses for years. But after being frustrated about emails in a different course in Spring ’12, I created a section on “email policy” in my course policy statements. I wonder if others have done the same?

  2. I haven’t done an explicit policy, but I’m definitely going to from now on. I’m halfway through my semester so it might not be too late to start one for the classes I have now. In the past month alone, I have gotten 3 or 4 emails from students who don’t include their name and whose email address is identified as things such as “tu mami chulo”. This past week, a student emailed me on Friday night at 11:46 p.m. She had missed class on Wednesday night, and I’d emailed to let her know when I’d be on campus on Thurs or Fri so she could pick up her rough draft feedback that she needed to do corrections. In her midnight email, she asked if I would be on campus on Saturday or email her feedback. No and no.

    On the other hand, I’ve been taking classes for the past year, and I have had to email my professors a few times. More often than not, I don’t get a response. That is very annoying. I know what it’s like on their side, so I haven’t sent frivolous emails, and I think the lack of a response to a student can also been seen as unprofessional. Unless there is a specific policy in place that says “I will not return emails on X days” or something like that, then I think professors should at least send a reply. It doesn’t have to be immediate, and it’s possible to be direct about expectations without being rude, but there should be some sort of response to valid emailed questions.

  3. I do tell students they will get a response from me within 24 hours — unless it’s the weekend.

    Here is a blurb I used on our syllabus when coordinating a writing course with hundreds of students:

    You are encouraged to use email within eLearning to contact your instructor. However, you must demonstrate the kind of professional writing skills you are learning in the course in your email messages. Your instructor may return any unprofessional emails to you for revision before responding to the content of your message.

  4. I don’t know about others, but if I saw such a blurb, I’d just go “why even bother.”

    Sorry, but why bother with email if such is the attitude? Email is supposed to be informal. Professional people are destroying the medium.

    1. Ambrose,

      If you had hundreds of students in a professional writing class and received several emails a day like the following, how would you respond?

      Hello Dr. H,

      will the 4 chapters that we are testing on Thursday will each chapter have approximately the same amount of questions are will one chapter be infanticide more than another?


      1. That’s not even English. If I ignored the email (and I had in fact been ignoring a lot of such emails several months ago, albeit in a different language) that would have nothing to do with etiquette.

      2. On second thought, if I were a professor and I were receiving such emails ignoring them will probably not be the right thing for me to do.

        That said, I’m not a professor and so I don’t really know what I’ll do. There are things that you won’t know how to do unless you’re put in that situation.

  5. Not sure where you guys are located but where I am, the students graduating from uni have no idea how to write emails that the older generations would find semi acceptable. It’s a really serious issue that causes much friction between the grads and more experienced workers.

    Email can be informal and a lot like text messages but it shouldn’t be like that in the workplace.

    1. In the US, I hear complaints from those in the workplace, too. I believe the fundamental problem is the lack of rhetorical or genre education. Email can be used to communicate many genres (see http://proswrite.com/2013/03/07/the-genre-of-email-requests/). Students don’t seem to understand they must choose text elements based on an analysis of their purpose and audience. In the US, relatively few students learn to choose different text elements as they move between social messages to peers and functional messages to authorities in the digital world. They don’t make the same mistakes when writing a cover letter for their resume. Or do they?

  6. The video provided great influence on how to send a proper email to your professor. This would sincerely help me with my fellow professors, Thank You.

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