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Top 11 Tips for Emailing Your Instructor

The speed and convenience of email make it an invaluable communication tool between student and instructor, but there’s a downside too.  Too often, email is seen as a purely informal medium, and students put less time and care into these messages than they should.  Would you approach your instructor after class and say, “Hey, prof, idk what’s for homework”? Hopefully not, yet instructors get emails like this every day.  As with all other professional interactions, emails to your instructor should be clear, careful and courteous.

  1. Email using your netID@utk.edu account. 
  2. Always put the Course & Section Number in the subject line.
  3. Know your instructor’s preferences and policy regarding email.
  4. Format your email properly. 
  5. Be clear and specific. 
  6. Don’t email in anger. 
  7. Patiently wait for a reply.
  8. Choose your wording carefully.
  9.  Copy yourself on emails to your instructors. 
  10. Refrain from sending forwards to your past or present instructors. 
  11. Be sure that your instructor is the best person to ask before emailing.

 

Email using your netID@utk.edu account. 
Your instructor does not know who “volfan2014” is, nor is he or she likely to open messages from unknown senders. UT provides you with a professional email address that it expects you to maintain, so utilize it to ensure that you can be identified as a member of the university community.

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Always put the Course & Section Number in the subject line.
Many instructors will only accept emails from you in this format. A phrase such as “Question about paper” will be overlooked, whereas a professional subject line easily points to your identity as the instructor’s student.

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Know your instructor’s preferences and policy regarding email.
Make sure your instructor accepts email, and that email is the best way to talk about the particular subject. If your instructor doesn’t accept assignments via email, don’t send them! If it’s a complicated matter, or if it’s very urgent, a face-to-face meeting would probably be better.

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Format your email properly. 
Always use a greeting, and write in complete sentences. Remember to indicate which class you’re writing about (course and section number in the subject line). End with a closing courtesy and signature.

If you include an attachment, make sure the file name clearly identifies what the attachment is and who it’s from, so your instructor doesn’t have to guess (e.g. – “sjones-paper1prospectus.docx”).

Above all, proofread! Just because it’s an email doesn’t mean you don’t have to adhere to Standard English! Use capital letters where appropriate, punctuate properly, and avoid “text-talk” (u, thru, lol, etc.). Try composing your emails in a Word document to take advantage of spell- and grammar-check before sending.

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Be clear and specific. 
If you have a question about an assignment, be sure to specify which assignment. If you’re responding to feedback or other communication from the instructor, make it clear in your email that you’ve read the instructor’s response and are continuing the conversation.

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Don’t email in anger. 
If you’re dealing with a touchy subject, or you’re lodging a complaint, be careful! Once sent, an email cannot be retrieved. Try having someone else read your message to ensure that you’re not being offensive or inflammatory, and if you’re emotional when writing the email, wait at least an hour before sending it.

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Patiently wait for a reply.
Leave plenty of time for your instructor to respond to your email, and don’t harass him/her. However, it is perfectly okay to politely follow up on email messages. Sometimes messages get lost in a crowded inbox. But make sure that what you’re asking is reasonable. Don’t send a rough draft at 10:00p.m. the night before the paper is due and expect feedback. Also, keep in mind that a request that takes five minutes to type might take awhile to fulfill.

Remember, email is the most passive way to contact your instructors. If the matter is very urgent, important, or sensitive, you’re probably better off talking to your instructor face-to-face, or at least calling him/her (if possible).

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Choose your wording carefully.
If you missed class, don’t ask “if” you missed anything important. It’s a good bet that your instructor thinks everything he or she works hard to impart to you in class is important.

Be diplomatic. Even if you feel completely in the right, be smart about how you phrase your message.

Don’t be demanding, and don’t tell your instructors what they “have” to do.

Finally, be honest, but don’t over-share.

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Copy yourself on emails to your instructors. 
This will help verify that your message got through intact, and give you the opportunity to check that everything looks the way you expected. If you included attachments, check them to make sure that they open and appear as they should.

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Refrain from sending forwards to your past or present instructors. 
Your instructors reserve their utk.edu accounts for work-related questions and information. Forwards of YouTube videos, picture of cats with funny captions, and chain letters go against the professional tone that you want to maintain with your instructors.

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Be sure that your instructor is the best person to ask before emailing.
If you ask a question that the instructor has already answered multiple times in class, or the information you need is on the syllabus, or you can get the material from a classmate, then your instructor will not look favorably on your email. However, with that in mind, don’t be afraid to email your instructors about even small things; unasked questions can never be answered.

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