Post Classifieds

How to email a professor properly

Professors will appreciate thoughtfulness over carelessness

By Maria Alberto
On January 22, 2013

  • Maria Alberto is a junior English major at CSU.

Everyone's been there. Maybe you added the class late, missed the first quiz, lost the first assignment guidelines, walked into the wrong class on Monday and only just found the right one today.
It's OK. Everything will be all right. Though for some reason you can't speak to the professor before or after the class. You have to get off the bus, or fight for parking and then run all the way across campus just to make it in on time. And then you have a class directly afterward. There's no way you're making those office hours, so you can't just ask your urgent question.
What do you do?
Since this is the 21st century, and the accessibility (if not affordability) of both computers and cellphones is rendering us all half-machines anyway, most people's first instinct would be to fire off an email, one that might look something like this:

I came in late. What was that pop quiz about?'
How many emails do you receive every day? Probably a lot, right? Now imagine a professor who has four classes of 25 students each, or a professor with two lecture hall classes of 80 or 90 students each.
If that professor receives an email like this, he or she will have no idea who sent it, and as a result, may not be able to help! So it's important to write clear, but also brief and respectful emails to professors.
How do you even begin? Perhaps the easiest way to imagine this kind of email is to think of it as a quick and easy mini-paper. No, really!
The first sentence is an introduction - who are you? Identify yourself as a member of a specific class and include the section number if you know it. Use the times and dates if you're not sure.
Then, the second sentence is a thesis - what is the reason for the email? Do you need something that was handed out earlier? Are you looking for information, guidelines or clarification?
These two sentences will be the first paragraph of your email, so start a new paragraph before clearly and briefly explaining your request. This should be one or two sentences.
Then the last sentence will be a conclusion. Always say thank you. Acknowledge the professor's time and effort, or even mention that you look forward to the next class. Everyone values respect and appreciation.
Here is an example:
'Good afternoon, Professor Smith:
My name is Maria Alberto and I am a student in BIO 100, Section 3 (M, W, F from 8:30-9:35 a.m.). I am writing to ask about your policy for missed pop quizzes.
I missed this morning's quiz because I was unable to find parking. In the future I will leave earlier to avoid this problem, but just in case, is there some way to make up the extra credit from these quizzes?
Thank you for your time!
Maria Alberto'

This kind of email will make the professor more inclined to help because he or she can see that you have made the effort even if you can't make it to office hours.

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