Do’s And Don’ts of Writing Emails to Teachers and Professors
By Jess Holman, Instrucor
It’s likely that at some point during this academic year, you will need to send an email to your teacher(s), guidance counselor(s), and / or professor(s). While some best practices may be fairly obvious (don’t litter your email with emojis!), other tips for self-advocating effectively (a cornerstone skill for executive function development) may be less apparent. The following list of do’s and don’ts below is designed to provide you with tips for success in facilitating professional email communication.
DO leave enough time. As you prepare to write an email, it’s essential to consider the timing of your note, exercising effective time management skills. It’s always best to ask for an extension BEFORE the assignment is due – your reader is more likely to be accommodating and flexible if you demonstrate that you’re committed to doing your best work. Likewise, it would be prudent to ask for a letter of recommendation well in advance of the assigned deadline. The email has a different tone if you email the day AFTER something was due asking for forgiveness and understanding. There are certainly situations where it’s not possible to prepare (for example, if you wake up sick on the day of an exam); however, it’s best to be proactive and reach out before the deadline to avoid a stressful situation for you or the person you’re asking for support.
DO organize your ideas first. Planning and organizing your thoughts before writing is an important executive function skill as it helps you create a roadmap for your writing. Before you start writing, think about what question(s) you need to ask: Do you need an extension on a paper? Do you need classwork from a date that you missed? Do you need clarification about confusing instructions? Do you need help identifying a resource or accessing an online platform? Once you’ve identified the purpose of your email, it can be helpful to jot down your specific question(s) or concern(s) on paper or in the body of the email rather than sending a generic “I didn’t understand” email.
DO use sentence starters and exemplars as scaffolds. Building off of tip #2 above, give yourself some support and structure when organizing your ideas! Sentence starters like “One question I have is…” and “What I’ve already tried so far is…” can help frame your ideas in a clear way. Also, reviewing example emails to teachers from the Internet can be helpful in identifying best practices in professional communication.
DON’T forget to use self-help skills first. Avoid emailing a professional and asking a question that you can answer yourself! For example, there are likely resources online that provide additional copies of worksheets, labs, and activities on an online learning platform, such as Google Classroom.
DON’T forget the small things. While it may seem minor, a detailed subject line and properly addressed salutation and signature signal a professional level of correspondence. Also, always thank your reader for taking the time to answer your question or communicate with you.
DO check your work before hitting send. The executive function skill of self-monitoring is at play here. Spelling and grammar errors are easily avoidable with a quick spell check. Also, it’s always best practice to read your writing back to yourself out loud before you send it off.
DO consider in-person communication vs. email. Think about the question you are asking. If you need your teacher to explain the step-by-step process for solving an algebraic equation, perhaps scheduling a time in person would make more sense than via email. Teachers, advisors and counselors typically hold either tutorials or office hours. Learn when additional help is offered and take full advantage of that option.
Remember that emailing teachers and professors should not be treated as an afterthought, but rather as an opportunity to put your best foot forward in developing your professional network and gaining critical self-advocacy skills and executive function development.