The Basics: Email Etiquette

Sending emails will eventually become second nature to you. However, in the meantime, don’t make common mistakes that will label you as “unprofessional”.

As a college student, you have probably noticed that something or someone is constantly demanding your attention: homework due tomorrow morning, that test you have to study for, the basketball tournament you have this weekend, etc.

Retrieved from:
Retrieved from:

It makes perfect sense why many of you find it hard to fit other things into your day and choose to take shortcuts whenever possible; especially when it comes to text messages and emails.

But something I have had to remind students of in the past is that the emails and messages that sent to friends and family are much different from those you send to a professor or future employer. That emails that you send will reflect your readiness for the professional world as well as how seriously other professionals will take your correspondence.

Here is a question that I would like all students to think about for a moment: Do you differentiate between emails sent to friends versus an email sent to a professor? It is my hope that many of you have answered with a yes, and you can continue on your day and read no further. However, if your answer was a no, continue reading on to help stop a mistake before it can happen.

What’s the point in having a college email address?

For many colleges, email has become the official means of communication. What this means is that anyone who attends or works at these institutions will be given an official email account. Part of the reasoning for this is that we live in a digital age, one where effective communication is key and necessary to make sure that everything will run smoothly. By giving faculty, staff, and students an official college email address, the college can ensure that everyone has a professional means of contacting and communicating with one another.

I have known many professors who have refused to reply back to an email because it was unprofessional in nature and would have taken too much time to decipher who it was from and the purpose of the email. Professors are equally as busy as students, and often times much more. The harder that you make it for them to understand what/who is asking them questions, the less likely you will be to get a reply.

Below are examples of an unprofessional email and a professional email:

Unprofessional Example:

From: should always be using your account)

Sent: Monday, July 06, 2015


Subject: (no subject) – (How will I know if this is actually important and not just spam?)

(Where is the proper greeting?)

hey r u gonna b in ur office today? i need to meet w/u b/c i don’t understand some things. lemme kno if ur free – (Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation, especially when sending professional emails. Make sure to use a font/font color that is professional such as Times New Roman in black font.)


(John is too common of a name to not also sign at least your last name. Regardless, you should always sign your emails with your first AND your last name. It is also helpful if you remind the professor of which course of theirs you are in.)

Professional Example:

From: the proper use of his school email account)

Sent: Monday, July 06, 2015


Subject: Test Preparation (Chemistry 101) – (Adding a subject has allowed the professor to know the intent of the communication)

Professor Doe, – (Helps ensure that this email is being sent to the correct professor, and extends a “greeting”)

I noticed on your syllabus that your office hours are on Tuesdays by appointment only. Would I be able to set up an appointment with you this Tuesday afternoon to possibly speak about our previous lecture and some of the content that I am having trouble with? Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day. – (Explains/communicates very well what his needs are and makes sure to proofread through his email before sending it off. Demonstrates very professional qualities.)


John W. Smith

Chemistry 101 (MWF 9-10am) – (Student signs full name so that the professor knows exactly who it is that is contacting her. John also takes it a step further by including which of the professor’s courses he is in and looking for help with.)

Just remember: instructors are more likely to respond to emails sent from your address. It’s important that you address them with respect by greeting them properly. In other words, unless a professor tells you otherwise, it is best for you to always address them as either Dr./Professor/Mr./Ms./Mrs.

Things to avoid in emails:

  • Inappropriate email addresses
  • Unprofessional fonts and font colors
  • Multiple misspellings and grammatical issues
  • Missing/Inappropriate salutation
  • Missing/Incomplete sender information
  • Excessive use of punctuation
  • Emoticons and text message abbreviations

Feature image photo credit: Mike Nudelman / Business Insider


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s