Letter: How to E-Mail your professors


Vanessa Alvarado

A screenshot of an email draft to Professor Lisa Collins. Photo credit: Vanessa Alvarado

Lisa Collins

Dear students of Loyola,

You may be great at Instagram, but you’re probably horrible at email.

Every day I get sloppy emails from students, with poor grammar or atrocious spelling. It’s frustrating when 15 people email me to ask, “When is our final?” (Pro tip: it’s in the syllabus!) If a student wants to have a positive relationship with their professor, a well-written email is a great place to start.

Here are six easy ways to up your email game:

1. Is the question I am emailing about already covered in the course syllabus?

Professors spend hours building the class syllabus and they really do want you to read it!

2. Have I asked a classmate if they know the answer to this question?

My best tip for students is to make one friend in every class and get their phone number so you can contact them when something comes up. Plus it’s more fun to have a friend to sit with during class.

3. Can I ask this question in person, like before or after class, or during office hours?

I love talking to students one-on-one, and that helps me get to know them as a person, not just a student number.

4. Does this email have a helpful subject line?

Every semester I get emails titled “class” or, even worse, with no subject at all. Those go into a black hole and I never see them again. A specific subject line helps me find your email quickly when I search my inbox.

5. Have I correctly addressed the professor?

Find out how they prefer to be addressed, such as Dr. Rogers or Professor Duke. Academics have worked hard for their degrees and using the correct honorific is a sign of respect. And be sure to spell their name correctly!

6. Have I identified myself in this message?

Be sure to tell the professor which class you are in, and list the day and time of the week as well. And give some clues to help the professor to connect your name with your face. It could be as simple as, “I sit in the third row” or “I asked you about the essay assignment after class last week.”

Last semester I got an email that broke all of these rules. It began, “Hey Lisa.” I hadn’t even met the student, yet somehow we were already on a first name basis. Even worse, the email had only lowercase letters and multiple misspellings. And I could not tell which class the student was in. Now contrast that email with one that started, “Respected Prof. Collins.” Which email do you think I answered first?

I know email seems like an old school way to contact someone. My students can connect with me on Snapchat and Twitter, and they can also text me. But crafting a professional and succinct email message is a life skill you should learn now. Your future boss and coworkers will use email and you need to know how to use it too. Practice now on your professors so you will have this skill when you leave Loyola.

Professor Lisa Collins teaches in the School of Mass Communication. You can email her at [email protected], or follow her on social media @lisacollinsTV.