How to Email a Professor (or just about anyone else, too)

This is inspired by/based on this great post from way back in 2005 by Michael Leddy, “How to e-email a professor.” 

The Basics

Yes, you do have to use email. No, texting is not the same thing. One of the trends I’ve noticed in recent years is the increasing number of people who just “don’t” email. I suppose it is generational to an extent, though I don’t receive and send as much email as I did say 5 or 10 years ago either, probably because of the rise of both texting and social media.

But email is still important and texting is not a substitute for all sorts of reasons. Text messages are great for short and conversational exchanges, but it isn’t a very good format for longer and more detailed messages. It’s a lot easier to send and deal with attachments with an email than it is with a text message. Texting generally requires a phone number, and while I can easily look up your EMU email, I can’t easily look up your phone number. (Also, I would just as soon not share my phone number; you might feel the same way). And while it is true that most of you send and receive many more text messages than email messages, email is still the primary medium for communicating in professional settings.

You need to use your EMU email account for EMU activities. For one thing, if you send an email to a professor or other professional from an address like, the person who is receiving that email will have no idea who you are. Further, you will need to use your EMU Google account for other things too– Google Docs, for example.

You need to check your email every day. Every. Single. Day. This is especially true if you are actively involved in something where your primary means of communication with your instructors and with other officials at EMU. This is EVEN MORE especially true if you are a student in asynchronous online class. If you are a student of mine in an online class and I need to communicate individually with you about something, my only viable option is email.

Personally, I tend to monitor my email all day long as I’m working (because I’m usually in front of a computer). But at a minimum, I’d recommend making it a habit to check at least once a day whenever it’s convenient and before you start working on coursework or studying.

Generally speaking, I respond to emails from students (and almost everyone else, too) within 24 hours, depending a bit on when I receive the email. I’m not likely to respond too quickly to an email sent to me on on a Friday or Saturday night. But even then, it’s unusual for me to not to respond within a day.

You should set up your mobile device to read and send email. It is just as easy to configure your cell phone to read and send email as it is to read and send text messages, which is to say not having easy access to a laptop or desktop computer is not a good excuse for not checking your email.

Actually Writing the Email

Include a useful subject line. Unlike a text message, the standard convention for email is to include a subject line to help out whoever is receiving your email. Not including a subject line in an email message is considered rude and unprofessional.

Your subject line should include specific and useful information about the topic of the email message– again, an aid to your reader. For example, an email to your professor with a subject line like “Assignment?” is not helpful because most professors teach multiple classes with multiple assignments. But an email with a subject like like “Question about first assignment in WRTG 225” is helpful because it tells the professor more specifically what the email message is about.

Remember email is closer to a traditional letter than it is a text message. I say closer to because email messages are usually more informal than traditional letters, even in professional settings. But email messages are usually more formal than text messages because we usually have more informal relationships with people we text, and also because of the way we tend to use multiple texts to communicate with someone.

So, some of the things to think about as you write your email messages:

  • Have an appropriate greeting. I always tell my students they can call me “Steve” or, if they aren’t comfortable using a teacher’s first name like that, “Professor Krause.” (And when in doubt as to what to call your instructor, it’s better to be too formal than not formal enough). So “Hi Steve,” or “Hi Prof. Krause,” are good; skipping the greeting entirely or just writing something like “Hey!” are bad.

An important and related point: figuring out what to call your college teachers/instructors/graduate assistants/professors/etc. can be tricky. Ideally, your teacher will make it clear to you what they prefer to be called. Pay attention to what they say they prefer, use that title, and realize different faculty have different preferences on titles for all kinds of complex reasons. So when in doubt, be more formal than necessary and call them “Professor.”No one is going to be insulted by being called professor, and if that teacher isn’t a professor or would prefer to be called something else, this is a chance for them to tell you that.

  • Write in complete sentences and use conventional grammar. Again, email is more formal than texting. So while it’s usually acceptable to skip things like punctuation and capitalization in text messages, it is not acceptable to do this in email messages.
  • In the first sentence or so, explain why you are writing. Be sure to message the specific class (especially if you didn’t do this in the subject line), and be sure to note the specific request. So a sentence like “I’d like to set up an appointment to meet with you about the first assignment in WRTG 225. Can we meet on Tuesday at 2 pm?” is good; “Can we meet?” is bad.
  • Be sure to “sign” the message with your full name. This is especially important if your email address doesn’t make your name clear. Again, instructors and professors usually have multiple classes and thus multiple students who are named “Steve” or “Melissa,” so you should end your message with your first and last name.

When you get a reply, be sure to promptly answer and acknowledge the email. This is particularly important if your instructor is expecting you to reply– for example, to confirm the time of an appointment. And of course, it’s always nice to say “Thanks” when appropriate, too.