Emailing Your Professors

Would you come to your professor’s office and shout at him or her? Would you talk to someone face-to-face in a language that he or she might not understand? Would you approach your professor with a long list of demands and complaints? Most students would not do this, but some people don’t seem to understand that when you write email in this way, it gives just as bad an impression.

Indeed, it seems many students don’t really know how to write a polite and professional email to their professors. This is a shame, since it’s an important skill, and one you will use later in life as well. This page is designed to help you learn how to write a polite, professional, and effective email to your professors.

A BAD EXAMPLE

The worst thing you can do is send your foreign teacher an email in Korean, like this:

안녕하세요..

저는 정보통신공학부 2학년  [XXX] 이라고 합니다..

다름이 아니라..2004년 2학기 영어회화 수업을 수강하였는데..

제 생각과는 너무다른 성적이 나와서..

이렇게 교수님 메일로 문의하게 되었습니다..

어떻게 제가 “F” 라는 성적이 나왔는지 궁금합니다..

바쁘신 와중에 어렵겠지만 조속히 답변 기다리겠습니다..

그리고 2005년 한해도 복 많이 받으십시요~..

That’s a real email that a student sent me once. While I can read it, and it seems relatively polite, it (a) takes some time, and (b) is ridiculous in the context of a student inquiring why he or she failed an English course. If you cannot email me in English, then yes, you probably should have failed your English class.

But writing email in English is not enough. You need to write professionally and politely. Let’s start with a bad example. Look at this email:

TO: Propessor Gorden

FROM: ã…‹ã…‹ã…‹ <[email protected]>

SUBJECT:성적 F? ㅠ.ㅠ

Goden,

I’m student in your class. I NEED HIGHER MARKING. It’s a DORMINITORY PROBLEM!!! I don’t have A+ I don’t have chance to staying at dormitory next seemster. I’m try. I know, many studentd, so you can’t give many A+. But I’m try. But you are only give me C0.

YOU MUST GIVE ME A+~! IT’S VERY IMPOTENT! GIVE ME NOW A+~!!!!

You are my only hope. I will come to CUK Monday meeting you and talk about my grade.

There are many problems with this email. Let me point out a few:

TO: Propessor Gorden

Who is “Propessor Gorden”? There is nobody here named “Gorden.” There are spelling errors everywhere in this email, but the worst spelling error is someone’s name. Misspelling a person’s name is very unprofessional.

FROM: ã…‹ã…‹ã…‹ <[email protected]>

“ã…‹ã…‹ã…‹” is not a name, and “luvelyhyun375428sing~” is not a username that is very helpful in suggesting the sender’s identity. The Professor receiving this mail is completely unable to know who is sending it. Instead of “ã…‹ã…‹ã…‹” your name should appear in the sender line. Always leave your name in the Sender line.

SUBJECT: 성적 F? ㅠ.ㅠ

Don’t use emoticons — not Korean ones like this *^^* or English ones like this :) — in email that is not to your friends. Your professor is not your friend. Your professoris someone you should treat as a professional colleague in a workplace.

Also, the subject line of your email should be in English if the email is in English. This is simply good form in email-writing, and the professor has a good reason to imagine the whole email is in Korean — and not read it — on the basis of that Subject line.

Goden,

First, that’s spelled wrong. Check your syllabus for the correct spelling of the professor’s name.

Second, this is not how to address professors. While some professors are happy to be called by their first name in class, in written communications, you should always use the formal address until the other person tells you not to do so. That is, you should begin the letter like this:

Dear Professor Sellar,

… and then continue on.

As for the rest of this email:

I’m student in your class. I NEED HIGHER MARKING. It’s a DORMINITORY PROBLEM!!! I don’t have A+ I don’t have chance to staying at dormitory next seemster. I’m try. I know, many studentd, so you can’t give many A+. But I’m try. But you are only give me C0.

YOU MUST GIVE ME A+~! IT’S VERY IMPOTENT! GIVE ME NOW A+~!!!!

You are my only hope. I will come to CUK Monday meeting you and talk about my grade.

This is a complete mess. Some highlights:

WRITING A POLITE EMAIL

Polite emails should include the following.:

For example:

TO: Professor Sellar

FROM: 이철수 <[email protected]>

SUBJECT: Inquiry About Final Grade

Dear Professor Sellar,

My name is Chulsoo Lee, and I am a student in your daytime “Media English 1″ course this semester.

I hope you are well. I am sorry to bother you, but I was wondering whether I could confirm the grade I received? According to the university computer system, I received a D+ in the class. I just want to make sure this isn’t an error.

According to my records, I received a B+ on the midterm essay, and an A+ on the final exam. As well, all of my homework assignments received very high scores. Therefore, I am worried that perhaps a mistake has been made.

If it’s not too much trouble, would you be available one day next week sometime in the afternoon to review the grades with me and explain this result? If that is not possible, could you please email me a copy of your grading records so I can confirm my grades myself? I have copies of all of my assignments on file at home.

I am sorry to bother you. I enjoyed our class very much, even if it was difficult for me, and I learned a lot in it. I hope that you are enjoying your summer holidays.

Sincerely,

Chulsoo Lee

You don’t have to compliment the class — but you can feel free to if you feel that way — but you do need to remember that the professor’s time is being demanded, by the act of emailing. You should also keep your email short and simple, because professors often deal with several such emails every semester.

EMAILING YOUR PROFESSOR: A CHECKLIST

Check all these point. If the answer for any question is YES, then your email is not ready to send.

RESPONSE TIME

Your professors are probably some of the busiest people you know. Therefore, you need to give them a few days to respond to your email. If your inquiry is more urgent, you might consider visiting the department office and having a secretary call the professor directly, or visiting the professor’s office during office hours.

Do not email your professor two hours after the first mail asking, why did you not respond to my email! Do not obtain your professor’s phone number and call him or her on a weekend morning, or an evening.

And, in fact, do not email your professor on Monday with questions about homework or a presentation that is due on Tuesday. Make sure you always give your professor a reasonable amount of time (anywhere from 2 or 3 days to a week) to respond to your inquiry.

THE BENEFITS OF WRITING GOOD EMAIL

When you write email in a professional, polite manner, people will feel good receiving it from you. They will remember it and will have a good feeling toward you. When you write rude, demanding, or otherwise unprofessional email, it will give people a bad impression of you, and it will make them not feel like helping you or answering your question.

Therefore, it’s in your own best interests to write good, professional emails to your professors whenever you need to contact them. Print out a copy of this page and refer to it whenever you must email your professors.

(And by the way, though the rules are a little different for Korean professors, they’re not very different. Polite email in both languages will help you a lot more than you think.)

If you are considering emailing your professor specifically about grades, you should also read this page for some advice on what not to do.

A TECHNICAL NOTE

Some Korean webmail providers simply treat email from foreign web addresses as spam. Hanmail is one example. This is a very silly policy, but as far as I know, unless you specify otherwise, all email from me will be bounced as spam. (This may not be true now, but it has been in the past, and may again become the case.)

Therefore, if you email your professor and do not hear back from him or her, do not assume that he or she is ignoring you. Instead, consider consolidating all of your email into a Gmail account. You can have all your other email (Naver, Hanmail, Hotmail, etc.) forwarded to your Gmail account, and even keep using your old email addresses within the Gmail interface. (And the mailbox is so big that it will probably never get full.)