Email Basics: A Guide to Email Etiquette for Students

Melanie Balke
March 27, 2024

It’s not email marketing, but knowing your email etiquette is the groundwork for all email marketing campaigns. It’s also an essential life skill.

So, to continue my series on email basics, I’m dedicating a blog post to the art of formal email.

At a minimum, formal emails must use proper grammar and spelling. This applies to the entire email, including the subject line. Double- and triple-check for spelling issues. Did you send attachments? Check those, too.

(Fortunately for everyone, most modern internet browsers have built-in spell check! Look for those squiggly red lines.)

The Anatomy of a Professional Email

Writing an email is much like writing a letter. You’ll have a greeting (known as a salutation) and a sign-off. The body text goes between these one-liners.

So, let me start with an example.

Dear Professor (or Doctor),

Your body text goes here. Describe your problem clearly.

Generally, you email professors when you have a simple question. Avoid sending emails for complex topics, such as class performance issues or personal matters; these concerns should be discussed during office hours. Some of the most common reasons to send a formal email include:

  • Asking about an assignment
  • Asking for clarification
  • Concerns about a missed class
  • Turning in late assignments
  • Urgent questions

Include any relevant information, such as a section number or assignment sheet. Also, inform your professor of any attached files.

Your Full Name
(You’ll also want to include your course information!)

The Parts of an Email

Obviously, you won’t use the same exact words. My example is for illustrative purposes.

However, you’ll want to follow the same format.

A formal email must begin with a greeting (known as a “salutation”) and end with a formal closing. Most people go for the classics. “Dear Dr. So-and-So” is a fail-proof greeting. Similarly, “sincerely” is the universally accepted sign-off.

It’s simple enough.

The problems arise when you look at what goes between these elements.

That massive chunk of content is your body text.

The Essential Elements of a Formal Email

Don’t be intimidated! Your professors want to help you succeed. They’ll forgive minor spelling mistakes and typos. They may even give you tips to improve your email writing skills.

At the end of the day, emailing your professors is a test of professional skill. Think of it as practice for the workforce. You want to make a good impression, but you shouldn’t stress yourself out over simple messages.

Begin the process by keeping these must-have qualities in mind:

  • Clarity: Did you communicate your point clearly? Read the email aloud to check. Include your primary concern in the subject line.
  • Font: Your email platform’s default font is fine. You don’t need to change it.
  • Grammar: Use proper punctuation and ensure everything is spelled correctly. Double- and triple-check to ensure you catch every mistake. Use complete sentences and address your recipient with respect.
  • Structure: Don’t type a massive block of text. If you must include additional information, break the content into appropriate paragraphs. In doing so, you’ll improve readability and reduce response times.
  • Tone: Did you maintain a respectful tone? Avoid emojis and slang in your messages. Remember that the recipient is your professor, not one of your friends. Exclamation points aren’t off-limits, but they shouldn’t punctuate every sentence.

3 Tips to Maintain Proper Email Etiquette

Above all else, remember your professor is a person. They’re like you! A few mistakes won’t ruin things, but a profanity-laden mess will lower their opinion of you. Address your teachers as professionals, and don’t bury important information in a wall of text.

The same rules apply in a professional setting. Your instructors are there to help, and they’re more than happy to guide students in the right direction. In some cases, you may not need the rigid formality prescribed by many guides. However, you should always begin every formal relationship with appropriately respectful boundaries.

Every email to a professor is an exercise. Every email is a chance to practice proper email etiquette, which will translate well into your professional skillset. So, before you panic, consider these three tips to facilitate polite and professional communication.

1. Put the Question First

If you want an answer, make it easy to respond.

Put your most important details at the beginning of the message. This eliminates the need for additional emails and clarification.

In marketing terms, this is known as “front loading.” You put the most eye-catching details before everything else, ensuring the audience sees them.

2. Identify Yourself

While your full name may be sufficient at a tiny school, most educational institutions are large!

You may not be the only Joe Cool at your school. So, clearly identify yourself within your messages to ensure your answer is right for your needs. Otherwise, you may get information for an entirely different course.

Ideally, you should include your name, class, and relevant details about the assignment.

3. Be Polite

Above all else, remember the old saying: You catch more flies with honey.

Addressing anyone — including your professors — with scorn and aggression is a surefire way to be placed at the bottom of their priorities. It may be satisfying, but it won’t leave a good impression.

Always use a respectful tone, even if you feel disrespected. Your professors will be more inclined to respond to polite and level-headed discussions.

Learn More About Emails

These are just the basics.

Your tone is as important as your message. Be aware of your words and how they impact others.

Unfortunately, I can’t help you with your collegiate emails. I specialize in email marketing. However, my blog is filled with resources. Browse my posts to learn more about emails and discover ways to improve your professional writing skills!