Email etiquette

Elly Arganbright

Communicating with professors is not always easy for students. Email, when used properly, can ease students’ exchanges with them considerably.

Two ISU professors, Susan Yager and Mark Looney, who understand the importance of communicating clearly and effectively through email, offered some do’s and don’ts of email ettiquette.

Looney, lecturer in world languages and cultures, includes guidelines for sending emails in his syllabi, and expects his students to follow these tips:


    •    Type your class and main message in the subject line.

    •    Make sure the message is clear.

    •    When asking for help, explain other options you’ve tried.

    •    Ask politely but do not demand.

    •    Say “thank you.”

    •    Be courteous.

    •    Use a valediction such as “Sincerely” or “Thank you.”

    •    Proofread your email before pressing the send button. 

“The lack of opening and closing — and general proofreading — is seen by most professionals as a sign of disrespect,” Looney said.

    •    Avoid using smiley faces or other graphics unless you know a professor well.

For Yager, associate director of English, writing an email is as simple as the acronym PCP — Polite, Clear and Patient.


Be Polite:

    •    Begin each email with a salutation such as “Dear ______, ” or “Hello.”

    •    Use the instructor’s title.

“You’re never wrong if you just say ‘professor,’” Yager said.

    •    Use an email to ask simple questions, request a time to meet outside of class or send compliments.

Be clear and thorough

    •    Identify who you are and which class you are in.

    •    Be concise. The email should be one screen length.

    •    Use short and simple paragraphs to ensure ease of reading.

Be patient

    •    Understand that responses to emails don’t always come as quickly as responses to text messages. 

“You have to realize, [email] is not an instant system,” Yager said.  

However, email is “a matter of mutual respect,” Yager said.  “The teacher also has a role to play, making sure they respond.”


    •    Assume the instructor recognizes your name.

    •    Type a novel.

    •    Use shorthand or slang words.

    •    Use email to complain, contest a grade or discuss any sensitive topics (these are best raised in face-to-face conversations).

“Email is permanent and public,” Yager said. She advises all students to put thought into their choice of words.  

Think of an email as the modern form of a handwritten letter, rather than an extended version of a text message.