How and When to Email a Professor

We have all struggled with emailing a professor at some point.  How formal do we need to be? How do we address them? Worse yet, we hear from professors that their students fail to write appropriate emails. What is missing?


Writing an email is a skill very necessary in today’s workplace; one that should be practiced during college years. Appropriate times to email a professor include planned absences, requesting feedback about an assignment, planning an office visit, and turning in an assignment during an absence*. Be sure to check that your question cannot be answered by information provided in the syllabus. This is the most common way that students annoy professors! Read the tips below to ensure your emails are as polished as they can be:

1. Subject Line:

Professors receive A LOT of emails from students, faculty, and campus wide mailings. Try to make it easy for them to figure out who you are, and easy to refer back to your email. The subject line is a great place to do this. Include your first and last name, course name, and a short clue as to your reason for emailing. 

Ex: Cassandra Fritzel, HUM 500, planned absence. 

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2. Choosing a Salutation:

Check emails from the professor (if available) to decide the tone of your email to them. If you do not have any, choosing the most formal tone is best. Address the email “Dear” or “Hello”, followed by a formal name. The best title is always “Professor” or “Dr.” for graduate students. Avoid anything gendered or devoid of recognition of their status.

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3. Providing a Nicety:

Would you rather read a robotic email, or one that wishes you a good weekend? Professors are people too and may enjoy a human connection, especially if you need something from them! Try opening an email with “I hope you had a great week”.


4. The Real Reason you are emailing:

Provide the professor with your request, as well as any information relevant to the situation. This could include reiterating previous conversations about the situation. Understand that your request may not be granted, or even considered right away. If need be, provide a time-frame by which you would like to hear from them (“at your convenience” versus “as soon as you get the chance to”). While we’re talking about it, don’t email last minute! They cannot get to every new email for information by day’s end!


5. The Sign Off:

This is one of the most disputed elements of an email! Including a thank you certainly never hurt anyone, but you can chose from many well-wishes types of sign offs: “best”, “wish you the best”, “hope you have a great day” etc.


Just remember that a little effort from you can mean that your question or request will be attended to faster. Professors often receive the same question from many students at the same time, so don’t be surprised if their email in response is less formal then yours! I have definitely received a few “one word” replies, some with no subject line at all!

* At their own discretion, a professor may communicate times when you should email instead of visit during office hours. Always consider that advice first when choosing whether to email.