While instructors and other professional staff at the university are eager to help in whatever way they can, it’s important to observe a certain degree of professionalism in your communications with them. Not only does communicating professionally underscore your sincerity in asking for help, it also provides a strong degree of preparation for professional communication outside the university setting.
Below are a few key suggestions to follow when corresponding with university faculty and staff.
Use the Correct Medium.
- E-mails are appropriate for asking questions, conveying information, and follow up. Keep in mind, though, that faculty and staff are confronted with a ton of e-mails everyday! This means that staff may not be able to respond to you immediately and/or may not have time to adequately respond to a particularly lengthy, detailed, or specific message. If you have concerns that are immediately pressing or especially complex, an in-person meeting or even a phone call might be a better approach.
Strike the Right Tone.
- Remember to use a salutation in your e-mail. “Dear X” is always appropriate, although “Hello X” or “Hi X” is also acceptable for communications where you know the receiver fairly well. During the message, maintain a respectful tone by including a short pleasantry (“I hope you are having a good week”), referring to your contact by their title (Mr./Ms./Dr./Professor), rather than their first name, and inviting feedback from the respondent at the end of your message (“Let me know if this works for you”) without setting deadlines or demanding immediate replies. Avoid use of emojis and internet acronyms.
Subject Lines and Attachments
- Clear subject lines can improve the chances of receiving prompt and accurate responses to questions and requests. An effective subject line is concise, yet detailed: “IST 140: Questions Regarding Python Lesson.” An instructor will be able to easily identify the course about which you are inquiring, as well as the subject matter of your question.
Take Preliminary Steps.
- Imagine this: a faculty member receives a vague e-mail from a student asking about a particular software program required for a course, but the student doesn’t note which course they are referring to. Try to avoid situations like these by doing your homework ahead of time and including relevant information, so that you are making it as easy and convenient as possible for the respondent to answer your email. This includes reading the syllabus over again (the answer to your question might be found there) and browsing the university website for possible answers.
Proofread Your Email.
- Make sure you proof-read messages to instructors and professional staff! While a small error isn’t a major problem, it’s better to err on the side of caution by trying to avoid mistakes in your email correspondence.