We’ve all been there—it’s crunch time and an important assignment is due in just a few hours. Your palms are sweating, your blood pressure is rising, and your fingers vacantly tap on your keyboard without actually typing anything. You look on your syllabus, see that your professor’s online office hours are over, and go to send them an email in hopes that they might clear up the confusion that you are having about your assignment.
You type, ignoring the subject box because you’re not sure what to say: “hi… I was just wondering how many responses we need 2 complete for tmrw. Thnx.”
As the minutes tick down, you keep refreshing your inbox, hoping that your professor will get back to you in time. You’re frustrated, you’re angry, you’re confused. Why haven’t they gotten back with me? you think. The truth is, unless an email is absolutely specific in its subject heading, your professor might gloss over it at the end of very long and grueling work day. Think about how you feel after you’ve worked for 12 hours—do you generally need time to decompress after a long day? This need to relax and unwind is universal to everyone, and often instructors can unintentionally ignore emails that are not formatted correctly because they get lost in among the others that are formatted correctly.
One facet of professional life—both in college and out of college— that is often overlooked by beginning students and writers, yet vitally important, is the ability to craft a professional email. In my time as a teaching assistant in the English Department at Marshall University, I have received hundreds of emails from students. Generally, these emails are unaddressed, very brief, and contain no subject nor signature. While a professional email may seem like a trivial task, the way in which you present yourself via email can have much more impact on the receiver if it is composed in a professional manner.
But where do we start with professional email practices? You start right here:
There are 5 main components to a professional email.
- It is a very good idea to have a very specific and brief subject line that summarizes your purpose for emailing the receiver.
For example, in a letter to your professor regarding the assignment that is due, you might write, “Important Questions Regarding Assignment Due”
This is specific, states your purpose, and also acknowledges that you feel this matter is important.
- A formal greeting that addresses your receiver with their title and their name shows that you respect their authority as your instructor or superior. It also demonstrates good professional practice.
For example, in this same letter you might include a greeting that begins with “Dear Dr. Jones.”
Again, this addressed their title, shows respect, and offers you a way to professionally continue with your request.
- Your body paragraph should clearly state your purpose. It is very important that you are clear in your request, use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, and avoid text-speak or abbreviations.
For example: I am writing to you today to request further clarification on the assignment that is due tonight. After reviewing the assignment sheet, I am still unsure about how many responses we are required to complete. If it is convenient for you, I look forward to hearing from you this evening.
The tone of this request is respectful and courteous. The sender shows that they took personal responsibility in reviewing their assignment sheet, but also acknowledges that they are confused. Further, they acknowledge that the professor might not have the chance to get back with them in time, but they still assert that they would appreciate a quick response if possible.
- A good way to end your professional email is with closing remarks. Closing remarks are generally brief in nature and express gratitude that the receiver took the time to read your email.
For example: Thank you so much for your time.
Closing remarks, such as the one above, acknowledge that you are grateful for the services of the receiver. They show respect and add a distinct level of professionalism.
- Finally, you will need to remember to sign your email with a salutation and your name.
Examples of this include “thank you,” “yours truly,” “sincerely,” & “best wishes.”
Let’s put it all together!
Subject: Important Questions Regarding Assignment Due
Dear Dr. Jones,
I am writing to you today to request further clarification on the assignment that is due tonight. After reviewing the assignment sheet, I am still unsure about how many responses we are required to complete. If it is convenient for you, I look forward to hearing from you this evening.
Thank you for your time and assistance.
Why is this so important?
Writing a professionally formatted email can be tricky at first. However, once you have the formula down, it is an important tool for your professional and academic success. While it might seem trivial, instructors respect students who take the time to put care into their correspondence. It shows us that you are dedicated to professionalization and that you are self-direct. These few simple steps will help to set you apart from your peers and ensure that your emails are not only read but responded to in the same respectful manner as the way in which they were composed.