Weekly Digest #56: Helping Students with E-mail Etiquette
Rude student e-mails are a recurring professor trope: female professors getting e-mails from prospective students that start with "Dear Sir", as well as last-minute requests for help with assignments with imminent deadlines, and the worst of them all: the grade-change-begging e-mail. Just kidding - even worse is the probably drunk, overly familiar e-mail - see here if you want to laugh (and cringe).
Of course, professors differ as to how much (if at all) they are about e-mail formality (see also Resource #1 below). However, our stance is that it's always better to err on the side of more formal than less formal. For this reason, this week we thought we would provide some resources for professors and teachers who want to help their students to learn e-mail etiquette. For those teaching K12, it might be particularly useful to get students used to writing proper e-mails before they head off to university.
1) Dr Who or Professor Who? On Academic Email Etiquette
By Tom Hartley @Tom_Hartley
As mentioned above, not all academics agree about acceptable levels of (in)formality in student e-mails. In this blogs post, Lecturer Dr. Tom Hartley reports on the results of a survey in which academics were asked how they preferred to be addressed. Some interesting cultural differences emerged, but the concluding tips still strongly emphasize that using formal titles (e.g., "Dr.") is the safest bet.
If you're ready to help your students learn e-mail etiquette, this detailed WikiHow guide is a surprisingly good place to start. Useful tips include waiting a few days for a reply before panicking. At the end of the guide, you'll also find a number of sample e-mails for different purposes such as asking the professor for notes, and even asking them out for lunch (!).
3) How to Email Your Professor (without being annoying AF)
By Laura Portwood-Stacer @portwoodstacer
If you prefer a more personal approach and don't mind colorful language, you may prefer to share this article with your students instead of the more sober WikiHow tutorial (Resources #2). This article takes students step by step through the components involved in putting together a friendly, professional, and informative e-mail. As always, not everyone agrees that all these components are strictly necessary for an effective student e-mail; some might worry that the resulting e-mail could be too long. Nevertheless, it is a great set of guidelines and could promote excellent in-class discussion on what's appropriate and what's superfluous - Element #4, in particular, caused a heated debate in one of our classrooms:
"Element #4: Meaningless Nicety
It never hurts to say something like “I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful weather today,” or “I hope you had a relaxing weekend,” to start off. It shows that you see your professor as a person who has some kind of life. Professors like it when you see them as people who have lives outside of their classroom (however remotely this may resemble the truth). It doesn’t really matter what you say here, it’s more the ritual of polite interest that counts. If you can make it come off like you genuinely mean it, bonus points for you."
4) How to Email Your Instructor for the First Time (a Rubric)
By Yana Weinstein @doctorwhy
One of us recently went a step further and created a rubric loosely based on Resource #3. After this rubric was first drafted, it was shared on Twitter as well as in a group of over 10,000 academic women. This resulted in a number of crowdsourced edits, and while one document can never suit everyone, hopefully this can serve as a good basis for your own e-mail rubric if you choose to use one. Feel free to download this document from Google, and adapt it as you see fit!
This last resource is for a special purpose that some of us feel is not addressed often enough: how to e-mail a professor you don't know to ask for research opportunities in their lab. We often get such e-mails, and the good ones really stand out. If you're mentoring students who hope to eventually go to grad school, you could help them a lot by showing them this resource!
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