How To Email a Professor

Professor replying to emails on laptop

The average person receives and sends multiple emails each day. Although the average person has plenty of experience sending informal emails, many people struggle with formal emails. Students often ask how to email a professor when they have questions about the curriculum or assignments. Use this quick guide to learn how to write an email to a professor the correct way.

How To Be Successful in College By Networking With Professors

Email is one way to connect with your professors outside of class, but it shouldn’t be the only method you use. You should take the initiative to visit your professors during office hours. If necessary, you can try emailing your professor to set up additional meetings. You might even consider applying for a work-study job in your college office, which would readily allow you to network with all the professors in your department.

There are many reasons why it’s important to network with professors outside of class. In fact, it’s one of the key components of how to be successful in college. Forming a good working relationship with your professors may help you excel in your assignments and get better grades. You’ll be able to ask questions outside of class and request recommendations for further reading. Plus, it’s far easier for professors to agree to write a letter of recommendation for you if they know who you are. Get started by learning the proper way to email your professors.

How To Email a Professor: An Overview

First, you’ll need to know the basics. Always send emails using your university email account that ends in “.edu.” It will look far more professional than using a less formal Yahoo! or Gmail account. Plus, it will help your professor identify you more easily.

Next, remember to keep your tone formal—no emojis allowed. Use the proper salutation for your professor and be sure to thank them at the end of the email. You’ll also want a descriptive subject line. And although you can use email to build a stronger rapport with your professors, you must always remember that they are extraordinarily busy people who might field a hundred or more emails every day. Keep your email brief and get to the point quickly.

If you’re wondering how to email a professor because you have a question, first try to answer your own question. For instance, if the question is about an assignment, check the course syllabus and related materials you may have received. Professors always appreciate students who try to troubleshoot their own problems before reaching out.

Use a Descriptive Subject Line

It’s always best to write a subject line that is specific and descriptive. Let the reason for your email be the guide to your subject line. Hypothetically, let’s say you’re in Professor Jones’ History 101 course and you have a question about the style of citations you should use for an essay assignment. Your initial impulse may be to use the phrase “Essay Question” as your subject line. However, this isn’t quite descriptive and specific enough.

Remember that Professor Jones likely teaches multiple classes each semester, and each of those classes may have multiple essay assignments. Instead, you might use this as your subject line: “Essay Question for History 101.” This subject line is definitely more descriptive and certainly acceptable. Another acceptable subject line could be: “Essay Question for History 101—Citation Style?” Remember to check your syllabus and course materials first to ensure this information hasn't already been given to you.

Use the Proper Salutation

When beginning to write the email itself, you should open with an appropriate salutation. “Hey” is widely considered to be too informal for emailing a professor. Some professors might also consider “hi” to be too informal. However, if you take multiple classes with the same professor over a few years and do develop a good rapport with them, you might progress to slightly less formal emails that do use “hi” as the salutation. Otherwise, you’ll never go wrong by using “dear” or “hello.”

It's usually a good idea to address a professor as “Ms.,” “Miss,” “Mrs.” or “Mr.” Instead, if the professor has a doctorate, you might use “Dr.” Usually, you’ll address professors as “Professor,” but it's best to address the professor by the name and title they go by in the classroom.

How an Write an Email To a Professor: Striking the Right Tone

Similarly, the body of your email should be formal and respectful. As a general rule of thumb, you should strive for the same level of formality you would use to email a hiring manager about an open position at a company. Never use slang, emojis or abbreviations commonly used in text messages or social media. For example, avoid the use of “LOL” and “BTW.” You can use academic-related abbreviations if they are widely accepted and used in your field of study. For instance, if you’re emailing a professor of engineering, you could use “CT” instead of “controller.”

What To Include in Your Email

It’s a good idea to assume that your professor doesn’t have a firm idea of who you are. Remember that professors may teach hundreds of students each semester. As a result, you should begin your email by writing something like this: “I’m in your History 101 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at "11:00 am.”

Next, you should clearly state the reason why you’re emailing. For instance, you might say something like this: “I have a question about the essay assignment on the rise of education. Which citation style would you like us to use?” If you’re asking a question like this, you should next state how you have already tried to solve the problem on your own. For instance, you might write this: “I’ve checked the course syllabus and website, but was unable to find the answer.”

Lastly, thank the professor for his or her time and sign off. You can use a number of phrases to sign off, such as “sincerely” or “best regards” followed by your first and last name.

What To Do Before You Click “Send”

Once you click “send” you won’t be able to get your email back. Take a few minutes to read it over. Double-check that you have written a descriptive subject line, addressed the professor properly, used a formal tone and signed off appropriately. The most important thing to double-check is that your question is easily understood. Once you’ve checked for clarity, spelling and grammar, go ahead and send your email.

Remember that professors are very busy people who might receive upwards of a hundred emails per day; you might not get a response right away. Most of the time, you should get a response within 24 hours. Always follow up in a polite manner if you don't receive a response within a couple days. You can do this by email or in person before or after class.

Sample Email to a Professor

If you’re still struggling with how to email a professor, you can refer to this sample. It has a clear organizational structure, gets right to the point and maintains a formal tone throughout.

Subject line: Office Hour Questions

Dear Professor Girardi,

I’m in your History of the English Language course on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I have a few questions about the use of inflectional endings in Old English, but I have another class during your office hours. Are you available to meet with me next week? Please let me know any dates and times that would work for you.

Thank you,

Jason Dominguez

Note that in this example, the hypothetical student signs off using “thank you.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.