Have you ever written an email to a teacher and received a late reply, or one that didn’t really answer the question you were asking? In less than a paragraph, your emails make an impression on the person reading them, which affects the timeliness and accuracy of their response. Whether you’re in high school or college, email communication with teachers and instructors is common. At some point, you’ll find yourself having a question about an assignment and composing an email to get this answer. Below are tips for sending excellent emails that will increase the chances you receive a quick and helpful response, while respecting the teacher’s time.
Note: “Instructor” and “teacher” are used synonymously in this article. If you’re writing to a high school teacher or college instructor, the same principles apply.
Use formal greetings
Many times, student start emails with “Hey” or no greeting at all. Always start with a greeting; this is friendly and courteous to the recipient. For example, start with “Dear Mr. Gonzalez” or “Hi Ms. Smith.” If you have never met the instructor or teacher before (maybe you’re trying to get into a full class or switch sections), always start with “Dear,” as this is more formal.
Good morning [Name],
Good evening [Name],
Use formal closing lines
Always include a send-off, especially in your first email. “Sincerely” is always a good option. “All the best” and “best regards” are also formal, appropriate options. Always include greetings and closings to make a respectful and courteous impression.
Sincerely, [your name]
Best regards, [your name]
All the best, [your name]
Personalize greetings with names and double check spelling
If you received an email with a simple “Good morning,” or “Hi,” would you feel like the email was personalized to you? Always include the person’s name in the greeting if you are sending it to a specific individual. Check your school’s website, the staff/faculty directory, or the syllabus for names. Always, always double check the spelling of names. A misspelled name can create a negative impression. Show the instructor you took the time to address them correctly.
Use formal titles, then follow suite
Unless your teacher or instructor specifically states they are comfortable with a first-name basis, always start formal. Particularly with college instructors, pay attention to how they sign off their emails. If they sign back, “Molly” or “Julio,” then you can address them by their first name in your next email (as they have referred to themselves this way). If you’re not sure what title to address someone by (e.g. “Dr.,” “Professor,” “Mrs.,” or “Mr.”), do a quick search on your school’s website, and check the syllabus. What title does this person use for themselves?
“Dear Dr. Morales” instead of “Dear Molly”
“Dear Mr. Johnson” instead of “Dear Julio”
Compose in Microsoft Word, not in the email program
Draft your email in a word processing software, not in the email program itself (i.e. don’t compose in Gmail, Outlook, etc…). It can be embarrassing if you accidentally hit send before you’re finished composing and proofreading the email. Composing in a word processing software allows you to run spellcheck and a grammar check before sending the email. Copy and paste the message into the email program when you’re done.
Provide context for the instructor
Especially in college, your instructors may have hundreds of students. Make it clear in your email which class and section of theirs you're in. Providing the specific class and section will help the instructor most quickly understand your request and answer efficiently. When they have to figure out what class you’re in, this eats up their time and will delay their response. For example, “I’m in your SOC 101, Sec. 8 class on MWF from 10-11am.”
Say thank you
Everyone likes being thanked. Your teachers and instructors are happy to help you, but they are busy. Acknowledge that their time (like yours) is valuable, and say thank you somewhere in your email. For example, “Thank you for your time” or “Thanks for your help; I really appreciate it!”
Want to create an even more positive impression? If you visit a teacher during office hours, send them a quick email thanking them for their time meeting with you.
Keep it concise
Leave it fewer than 150 words. This word count isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the more concise your email is while still including all the relevant information, the more likely you are going to receive a quick response. When teachers have to read through lengthy emails and determine what the student is asking, it takes more of their time. Being concise also forces you to think through what you’re trying to let the teacher know or what you’re actually asking.
Consider meeting in person
Can’t express what you’re trying to say in fewer than 150 words? Maybe an in-person visit is better. Office hours or one-on-one meetings with instructors can be a great opportunity to build a personal relationship with the teacher. Take advantage of office hours to get the most out of your school experience.
Proofread, spellcheck, and capitalize
When instructors receive emails in “text-lingo” with abbreviations, uncapitalized words (like “i”), and misspellings, this can portray the student as “sloppy” or “lazy.” You don’t want your instructor to think that you don’t care enough about the class to reread the email and catch these typos. Cast yourself as a professional, and use emails as practice for future workplace communication.
Write a specific subject line
One of the most important elements of an email is the subject line. The subject line immediately tells the recipient of the email what the message is about. Subject lines catch attention, and a clear, specific subject line is more likely to be answered correctly and efficiently than something vague like “Class” or “Question.” In your subject lines, include the class and specific request. For example, “ENGL 201: Question about homework” or “CHEM 112: In-person or Canvas submission for Lab 1?”
Here is an example email to a college instructor using these principles:
Subject: BIOL 112: Citation Style Preference for Paper 1
Dear Professor Gonzalez,
I’m in your BIOL 112 Sec. 002 course in Building 1, TTH from 1-3pm. For the BIOL 112 literature review assignment due Sept. 30, which citation style should we use? APA, MLA, or another style?
Thanks for your time and help!
Works Consulted/Additional Resources
Panter, M. (2019). How to write a professional email. AJE Scholar. https://www.aje.com/arc/editing-tip-professional-email-writing/
Potter, D. (2017). How to write a perfect professional email in English: 7 Useful Tips. Grammarly. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/professional-email-in-english/
Sehgal, K. (2016). How to write an email with military precision. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/11/how-to-write-email-with-military-precision