Emails are not easy to write. When that email is to be sent to a professor/tutor or someone of higher authority (at that moment), it becomes even tougher. Many times, I have left drafted emails in the Drafts Folder just so I could return to proofread and ensure the words, tone and what-have-yous are just right. Okay, maybe I take it a wee bit too far, but i’ll explain why shortly.
Emails are a mode of communication. Unlike spoken words that fall and go with the wind (if there is no recording device nearby), emails are archives, records, evidence that can stand in a court of law. Wrongly-worded-emails have led to some not getting a job offer despite being qualified, or not getting the help they needed so badly because the language was just too arrogant (despite not being the intention of the author). We do need to be CAREFUL about our emails – this cannot be overemphasised.
So why am I always extra-careful about getting the tone, wording, length, structure etc right?
When you start drafting an email, you are initiating a communication process. I learnt in a workshop about being a confident networker (last week), that over 80% of a communication process is non-verbal. Whereas while in a one-on-one situation with someone, you can get away with saying something off-hand and covering it up with a body gesture (perhaps to indicate that was a joke)…you don’t have that luxury with an email. You have to say what you mean and mean what you say in the most polite language you can find.
When I read an email, perhaps this is due to my professional background in Communications, I do read what is not said from what is said (I think that process is called intertextuality). So when I frame my emails, I make sure there is no room for ambiguous meaning. I aim for my message being as clear as daylight as possible.
This leads me to the tips I will like share from my experience in emailing my professors and tutors over the years:
1. Be polite and remember to salute
It doesn’t hurt. Get the salutation right. “Hi Prof. Billy” won’t cut it. No matter how funny and friendly the professor or tutor is in class, when it comes to the email, keep it professional. He/She is neither your playmate, nor your buddy. “Dear Professor. Walden…”
2. Introduce yourself
We often forget that these professors and tutors teach not just the 30 people in your class, but in other classes too. In addition to that, they exchange correspondence with other members of staff at your university, with whom you share email domains (…@Havlock.ac.uk). Make life easier by identifying yourself within the first two lines. “I am Haley May Pearce (ID 123123), your student on the Introduction to Advertising Module (Mac 215)…”.
With the ID, if your request require him/her to check your records, you have succeeded in speeding up the process.
3. State your case – BRIEFLY!
An email is not an essay. Keep this simple, short and well-spaced (or paragraphed). Where stating your case is getting to 3 paragraphs, I suggest you edit it and ask for when would be a convenient time by his/her calendar for you to fix an appointment.
Mention that you realise they are busy (BECAUSE THEY ARE…) – I am not a professor yet and I am so busy a bee has got nothing on me!
Explain how you would appreciate if they could fit you in for a quick meeting at their convenience. Don’t demand how much time you need (except you are asked of course).
4. Keep the abbrevs. out
How did that feel, the abbrevs. ?
It’s irritating in an email.
Keep the abbreviations out. Personally, I try to avoid them even in instant chats on my phone just so I am as far away from the culture as possible. Abbreviations, SMS lingo, ruin your written grammar.
“Hi Prof. Billy, I was wondering if it’s ok to go a bit ova 1500 words in d advertising essay, bcuz my casestudy has taken ova 300 wrds already…”
Spot the CRIME in that short piece (comments please).
5. What other tips do you have to share…? I look forward to reading from you.