TTYL, Professor

I get a fair amount of e-mail (as I’ve lamented), but there’s a special category that I get during teaching terms like this one: e-mails from students. Most are perfectly courteous inquiries about my assignments or questions about the readings, but occasionally I get messages from students that are … well, in need of a lesson in letter-writing conventions. A salutation (“Dear Prof. Ullyot”) and some effort at self-identification, for starters.

Sometimes I can’t figure out who the writer is, what s/he wants or needs, and why it should concern me.

So I’ve created a Textexpander snippet to inserts this in my replies:

When writing e-mails to your professors, here are five conventions you should follow:

1 / Include a short, informative subject line that explains what the email is about.

2 / Include a greeting in your email, such as “Dear Professor [last name]” or “Hi Professor [last name].”

3 / Be clear and concise. Write short messages, make clear requests, get to your point rapidly. Say what you need in 2-4 sentences and ideally ask for simple answers (like yes or no).

4 / Sign the email with your full name and the course number. For example: Jane Doe, ENGL 205.

5 / Before hitting the send button, reread the message and check for punctuation and spelling.

I searched around the web for a bit before settling on these five items, only because five makes for a nice, short list and these are the ones that sum up recurring problems pretty well.

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