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The Do’s and Don’ts of Emailing Your Professor

    By Jenny McAllister. October 10, 2016 - 8:06 pm


You did it! You made it to college and you’re learning new things, making new friends and constructing fresh perspectives. You are so organized with your student planner, your favorite pen and an open mind. Go you! College is a great time to learn new skills such as riding the bus and how to dominate in flip cup.

On an academic level, you should brush up on your communication skills as soon as possible as they are a big deal in all aspects of your life. When it comes to emailing your professor, here are some tips to help you impress.

Don’t be afraid to communicate with your professor.

Professors were hired to provide a service to you, a service that comes at a high price. Often times students view their professors as superiors and are intimidated by them, but they wouldn’t be here unless you were. They love their job and want to see you do well.

In their eyes, we all start out as curious, bright students that will excel in our studies. They cannot read your mind. Your professors are just as human as you. They burp and fart and binge watch Netflix original series. Be curious and ask questions. That’s why they are here.

Check the syllabus first!

There is always that one person in class that asks the professor about something that was discussed on the first day when you reviewed the syllabus. Don’t be this person. Your knowledge of class content and material is a reflection of how well the professor is performing their job, which we have established that they care for greatly.

Before you take the time to email your professor to ask when an assignment is due, check the syllabus for proper instructions. Dr. Askman from the Department of History and International Studies also said: “Make sure you use the email address your professor tells you to use,” which is often stated in the syllabus.

If the answer to your question is not in the syllabus, then proceed with emailing your professor.

Don’t write a memoir.

Your professor likely teaches more than one class per semester. They have a lot of emails to go through daily, as well as lessons and lectures to plan, and assignments to grade. Be sure to include which class you’re in and keep your email simple and to the point.

If you have a question about an assignment, make it known within the first couple of sentences. If you find that you cannot express your concerns in a short message, then you should speak to your professor during office hours, which is also listed in the syllabus, or schedule an appointment with them.

Be professional

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-12-03-39-pmSince we live in Hawaii, “Aloha” is most often an appropriate greeting, but avoid using “Hey,” “Howzit,” and anything else along the lines of “Wassup?”

The same goes for the final salutation. Perhaps just stick with the theme and say “Mahalo,” or “Thanks.” Don’t say, “Deuces,” or “Peace out!”

Professors go through a lot of schooling in order to stand in front of the class and teach us how to think critically and apply higher cognition to our realities. When writing your email, be respectful to their title. Laura Portwood-Stacer from Medium Corporation said in her blog to use the proper prefix, i.e. Dr. or Professor.

Also, avoid referring to your professor as Mr. or Mrs., especially if it is an online course and you haven’t met them. (Please don’t ask your online instructor if they are male or female.) When in doubt, use “professor.” Portwood-Stacer advises to take note of a professor’s email signature when they respond to you and use it as a reference for how to address them in the future.

Another tip of professionalism is to avoid text talk, meaning you should be spelling out whole words and avoiding verbiage such as “totes,” “NBD,” “smh,” “LOL,” and anything else that is listed in Urban Dictionary, and for goodness sake, don’t use emojis! Ginny Gaylor from Cengage Brainiac blog suggests you read through your email for clarity and correct any grammatical errors before sending it.

This includes being aware of your email tone. Avoid using rude language. Tone is not always apparent when you’re reading words. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of “Silent Messages,” concluded in his studies that nonverbal behavior accounts for 93 percent of how we communicate. Try to formulate your message from an external standpoint rather than reacting to a feeling or emotion. This will also help you in your future career to communicate professionally.


Give yourself enough time for an answer from your professor. They grew up without smartphones and weren’t connected all the time. They probably only check their emails during certain times of the day and have to set aside time to answer all of them.

They don’t experience the fear of missing out, like most of us digital natives go through when we forget our phone at home. If you have ever taken a class with Dr. Serena Hashimoto, you’ll see that she expresses great concern for this new paradigm and will deduct participation points if she even sees a phone on your desk.

Allow your professor a couple of days to respond. This also means you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to email them concerning something the very next day. Once you receive a response be sure to let them know you received their message.

“Be sure your communication skills demonstrate awareness of their schedule and thankfulness for their time,” said Gaylor.

Send a quick thank you message back to acknowledge that you are responsible and check your Hawaii Pacific University Gmail account regularly.

FYI: You should be using your HPU Gmail account to communicate with your professors and peers. It might be a good idea to get rid of that email account that sounds like an Instagram username. If it has your favorite food, band, or animal in it, it’s time to change it. Your email address is one of the first things you put on a resume, but that’s for another article.

Photos by Amanda Kowalski/Kalamalama Photo Editor.

2 Responses to The Do’s and Don’ts of Emailing Your Professor

  1. Judy Peraino

    October 14, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Good suggestions. Could be taught in highschool, too.

  2. Carlos

    October 19, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Interesting article. But, curious that the professor suggests we use the email address the professor tells you to use. Professors should be using their HPU email. There’s a reason HPU spends money on an email system. Of course, I’m not going to argue with my professor. If he/she says to contact them at…then, that’s what I’ll do.