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Hone Your Emailing Skills With These Tips

Emails have replaced so many in-person interactions this semester, from chatting with a professor after class to stopping by a teaching assistant’s office hours with a homework question. As you find yourself spending more time composing emails, consider these time-saving tips that will help you communicate your point and make the right impression.

Key Components of Every Email

  • Greeting and sign off: Consider the tone of your email. Is it formal or casual? From there, choose your greeting and sign off accordingly, i.e. “Dear_____,” or “Hi ________,”.
  • Subject lines: Always include a subject line and make it specific and short. Compose the body text of the email first, then go back and summarize the email in your subject line.
  • Body text: Keep your body text concise and clear and get to the point quickly. Anticipate any questions your recipient may ask. For example, if you’re emailing about an assignment, be sure to include the specific assignment name, what questions you have, what topic you are working on, etc. Make it easy for the recipient to answer without requiring them to dig and remember old details.
  • Formatting: Divide your email into paragraphs—use hard returns by pressing enter twice. This helps you organize your thoughts and helps the reader avoid information overload.

General Tips

  • Know your audience: If you are emailing a professor, use more formal language and address them as Dr. or Professor in your greeting. Once you have established a relationship with the person you’re emailing, it may be appropriate to adopt a more casual tone. Adding your own personality and voice is a great way to establish familiarity with someone, but when in doubt, keep it formal.
  • Thank you notes: It is always a good idea to send a short “thank you” email—after a job interview, when a professor or TA has helped you, or even when you enjoyed working on a group project. A short note to say thanks can go a long way toward acknowledging extra effort and potentially building a future relationship.
  • Following up: It can be daunting when a professor doesn’t respond to your initial email. Wait an appropriate amount of time, this could be a couple of days or a week or two, depending on the time-sensitive nature of your question, and send another email. View this follow-up email as a courtesy to your recipient. Acknowledge that you realize they are busy, and that your original email could have been buried under hundreds of other emails.
  • Practice: Keep at it! Writing effective emails is a skill like any other; the best way to improve is to continue to learn what works and polish your writing. Start with a draft and get a friend to read it for tone and typos before you hit send, or sleep on it for a night if you are really uncertain. You’ll be able to approach it with fresh eyes the next day.

A student types an email on her laptop