Tips on e-mailing your professor

Isn't e-mailing a professor is just like e-mailing anyone else?

Not exactly.

Professors' Guide bloggers Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman have more than a dozen tips for communicating with faculty. Some are common sense, but still bear repeating.

Here's a condensed list:

1. E-mail is forever. Once your professor has it, he or she can forward it onto colleagues for a good laugh—at your expense.

2. E-mail goes where it's told. Just because your mom and your professor are both named "Lynn" is no reason to send all your love to Professor Lynn.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

3. Professors might not be using the university e-mail system. So send it to the address they actually use, not the one on the university directory.

4. Professors might not open mail sent from They prefer to open mail sent from more reputable addresses, like

5. Subject lines are for subjects. Put a brief explanation of the nature of the e-mail (like "question about paper") in the subject line. Never include demands such as "urgent request—immediate response needed."

6. Salutations matter. The safest way to start is with "Dear Professor So and So" (using their last name). That way you won't be getting into the issue of whether the prof has a Ph.D. or not, and you won't seem sexist when you address your female-professor as "Ms." or, worse yet, "Mrs. This and That."

7. Clear and concise is best. Your prof might get 25 or 30 E-mails a day, so, it's best if you ask your questions in as focused and succinct a way as possible. (Hint: it's often good to number your questions).

Extra Pointer: Before sending a draft of a paper to a professor as an attachment, check to see that he or she is willing to accept such longer documents.

5-Star Tip: Never e-mail your paper as an attachment in a bizarre format. Stick to Word.

8. Always acknowledge. Be sure to tell him or her that you got something a professor has sent. That way he or she will think kindly of you next time they see you in class.

9. THIS IS NOT A SHOUTING MATCH. Don't write in all uppercase letters, which is an E-mail convention for anger or other strong emotions.

10. No one really likes emoticons and smileys.

11. This is not Facebook. Don't write the professor in the way you'd write on your friend's wall.

5-Star Tip: It's never a good idea to "poke" your professor, no matter how funny it seems at the time.

12. This is not IM-ing. So pls dun wrte yor profeSR lIk ur txtN. uz abbrz @ yor own rsk. coRec me f Im wrng. (Translation thanks to, which features a neat little Facebook widget.)

13. This is not CollegeHumor. Resist the temptation to talk about the "bad ass" paper you need help with.

14. This is not The professor doesn't want your comments about his or her performance in the class.

15. Spelling mistakes make you look like a doofus. So always use the spel check, and proofread yyour e-mail, two.

16. Signoffs and signatures count. Always end by thanking the professor for his or her time, and closing with "Best wishes" or "Regards" (or some other relatively formal, but friendly, closing). And always sign with your (entire) real name, not some wacky nickname like Ry-Ry or Biff.

17. Your prof doesn't want to hear your philosophy of life. Skip the cute quotes or statements.

18. Don't lay it on too thick. It's one thing to be polite and friendly in your e-mail; it's another thing to wind up with a brown nose.