Email makes taking classes so much easier these days. Among other things, you can reach out to your instructors about an assignment or grade with a few keystrokes.
However, email can make users careless. Students sometimes fire off messages without putting much thought into them, leaving instructors scratching their heads as to what the student is asking and how best to respond.
You can give your instructors all the information they need by following four easy steps:
1. Tell us which class you are in.
Believe it or not, you instructor probably doesn't teach just one class. Full-time professors may teach anywhere from four to seven classes, or more, at a time. Adjunct instructors may teach several classes at different institutions. So, even if the instructor recognizes your name, he or she may not associate it with a particular class.
You can tell the instructor precisely which class you are in by including the course section number in your email.
Most college courses have a course number and a course section number (CSN). For example, the course number may tell you the course name and level, such as "English 101" or "Business Administration 250." But there may be hundreds of individual courses, or sections, and your professor may be teaching several at the same time.
At some institutions, a CSN may look something like this: EN101-001 or BA250-327N. At other institutions, the number may be a more generic series of numbers, such as 32466.
Where do you find the CSN? Try looking in the course catalog or the list of courses you are currently taking. If you are taking an online course, the section number can usually be found on the course home page or menu.
2. Send emails only from your college email account.
In the modern world, people have many different email accounts, and sometimes those accounts are linked for convenience. But if your instructor receives an email from your personal or work account, she has no way of knowing if the sender is you or someone else. She also has no way of knowing who else has access to your account: your spouse, your children, or your employer.
Your college account should not be shared with anyone. Your instructor must be able to respond with the confidence that you and only you are receiving the messages.
For this reason, many instructors will respond to emails only if they are sent from the student’s school account.
3. Be specific about what you are asking.
“Hey, prof, I don’t understand the assignment” tells us very little. “Hey, prof, I don’t understand the Week 6 assignment” tells us only a little more.
If you really want to blow your instructor’s mind, write something like, “The Week 6 assignment asks us to write in third person, but I don’t know what this means. Can you show me some examples?”
The more specific you can be, the more specific a response you will get.
Otherwise, you may receive a ton of information you don’t need. Even worse, the instructor may ask for clarification, which means you have to send another email with more detailed information anyway.
And while you can ask as many questions as you want, it may be more meaningful to focus on one at a time. Make sure you understand the instructor’s response before going on to another concern. You can always send another email later.
4. Be polite.
This one should go without saying, yet I sometimes receive emails which make demands or even threats—usually over a low grade.
No one likes to receive a low grade. If you receive one, it's okay to be upset. But this is also an opportunity to practice your readiness for a professional career by keeping your emotions in check. Instead of writing, “I don’t agree with my grade. I’m going to file an appeal,” write something like, “I was stunned to see I had received a D. Did I miss something?”
If, after receiving the instructor’s response, you still feel you have been wronged and have evidence to support your claim, by all means you should file an appeal. But making threats comes across as childish and can shut down communication with the person who is most interested in helping you succeed: your instructor.
Always practice the Golden Rule—treat others as you want to be treated. Even better, practice what Dr. Tony Alessandra calls the Platinum Rule—treat others as they want to be treated.
If you follow these steps, your educational experience will be immensely improved by helping us help you.