How to Communicate with the Faculty via Email
Over your years in university, sooner or later you will have to contact a faculty member via email. You may try to avoid this necessity for a while, but sometimes there is just no other way than to write a private message. Many students find it an extremely uncomfortable thing to do. While they may not have any problems with writing an essay assigned by a professor, contacting him/her online is just something that is outside of their normal experience. However, you can get rid of much of this anxiety by following certain rules. Here are some of them.
1. Err on the Side of Caution
When you address your professor for the first time and still do not know his/her communication style (especially if you did not have an opportunity to communicate with him/her directly), keep to formal English. If the professor prefers a more casual style, s/he will demonstrate it to you in further communication, and you will be able to adjust your own further writing accordingly. However, if this particular professor tends to be formal, s/he may get offended or annoyed by an overly casual email, especially from a student s/he barely knows. This may cost you the advantage of a good first impression. Being formal involves using the recipient’s full title and name, using a concluding phrase and your full name (Sincerely, John Smith), and using proper grammar, avoiding slang and contractions. And, of course, not using emojis. If you have problems with formal email etiquette, you may even look for a business email writing tutor to help you out.
2. Be Professional, Brief & to the Point
College faculty members are always extremely busy, and it is a common courtesy to show them that you value their time. Therefore, you should always strive to make your point in as few words as possible and make the purpose of your email obvious as early as possible. Always use a relevant subject line so that your professor does not have to read the entire email to see what it is about. Staying brief has another advantage – faculty members often ignore long messages, putting them off until when they have time to deal with them. Some may send overly long emails straight to the dustbin – if you don’t respect their time, they don’t feel obligated to respect your communication.
3. Avoid Back and Forth
Look for a way to resolve your problem without a string of emails bouncing back and forth from you to the professor and back again. If your conversation will require a prolonged exchange, it is better to visit the professor during office hours, especially if you live on campus or somewhere near it.
4. Don’t Keep Your Professors Waiting
When a professor asks you about something time-sensitive, make sure to answer promptly, especially if it somehow affects his/her plans and schedule. Sometimes you simply have to communicate that you’ve received the email, learned what you have to do, and are working on the assignment, but still, find an opportunity to do it quickly, even if your reply is just “I received the materials you sent me and are currently working on my project, it will be ready by next Thursday”.
5. Study the Professor’s Communication Style
If you have to regularly communicate with a particular professor, pay attention to his/her style. Does s/he always answer your emails quickly? If not, you may get better results by dropping by with your questions during office hours.
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How formal is s/he? You may want to emulate the professor’s style to a certain point. Being too casual with a professor who prefers formality is likely to annoy him/her; being too formal with a professor who prefers casualness may look like you want to keep your distance.
6. Discuss Communication Preferences with the Professor
If you work with a professor towards a specific outcome (for example, your later admission to med school), you may want to discuss how you are going to build your communication. Here are some issues you may want to straighten out:
- How promptly are you and the professor expected to react to each other’s messages?
- What types of issues should be resolved via email and which ones require a face-to-face meeting?
- Are there any other means of communication (like a phone call or a video conference) that may be preferable in certain situations?
The skill of communicating with faculty members comes with practice and through direct interaction with specific professors. It is something you have to relearn for each individual person. While an essay tutor can teach you how to write essays, and this skill will be applicable in most circumstances, each faculty member is likely to require a personalized approach that requires preparation and attention to detail.