Chris Blattman

Close this search box.

Students: How to email to your Professor, employer, and professional peers


A third of student emails make me cringe. Not from scorn (well, maybe a little scorn) but mainly sympathy. Distressing sympathy.

Here are 12 pieces of advice. I welcome others from readers. (Examples of terrible emails are welcome, so long as the sender is anonymous.)

1. Kick the email address from high school

It’s time for “” and “” to rest in peace.

2. Greet, Politely

Launching straight into the message is bad, but “Hi!” is poor form and “Hey Prof!” is an unmitigated disaster. “Dear” and “Hi” are fine, so long as you follow both by a name or title: “Hi Professor” or “Hi Mr. ____”.

3. On second thought, be careful with the Mr. and Ms.

I could care less if strangers address me as Mr., Dr. or Prof. Blattman. Few of my colleagues seem to feel the same way. Sadly your approach must conform to the average (or even greatest common) ego. If you’re not sure if the person is a Dr. or not, three seconds on Google should tell you.

4. Capitalize and punctuate

otherwise we will lol at yr sad attempts

5. But not all punctuation

Of the exclamation point, Elmore Leonard said “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” That’s roughly one exclamation point for every 500 messages you send. Use them wisely, for their overuse is the first sign of an immature mind. (Related, from Terry Pratchett: “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.”)

6. Death to the emoticon

Keep them for your friends. And recall that, for centuries of the printed word, writers managed to convey sarcastic and funny without the semicolon and parenthesis. If you think your comment needs an emoticon, this is a sign you need to rewrite (or delete) the remark.

7. Avoid fancy typefaces or “stationery”

One word: cheeseball.

8. Be clear and concise

Write short messages, make clear requests, get to your point rapidly, and offer to provide more information rather than launch into your life story. Most of us get over 200 emails a day we need to read and respond to. So say what you need in 2-4 sentences and ideally ask for simple answers (like yes or no).

9. Don’t ask for information before you’ve looked on Google

“Can you send me paper X?” is annoying. But the best I’ve received: a request to explain the Cold War.

10. Don’t sound presumptuous

Many people are busy and important (and everybody thinks they are). If you are asking for anything requiring time or energy, it is courteous to be demure.

11. No quotes from famous people in your signature

See “cheeseball” above.

12. With your juniors, do the above as fastidiously as with your seniors

Allow me, momentarily, to break rule #11: “Modesty is not only an ornament, but also a guard to virtue” — Joseph Addison

124 Responses

  1. We are end suppliers of gold sourcing directly from local miners of gold dust within the region of Democratic Republic of Congo with our operational office in Nairobi, Kenya We presently have about 375kg of assayed gold in our vault facility here in Nairobi, Kenya and are seeking for reliable direct buyers.
    Our Products specifications are
    Products :AU Gold Bar/ Nugget
    Quantity : 375kg
    Quality : 24carat+
    Purity : 97.8%
    Price: $27,000 Per KG ( Negotiable)
    Capacity to supply 100kg per month after the supply of the available 375kg

    we also direct seller of scrap metals and scrap coppers,Gold,used
    rail,scrap battery,hms1/2 ,Aluminum,Gold Dust , Diamond,

    email us or Call number
    +256757277036…+254791354111 .

    It all depends on how fast
    you can be to get the new PROGRAMMED
    blank ATM card that is capable of hacking
    into any ATM machine,anywhere in the
    world. I got to know about this BLANK
    ATM CARD when I was searching for job
    online about a month ago..It has really
    changed my life for good and now I can
    say I’m rich and I can never be poor
    again. The least money I get in a day with
    it is about $50,000.(fifty thousand USD)
    Every now and then I keeping pumping
    money into my account. Though is
    illegal,there is no risk of being
    caught ,because it has been programmed
    in such a way that it is not traceable,it
    also has a technique that makes it
    impossible for the CCTV to detect
    you..For details on how to get yours today,
    email the hackers on :
    ). Tell your loved once too, and
    start to live large. That’s the simple
    testimony of how my life changed for
    good…Love you all …contact them now, the email address
    again is

  3. We have specially programmed ATM cards that can be use to hack ATM
    machines, the ATM cards can be used to withdraw at the ATM or swipe, at stores and POS. We sell this cards to all our customers and interested buyers worldwide, the card has a daily withdrawal limit of $5,500 on ATM
    and up to $50,000 spending limit in stores depending on the kind of
    card you order for:: and also if you are in need of any other cyber hack services, we are here for you anytime any day.

    Here is our price lists for the ATM CARDS:

    Cards that withdraw $5,500 per day costs $190 USD
    Cards that withdraw $10,000 per day costs $250 USD
    Cards that withdraw $35,000 per day costs $550 USD
    Cards that withdraw $50,000 per day costs $3670 USD
    Cards that withdraw $100,000 per day costs $5600 USD
    The price include shipping fees , order now: contact us via

  4. Get the best 2018 celebration ever with our Blank ATM card and be a Millionaire, Cool way to have financial freedom!!! Are you tired of living a poor life, here is the opportunity you have been waiting for, We give out a Blank ATM Card. Do you want to live a good life thought its illegal, its the easiest way to be a millionaire. Get your card today and live that luxury life you always dream to live and to get this card, contact us via email:( TO GET YOURS NOW

  5. You’ve written an excellent blog, good to read your blog. I got the all the valuable information from your blog. There are so many developers working on this part, but this is one of the best innovative post ever. Thanks for such post.

  6. For any hack related exploit, I’m boldly recommending Rothchild for everyone. I’m a living witness of is quality and reliable service. He has helped me couple of times before and I got good results from him.
    You can contact him on rothchild at techie dot com if you don’t mind, tell him Robert referred you though

  7. Hi, I am Emerald Cole and I would like to talk about something that has been of great help to me, my family and my company. Few months ago my company suffered a great loss that i couldn’t help it, I was at the verge of loosing my house and my company due to bad credit and unpaid loans. I became so desperate that i didn’t know what to do to save the situation, I couldn’t get a loan from banks and other financial institution due to my bad credit. Then i set out to Seek funds online, where I got scammed of $6,300 by two different lenders. Until I read about Anz Jackson Plc. where i got a loan with no stress. I now have my company back in production more than ever and my credit settle. You can as well reach them at: or call/ text: +18437769340, for more Information. All thanks to God almighty and the management of Anz Jackson Plc for making this come through. I am sharing this experience so that everyone who are in need can be a part of it.;-

  8. I was able to caught my cheating girlfriend through the help of Kenneth, he gave me access to her whatsapp, gmail account, instagram and facebook without her notice. I was able to log in and log out anytime I feel like and that was how I knew she was cheating on me by fucking with a neighbour of ours.
    I was already planning settling down with her, thanks to Kenneth for saving my future from being rough.
    I’ll be dropping Kenneth contact here for anybody that’s experiencing what I experienced, he can help you on any form of hacking, cheating is the worst thing in a relationship, we don’t deserve to be cheated on.
    You can contact Kenneth on his email which is kennethrothchild at techie dot com if you like, but don’t forget to thank me here after doing so.

  9. Formal communication is very important. The sooner we realize it the better. But, nice article. Will watch out for more from you.

  10. Good day to all viewer online..Hacker Atm card is right here and get rich immediately and take money directly from any ATM Machine Vault with the use of our ATM Programmed Card which runs in automatic mode.This is an opportunity you all have been waiting for. Get the new programmed ATM BLANK CARD that can hack any ATM MACHINE and withdraw money from any where in the world. we sell this card to all our customers and interested buyers worldwide please beware of scams selling counterfelt cards and spoiling the image of this company,the card has a daily withdrawal limit of $5,000 on atm machines for inquiry email us now at vai,[ ]order for yours now and it shall be delivered to you where ever you are within 48hrs.”’

  11. Welcome to the great IGODO spell temple where you can get solution to all your problems
    Do you want to be rich, you have been scam and you want your money back, famous, wants prosperity in your business, want your ex back to you, want people to love you, success in your examination, win bets, want to see vision, you need promotion in Work, you need healing to all types of diseases and lot more just contact the great IGODO and now by messaging me and your problems will be solved. CONTACT ME ON [] WhatsApp No +2347038606922


  13. Superb Information, I really appreciated with it, This is fine to read and valuable pro potential, I really bookmark it, pro broaden read. Appreciation pro sharing. I like it.

  14. I can set up my new thought from this post. It gives inside and out data. A debt of gratitude is in order for this significant data for all,

  15. I’m hoping you keep writing like this. I love how careful and in depth you go on this topic. Keep up the great work

  16. Hi, the wholle thing is going perfectly here and ofcourse every
    one is sharing facts, that’s really good, keep up writing.

  17. Are you having problem in getting a urgent loan? and you need one ? them why don’t you apply now and be happy as we give your word a meaning please by contact us for more info contact email address OR you can Sms number only : +1 979 217 5094..
    So you email us now or sms us only..

    Kind Regards

  18. I would like to bring this to the notice of the public about how i met Anz Jackson Financing PLC after i lost my job and being denied loan by my bank and other financial institution due to my credit score. I could not pay my children’s fees. I was behind on bills, about to be thrown out of the house due to my inability to pay my rent, It was during this period my kids were taken from me by foster care. Then i set out to seek for funds online where i lost $3,670 that i borrowed from friends which i was rip off by two companies. Until i read about: where i was granted a loan to pay up my debts and to start up a business. You can as well give them a call or text at: +18437769340. Why am i doing this? I am doing this to save as many that are in need of a loan not to be victim of scams on the internet.;’

  19. Hello,

    Are you tired of seeking loans and Mortgages,have you been turned down constantly By your banks and other financial institutions,We offer any form of loan to individuals and corporate bodies at low interest rate of 3% .If you are interested in taking a loan,feel free to contact us today,we promise to offer you the best services ever.Just give us a try, because a trial will convince you. What are your Financial needs?

    Do you need a business loan?
    Do you need a personal loan?
    Do you want to buy a car?
    Do you want to refinance?
    Do you need a mortgage loan?

    Do you need a huge capital to start off your business proposal or expansion? Have you lost hope and you think there is no way out, and your financial burdens still persists?

    Please do not hesitate to contact us for possible business co-operation Contact us via email: (

  20. BE SMART AND BECOME RICH IN LESS THAN 2DAYS….It all depends on how fast you can be to get the new PROGRAMMED blank ATM card that is capable of hacking into any ATM machine,anywhere in the world. I got to know about this BLANK ATM CARD when I was searching for job online about a month ago..It has really changed my life for good and now I can say I’m rich and I can never be poor again. The least money I get in a day with it is about $5,000.(five thousand USD) because the card i bought was loaded with $50,000 and i only spent 300$ to get the card. Only serious individuals should contact him because he is very straight forward if you don’t have the money don’t even bother to contact him and his services is 100% trusted i am a living testimony. Every now and then I keeping pumping money into my account. Though is illegal,there is no risk of being caught ,because it has been programmed in such a way that it is not traceable,it also has a technique that makes it impossible for the CCTVs to detect you..For details on how to get yours today, email the hackers on : ( tell your loved once too, and start to live large. That’s the simple ..

  21. I would like to bring this to the notice of the public about how i met Anz Jackson Financing PLC after i lost my job and being denied loan by my bank and other financial institution due to my credit score. I could not pay my children’s fees. I was behind on bills, about to be thrown out of the house due to my inability to pay my rent, It was during this period my kids were taken from me by foster care. Then i set out to seek for funds online where i lost $3,670 that i borrowed from friends which i was rip off by two companies. Until i read about: where i was granted a loan to pay up my debts and to start up a business. You can as well give them a call or text at: +18437769340. Why am i doing this? I am doing this to save as many that are in need of a loan not to be victim of scams on the internet.

  22. As a grad student one thing that I’ve learned is that salutations are for chumps, and they just make people feel awkward. The best email is a straightforward one. If you know someone, call them by their first name. If not, use their title (prof., dr). Example:

    Hi First Name,

    Say what you want or need to say.


    It’s not complicated.

  23. I’ve contacted a PhD supervisor and we had several discussions (including Skype). I always sign off mails with “Yours Sincerely” but sometimes it looks too formal. In that sense is it best to use something like “Best Regards”? Professor in fact hinted that if I come to study there it is best to get off these formalities and be in first name basis.

  24. Hi its Isabel your student Mrs.Gonzalez I am contacting you, but its not for you could you pleas tell Mrs.Quesada this.Ok so what I need you to tell her is that I don’t get what she meant about the color picture for the 2 story sentence because I think she explained that when I was in Quior so that’s all I need to tell you, so ya that is all bye have a nice day.

  25. Thank you Mr. Blattman for the article. I am a student in the Bay Area, CA, and one of my electives asks us to read this article. I have a question: Should we reply to all emails from professors and confirm that we received the email, even if it’s just a “Thank you very much.”?

  26. I just read this after misspelling my Professors name twice. Anyway it’s out of control.
    Thank you so much for sharing

  27. A lot of this is cultural, I might expect a student who has never meet me to send an email that has “Dr. Knight” in it the first time but otherwise, first names are generally fine.

  28. Thanks for thisarticle, it helps for communication etiquette. Sometimes it gets very trivial how to send the first email to academics/authors whom we are so familiar but have never met. All the comments as well. Emails and responding with how Gmail looks like a conversation, especially when I get a response in a few minutes feels like a conversation instead of a letter, sometimes I unknowingly reply ‘as it in a conversation’ without the opening and ending of a letter.

    Quite tricky with how e-mails and instant style messaging on mobile.

  29. I have students who address me by ONLY my last name in emails, and it irritates me to no end. As a 30-something female, I feel like I have to put in a lot of extra work to gain student respect. Having students address me as though we’re on the same softball team is ridiculous.

  30. Check the gender of your non-anglophone professors/instructors. The number of times I get emails addressed to Mr. (not even Ms., never mind Dr. or Prof.) is mind-boggling.

  31. I think a lot of these problems relate to emailing via smartphone. Maybe the shorter advice (for us all) is: if the email is important, and not urgent, wait until you have your desk/laptop to hand.

  32. I have an almost identical set of rules for my undergrad students. It is our duty to teach them how to conduct themselves professionally, for heaven’s sake. So kudos to the author. That said, *I* cringe when I read “could care less.” The phrase is “couldn’t care less.” Unless, of course, your intention is to state that you do care. No one is perfect, but rule number one about communicating is to say what you actually mean, yes? So please, fellow teachers, stop perpetuating this nonsense. Thanks!

  33. Interesting that the exclamation mark, a symbol of excitement and joy, is considered “immature” here. Such a shame that academia now looks to the oppressive, hierarchical structures of business and “professionalism” for guidance.

  34. Woah, Walt. I disagree with your comment here. I came upon this post two days ago and liked it so much that I decided to share Prof. Blattman’s pointers with my students. In my view, if students are “shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year,” at the very least they should know how to communicate in a professional manner as they enter “the working world.” To the contrary, I think a professor demonstrates empathy when he or she takes the time to put such a list together and share it with all who are interested. (I do, however, agree with your point that none of this is relevant to “students blowing themselves up in the lab” – after all, they won’t be out looking for jobs.)

  35. Please. Get over yourself. As a chemistry professor I could care less about most of your points. As long as I can understand the e-mail and it is not “off the wall” disrespectful I am happy. If one shows a little empathy to students shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year—our customers— they tend to reciprocate. You may even start to see interesting changes in your SEI’s. Go figure. I guess in the hard sciences, we have more serious issues to worry about—for instance, students blowing themselves up in the lab. Hope you do not use this piece for your tenure portfolio.

  36. I greatly appreciate the guidelines! As a graduate student, I understand and follow email etiquette and have received kind responses. On the flip side, I think professors can also take the time to respond in a respectful manner. I’ve received emails where professors have misspelled my name even though my full name is in my email address AND in my signature. Professors absolutely deserve the respect and consideration, but I think the same could be said for students. Professors are busy, and I get that, but we all are (rule #10).

    A biggest pet peeve of mine is when professors put an instruction in the subject line of an email and leaving the body blank! Argh – sooo demeaning.

  37. There is a selection issue. I get more emails from failing students than average students. They are failing for a reason and it shows in their emails.

  38. I have to say I’m a bit surprised. I’ve TAd for 3 years at Northwestern, with about 50 students/quarter and lots and lots of e-mails. I don’t recall a single e-mail that was really bad, stylistically. Emoticons and exclamation marks are about the only “sin” I can relate to and even those were quite rare.
    It might be that NU students are really that much better at writing e-mails, but compared to Yale I’d be somewhat surprised…

  39. The number of responses this post received makes me think that professors need some sort of therapeutic intervention so that they can deal with all of the stress that is induced by poorly-writted emails.

  40. wow, really? this is how my generation communicates?

    how about there shouldnt be a need for explaining things like this. we need to educate children at the grade school level on how to communicate.

    i grew up with computers around me as far back as i can remember (heck, back before operating systems had GUIs). i can, if i need to, send complex communications with 3-10 characters. still, i know how to properly compose a letter/email/etc, and can cater that appropriately to whomever i am speaking (prof / boss / federal organization / friends / etc). it blows my mind people need to be told the things suggested in this article (not that the article is bad or anything).

    i think this is the result of 2 things: 1) the dinosaur generation (those born before a time where computing technology saturated any and all communications technology) having a poor understanding of the new generation who grew up with these things. 2) the new generation being COMPLETELY FAILED by any and all educational services (AND THEIR PARENTS) such that they dont even realize how far theyre straying from the “norm.”

    the current educational system is designed to raise a generation of mind tempered, over-consuming, complacently ignorant, mindless worker-bees, and this article is some evidence of that. we need to revamp education from the ground up, or else this is just going to get worse.


    (thats an emoticon wearing a sideways baseball hat with a goatee…)

  41. ksr, you put your finger on what I consider to be the most important rule. Re-read what you have written before you send it. I am not in the education business, but the number of times I have had to speak to someone at my company for sending a client an email that is partly or wholly unintelligible is embarrassing.

  42. Of course, I think being respectful, as well as having a valid reason to write are important, but I have to flag that it is also a part of any professor’s job to teach and therefore be responsive to students. If a student has a valid question, doesn’t that warrant a response? Perhaps lingering too much on the details of what is probably a well-intentioned message could be seen as somewhat pedantic, and could deter students a bit from seeing professors as approachable. This is all the more true of undergrads who may need a little coaching, particularly in early years. Of course there are extremes, and basics that everyone should know. But some of these suggestions are not really that, and so may not be the best indicators of whether what a student is asking is actually a question that warrants a response. I know there are a lot of student foibles out there, but there are also plenty of professors that don’t invest in their students. A guide like the one done here might benefit from an equal one to professors on how to be good teachers and mentors even. Thanks!

  43. I’m with Julie… It’s not an ego thing, it’s also a question of being correct. I often get Mrs. _____. There’s no scenario in which that is correct. As a young female I need to make sure I establish respect.

  44. I’ve gotten more than one email that simply addressed me using my last name. As in,
    i want to add yr class but the online system sais its ful.


  45. I’m studying in Brazil for a semester and I’m encouraged to start emails with “Hi Flavia” instead of “Professor”. The informality is weird. Professors also end their emails with Hugs,

    1. I’ve noticed the familiarity since arriving here, too. It’s quite unsettling to have just met someone – or to be emailing someone you don’t know – and for them to send you ‘kisses’ (beijos).

  46. Wait?! Is email the type of prose Elmore Leonard had in mind? I thought email was more casual than standard written prose!

  47. Two observations. First, people who prefer formal are often easily offended by informality, which they will take to be presumptuous. People who prefer informal can easily suggest that formal switch to formal. So start with formal. Second, the writer Joseph Sobran offered this advice on the exclamation point: The exclamation is only to be used in quoting conversation, and then preferably only by the recently disemboweled. Excellent advice. It is more than a little irritating to see the practice in many an economics text of sticking an exclamation point in parentheses to indicate that the preceding remark was a joke.

  48. When I was an undergrad, I used to worry too much about my emails to professors, and as an instructor now, I get some emails that are terrible from my students. The biggest problems are that they often don’t indicate WHO they are, or they use ‘text messaging’ type spellings, and also usually that their subject lines are uninformative. Rather than the words “a question” in the subject line it really is better to have ‘this is Joe from Bio 112″, especially if the sending address is a silly one.

    An email to an instructor should be brief and to the point, and anyone that gets too upset over ‘Mr. Ms. Professor, Dr.’ probably isn’t going to be too helpful in email anyway. I really think that the best fall back is simply to use Professor/Prof. If a person is instructing at the college level, then that should be acceptable (except for TA’s of course).
    As far as first names, I don’t consider myself a formal person, but if a student sent me an email that said Dear firstname, it’d give me pause.

  49. I would add ALWAYS make sure to spell the instructor’s last name correctly. It’s amazing how often I get emails where this isn’t the case and, frankly, it makes it hard for me take the rest of the email seriously (particularly when it’s about looking at work).

    STUDENTS: A few minutes of basic respectful politeness and editing in emails to your faculty members can go a long way in increasing the likelihood that they will answer you fairly quickly. Contrary to some stereotypes, faculty members are very busy, very hard-working folks for the most part.

    The main thing is to use titles and polite, not overly familiar language, especially when you don’t know a faculty member well and/or they haven’t told you how they should be addressed. Most people will be tolerant with some of the more specific suggestions above as long as you start with a basic level of respect (use Dr./Prof./Mr./Ms. based on title and whether the person has a Ph.D. or other doctorate; get their name correct).

  50. Great guidelines Chris. I suggest also titling emails in a way that gives a clear indication of the content (e.g. mid-term; thesis; make-up assignment or test). And, if the email seeks a response, the title should give an indication of that also (e.g. query; your guidance; feedback please). This practice will help the recipient triage their inbox – and increase the likelihood an email won’t get lost.

  51. I agree with you in that a first or second email to a stranger shouldn’t include an exclamation point, but to call overuse “the first sign of an immature mind” when studies have shown that women use exclamation points much more often than men seems a bit short-sighted. Maybe you didn’t know about this gendered element, and maybe our definitions of overuse are different (though your citation of Elmore Leonard makes it pretty clear). The exclamation point is a perfectly valid way to express friendliness, gratitude, and enthusiasm, in the right context. I understand that these guidelines are for a specific kind of email, but the oversight here is surprising coming from you.

  52. I agree, though I’d have to say the number of times I responses from my profs that say: “ok thanks – tk” it makes me question why I just spend 5 minutes crafting a well written email.

    1. If I leave my desk for twenty minutes, I will come back to 20 substantive emails requiring a quick response. Most professors and other senior professionals have the same problem. It only increases as you get more senior. So this is how we cope.

  53. Cecilia Miller loves to sign her email with “Cheers” but she is not a Brit, just an anglophile.

  54. Please break up paragraphs into readable chunks that have some logical flow. Spaces between the graphs are fine. Reread them so they aren’t repetitive.

  55. @Zach. I use Best/All the best or Thanks/Thank you. Seems to cover most situations. The Brits can get away with “Cheers”, but I don’t think I can pull it off.

      1. I’ve never known a British academic to write ‘cheers’ – though I have known Australians… I’m not sure anyone but Australians can really pull it of… “Best wishes” and “Kind regards” are much more common (as I’m discovering emailing potential PhD supervisors – luckily I haven’t made any of the mistakes you listed. I think.)

  56. Something else I’d add in here is if you’re emailing your prof–remind them of who you are. (ie. My name is Joe and I’m in your Accy 202 class at 9am on Tuesdays.)

  57. As a current undergrad student the biggest problem I have had with e-mailing a professor is writing a complementary close. I have read over several articles that state that a professional/formal, letter (or in this case e-mail) should have the closing “Sincerely yours,”; however, I still find that this sounds strange to write to a professor. What are your thoughts or suggestions?

    1. I tend to sign e-mails to professors “Respectfully Yours” or similar especially if I am asking for something. I also tend to use the phrase “Thank you in advance for your consideration.” (I pretty much mean “thank’s for reading this e-mail and not simply dismissing my request/total breakdown of ability to (do something).. I understand if you say no, because I actually went and read your policy in the syllabus, but please please please make an exception just this one time and I will be eternally grateful) Of course I’ve also been told by professors that I write overly formal e-mails. Flip side is that I have been allowed to take exams later (for legit reasons like a sick kid and scheduled at the TA/Prof’s convenience) among other huge favors.

    2. I find using “Best” or “My Best to You” to be an often appropriate close whether one knows the professor well or not.

    3. I would say that, if you’re writing to a professor you don’t know for the first time, then something along the lines of “Sincerely” is direct, formal enough, and to the point. I’ve also occasionally used “Warmest Regards” or “Sincerely Yours,” especially when writing to a bigwig, though I find them a bit clunky. After the first e-mail, I think “Best” often serves the purpose.

      A good rule of thumb that I generally try to follow is: If writing to a superior (whether a supervisor or someone with a higher position/reputation than you), then always sign off one degree more formal than they did in their last message. So, if you get “Best,” then respond “Sincerely,” or “Best Wishes.” If you get just their first name, then “Best,” and your first name is usually appropriate. If you just get their initials, then you can probably just use a dash and your first name.

    4. Sincerely, or
      Best, or simply
      Thank you,
      Are all perfectly appropriate and not at all overly formal.

  58. I’ll second #10. I’m a grad student and a TA. I don’t know if undergrads at my university just think since I’m a grad student I’m not important enough to warrant respect, but I get too many emails the tone is very entitled and presumptuous. I’m MUCH more likely to be helpful if the initial email is courteous and acknowledges if the request might require a fair amount of my time.

    On #1 I’ll object a bit. I’ve got a gmail account that’s not or anything of that sort. If it was something super juvenile like matt_the_stud13 or something I would change it, but I’m sticking with my non-standard email name for now!

  59. In defense of people who insist on “Dr.” – it gets a little old when you’re young and female and you get your 40th “Ms.” or “Mrs.” email referring to all your male colleagues as “Dr.” I have anecdotal evidence, although nothing systematic, of male undergrads referring to their professors as “Ms.” as a means of refusing to acknowledge their position, and conveying, in essence, that the professor is still “just” a woman.

    1. Seriously. Although I’m inclined to think it’s more of a habit leftover from high school, where most of the teachers are “Ms. Something-or-Other” because most are female. My students catch themselves doing it and profusely apologize pretty frequently, especially the freshmen.

  60. That’s a great list, but you missed the “Reply to All” epidemic. People need to understand that “Reply to All” & “Reply” are different. Other issues I have are incorrect or irrelevant subject lines (subject lines help me decide whether I want to read the mail then or later, so it is highly irritating), using chain mails that start with discussing rocket science and digress to discussing the pretty girl in the next cubicle, forwarding mails without any consideration for what is on the chain of mails below & mails that assume I know what the sender is talking about – a little background would be required on most occasions.

  61. Please accept my apologies in advance for being pedantic, but that’s kind of the point of your post, right? Anyway, item 3: you could not care less. People use that cliched statement incorrectly (like you did) quite frequently. Perhaps you should add the recommendation to avoid that phrase and ones like it to your list.

    1. True. You might want to avoid common but controversial idioms in a formal email or letter, but if only “could care less” were the least of the offenses. As for me, if it’s good enough for the OED (which lists it as an American idiom) it’s good enough for this blog…

  62. I actually think using exclamation points (wisely) is important in emails. They convey more clearly what is intended to be taken lightly as opposed to seriously. But that’s more when you deal with colleagues than bosses.

    1. Good morning!! My take on exclamation points is that you should almost never use only one. I rarely use one for genuine enthusiasm (and thank heavens no one will care enough to dig up online examples that show I’m lying), but often use two to mock enthusiasm. But then, this goes along with first name usage and other signs of increasing familiarity.

  63. There might be an exception for communication with people you supervise. I used to follow all of these rules closely, particularly the one on exclamation points, and for the reason you provide. A few years back, though, I had something of an intervention from a few staff I supervised and who were willing to give me some feedback. My short, direct emails weren’t adequately communicating positive, supportive energy to people who looked to their boss for support and encouragement. Saying what I thought (“Thank you, that was a great job today”) just was not enough. They asked, specifically, for more emotive communication through punctuation. I obliged, and I’ve been grateful ever since for their ability to ask for what they needed. (!)

  64. One can add a development twist to this. In at least one LDC (the one where I work) officialdom is still struggling to get to grips with email as a means of communication. Official invitations to official events need to be officially signed by Mr/s Big. So in place of a 10kB simple email to say please come to our little meeting, you get a 3MB monstrosity which consists of a simple cover message along the lines of pleased see the attached, and then a poorly scanned in printed (and signed!) official invitation, usually multi-paged, hence the large file size. Unfortunately, being in a LDC our internet connection is rather slow (getting better tho!) and it can take an hour or more to download said invitation. But at least it beats sending it in the post; those invitations tend to arrive about 2 weeks after the event concerned.

    1. I work at a community college in NY, and we have the same issue, but even for ‘informal’ meetings. To make it worse, the sender will send one email to a list like ‘full time faculty’ and another to ‘full time staff’, and apparently those lists have the same emails on them so you get two copies.

  65. Maybe some of this depends on where you are. I’m at university in England, and I would generally use first name rather than a title when emailling a professor, unless I’d never met them before. I think this is fairly usual, certainly in reply emails my supervisors/professors would sign off “Best wishes, Bob” rather than “Best wishes, Prof X”. Perhaps I’d be more inclined to use titles if it was the first email I’d ever sent the person, or back when I was a undergraduate rather than postgrad. Using full titles sounds a little clunky. Perhaps it’s a USA/UK thing?

    1. I’d say all apply to emailing a professor for a first or second time, and this was the main aim of my advice.

      What about a professor whom you know reasonably well? In the US, practice varies from campus to campus, but I’d advise undergraduates to err on the side of formality (i.e. last names). If an instructor signals that you should use a first name, then fine. But I personally waited for strong signals.

      Grad students, in my mind, are more like junior colleagues and ought to be on a first name basis with their professors. Again, not all feel this way and so again I urge people to err on the side of caution until you know them well.

      1. I agree, though I don’t think the signal need be all that strong. My rule of thumb was to use “Prof _____ ” on the first email. If they replied back and signed the email with their first name of nickname, I then considered myself to be on a first-name basis. That has never failed me.

        Another point of advice for undergrads, don’t refer to your second-year graduate student TA/TFs as “Prof ________”

      2. Until not that long ago, I would have agreed with you (European upbringing…), but I have been told in no uncertain terms that I was overly formal for Australian mores. So it is not as universal as you make it sound, and it’s best to check first what is locally acceptable and normal.

    2. Burke: “ather than “Best wishes, Prof X”.”
      But what if you’re a student at a school for mutants??

  66. One more. Sign your full name or have a signature. I’ve had several along the lines of: I’d like to come talk to you about my assignment. -Mike There’s usually lots of Mikes out there.

    The famous quote in the signature is getting to be my pet peeve. Not sure why that grates so much.