I wrote the following email to a professor (I've removed any personal or specific details):
Dear Prof. Last name,
Hope this email finds you well.
I am Name, an undergraduate in the mathematics department.
I write to enquire about Course code - Course name being offered in fall semester. What can I expect from the course content and what are the prerequisites? Would it be along the lines of Name of a Book?
One sentence describing previous courses I've taken
Looking forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks for your time!
The subject line was:
About Course Name next Fall Semester
I thought this email is perfectly fine, and it's how I generally write to professors. To my shock and surprise, I got the following response:
I am sure very soon you will be writing many more official emails, so you must know how to address them appropriately. You may see course content on the department webpage.
Could someone help me figure out (i) how to respond to this, and (ii) what went wrong so I can avoid it in future emails (to any professor in general)? Thus far, no professor has pointed out so explicitly that something is wrong with the language of my email - so I'm in a state of great confusion right now.
- I haven't interacted with this professor before, so this was my first email to them.
- It seems I was at fault for not checking the course content on the department webpage before writing this email. However, that page has not been updated in years and I just wanted to make sure the content is still the same. Lastly, I think this wouldn't have made them feel that I addressed them inappropriately - since that has more to do with email etiquette than the content of the email.
I'm thinking of apologizing and explicitly asking how I can improve my email's language: "Thank you for your reply, and sorry for the seemingly inappropriate language of my email. I would be grateful if you could kindly pinpoint what part of the email was inappropriately written, so I can be more careful in all future communication."
Would this be a good idea? I read somewhere on this very site that it's never impolite to ask how to be polite.