18

Usually, when I send an email to a teacher/lecturer, I always start "Dear Mr. Atwood" and end with "Regards/Best wishes (etc.) Leo". If I have to send a followup email after they have replied, I omit the opening and closing sections entirely, and just write my message. Is this considered rude? Would you prefer that a student always lead an email with "Dear" and signed their name?

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    Use of Mr. is not appropriate if the title is Dr. In an academic environment, you should find out and get it right – Scott Seidman Nov 7 '14 at 15:43
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    I know, I always respect titles, it was only an example. Is Jeff a Dr. though? – Lou Nov 7 '14 at 18:18
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    In a prolonged conversation I would let the teacher to start omitting the formalities first. – Vladimir F Nov 7 '14 at 22:21
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    Is Jeff a Dr. though? — Yes, in fact, I am. But I prefer to be addressed as "Jeff". – JeffE Nov 8 '14 at 20:41
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    @anorton: Professor != Doctor – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 8 '14 at 23:07

10 Answers 10

17

I do the same. In an ongoing correspondence, where the next email is a reply to the previous one, I usually omit the complete introduction and ending sections. However, there are two cases in which I stick to the full option:

  1. The person I'm writing to keeps their emails formal, so I do the same
  2. A significant amount of time has passed since the last response (e.g. a recent update to a past correspondence)

I always place some kind of salute at the end, e.g. Regards, . The complete end section would include a footer with my contact details and affiliation as well my full name.

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    Right: if the e-mail communication is starting to become a chat with short texts going back and forth without much time passing by, I omit the introduction and ending sections. – nnn Nov 7 '14 at 15:34
13

I'm often underwhelmed by the level of familiarity young students take with email messages-- as well as the content of those messages.

Unless you have a reason to know otherwise, address recipients formally, and with the correct title. In academic settings, the correct title is usually "Dr.".

In the message, concisely state why you are sending the email, and provide ALL the information the person you're communicating with needs to know in order to take action. For example "Can we schedule a meeting?" is NOT acceptable on its own. You need to state WHY you want a meeting, possibly with a reason why email isn't good enough, and provide the info the faculty member will need to prepare for the meeting. This will avoid having three email back and forths when one should do the job (which, IMO, is MUCH more annoying than not having "Sincerely" at the end of the message).

To summarize, there's much more to effective communication than the first line and last line of the email.

  • Though tangential to the question, nice points and well put. I'll keep that in mind. – Lou Nov 7 '14 at 18:21
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    In other words, think of your email correspondence as questions and answers on Stack Exchange! – a CVn Nov 7 '14 at 20:30
  • Exactly!! In fact, in my design course I spend a few minutes teaching my students the right way to contact experts, and it reads like the FAQ on many of the stacks. – Scott Seidman Nov 7 '14 at 20:44
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    This is very good advice for sending an opening email, but doesn't address a continued exchange. How should a student respond if the academic signs their email with "Cheers, Brian"? Should they maintain formality or match register? It is also my experience that replies tend to be less complete than enquiries, especially after a long opening email; some back-and-forth may be unavoidable. While the topic and rough timeframe are essential when arranging a meeting, excessive planning for a meeting that isn't yet agreed may come across as presumptuous to some. Academics aren't all identical. YMMV. – DeveloperInDevelopment Nov 7 '14 at 22:36
  • Good questions, @imsotiredicantsleep. I'd like to see some thoughts on them too. – Lou Nov 8 '14 at 10:52
12

I personally prefer to always use opening and closing conventions in my emails, just as I would a letter. It costs nothing and it adds a little courtesy, which is never inappropriate. It's also a signal of how intimate you consider the relationship: are you on a first-name basis in person, or is there a bit more professional distance?

Email is generally a less formal mode of communication, however, so I would not be offended by a correspondent who did not, and likewise, my opening and closing is not quite as formal (e.g. "Dear [person I don't know]" vs. "Hi, [acquaintance]").

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    "It costs nothing" - only if you consider your time free. Otherwise the parsing out of unnecessary formalism takes up time and bloats the text - minimally though but considering the dozens of emails everybody reads and writes every day it adds up over a year. – Voo Nov 7 '14 at 19:01
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    @Voo Four words is "bloat"? The cost is nothing compared to the cognitive overhead that comes from starting and stopping the email at all. – jakebeal Nov 7 '14 at 19:06
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    For people using email clients (especially on mobile devices) that 'preview' the beginning of a message when looking at the message list, you're replacing the first line of content with semantic nullity. After the first message and reply, the subject line no longer conveys the current 'first glance' substance. I sometimes get annoyed at not being able to see whether a follow-up is something that needs rapid attention, but could have done so sans the 'noise'. – Phil Miller Nov 7 '14 at 20:02
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    Apart from what Novelocrat said - which is indeed one major reason (not just mobile clients, outlook shows a short popup too for me), yes, I consider a formalism that adds nothing of substance and makes parsing a message that tiny fraction longer "bloat". I also don't consider adding the greeting particularly polite - a well written and thought out email that includes all the necessary information in a concise way shows way more respect in my opinion. Or as the famous saying goes: "Sorry, I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead". – Voo Nov 7 '14 at 20:38
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    @Novelocrat Well, YMMV, I guess. I, at least, find no significant loss at the size of previews I get in Gmail on either browser or mobile. – jakebeal Nov 7 '14 at 20:56
4

For first contact, absolutely. It not only shows respect for the person but also knowledge of the etiquette of writing.

If the other persons answer more casually, follow suit.

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    I was asking more specifically about second contact. – Lou Nov 7 '14 at 18:21
3
+100

For the back-and-forth's I tend to avoid formality.

But, in order to avoid annoying the teacher, I use, say "Thank you so much, Professor Erdos.". Please note that I mention his or her name, instead of simply "Thanks so much.".

I think doing so can prevent us from being considered "rude" in whatever sense.

2

Email to instructors/teachers/professors in college can be tricky. It's important that you are respectful and use complete sentences with correct grammar and spelling. If you follow these steps, you (usually) can't lose.

  1. Does your instructor have a PhD? You will find the answer to that question in the course syllabus. If so, always, always, always address him or her as Doctor when speaking to them (Dr. in writing), unless she or he specifically tells the entire class that they don't want to be addressed as doctor. So, begin your email accordingly: Dr. Smith, OR Mr. Smith,

  2. Try ending your initial email with: Respectfully, Leo

  3. After the first email, it won't hurt to add Dr./Mr. Smith in each reply email. You probably don't need it, but taking the extra couple of seconds to type their name shows a higher level of professionalism and respect. Dr. Smith, Mr. Smith,

  4. In your reply email, again, use that respectfully ending. Respectfully, Leo

  5. Again, correct grammar and spelling are very important. Howe wood u feal if somewon sent u an email with bad speling and gramur?

What many students don't understand is how the little things can go so far and make a difference in their classes. Showing respect to the person who has dedicated their life to teaching others is the least you can do for them.

Good luck!

p.s. I'm not a teacher, but I have a tremendous amout of respect for them. I'm a former academic advisor at a university who loved helping students!

  • I usually address my teachers as Robyn and Gareth, and carry that through to email, but most of the teachers in Sheffield's School of English prefer going by first names. – Lou Nov 8 '14 at 0:14
2

In American culture/usage: If you're not sure of the instructor's degree (which might be the case if you're in an introductory course taught by a graduate student), it's always correct address the instructor as "Professor X." "Dr. X" certainly won't offend someone who doesn't hold a Ph.D. (they might enjoy the elevation in status), but it's better to know the correct form of address, which you can often infer from a department's faculty directory.

I was the director of a program for many years, and so often saw students not my own who needed advice or help. Some -- again, students who had never met me before -- would come into my office and address me as "Elise," not even giving me the courtesy of my last name, much less Dr. or Professor. These students needed help in the art of addressing faculty.

I had a colleague who, when a student came to her door and addressed her inappropriately, would make them go out in the hall and come in again with the correct way of addressing her. I myself never managed to do that, but I had to admire her insistence on the proper form of address.

As far as emails are concerned, I agree with the others that you can follow suit, but it never hurts to keep one step up in terms of formality.

  • 1
    Warning: this is location dependent. In the UK it is not always correct to address the instructor as "professor" -- Professor is a higher level than Dr. There are also places where Dr is mostly used for postdocs and it is considered rude to address tenured faculty as Dr. Always worth checking! – Liana Jul 29 '15 at 18:55
  • Good point. I should always identify myself as American culture/usage. – ewormuth Jul 29 '15 at 19:43
  • I know at a community college instructor who does not have a doctorate and will respond to almost any reasonable form of address, including his given name or surname with no title, but not "Doctor" or "Dr. X". – Patricia Shanahan Jul 30 '15 at 16:47
  • I think it's incumbent on all faculty to let students know how they would like to be addressed. Then students don't have to worry about offending. – ewormuth Jul 30 '15 at 20:11
0

It is always better to be more polite than not and to use conventions, than to not be polite enough. But sometimes, it is not necessary. Personnally, I expect a minimum of politeness and respect from students. And I also appreciate when students show more respect. From my experience, the expectations vary depending on the professors. So it would be more safe to observe what other students around you are doing and have a similar behavior w.r.t a given professor. Besides, if you are an international student, depending on the country, it may be good to get familiar with the local culture. Some culture have different expectations about what should or should not be done. Lastly, if you become more familiar with your professor such as supervisor, you may eventually use more informal communication. And if you are not sure about what the professor expect, you can always ask the professor directly what s/he expect. But most likely, remember that your research advisor is probably not your friend/brother/family member, and should not be treated in a similar way.

0

You should never use "letter conventions" in an email, whoever you are emailing. An email is not a letter!

  • Would you care to expand on your reasoning a bit? – jakebeal Jul 30 '15 at 13:07
-1

I actually learned over time, that a lot of professors like an informal way of communication. Especially when a relationship exists. Scientiest like to see themselves as a community and as a student you are on the way of becoming part of that community. In that sense I found many professors being very informal themselves.

I also think that it is accepted in communication between scientists to omit the academic title in the salutation.

That being said a first "Dear Mr. Atwood" should be totally sufficient to not be rude.

  • 1
    Since most of the responders here are in scientific/technical fields and are suggesting erring on the side of more formality, I think you're generalizing a bit too much. In my view, "Professor" or "Dr." Atwood trumps "Mr." – ewormuth Jul 29 '15 at 18:16
  • Well I thought so too, but my experience led me to believe otherwise. – Asking Questions Jul 30 '15 at 7:47

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