How To Email Your Professor
Good examples that you can use as templates
Hi Professor Laba,
I'm a student in your Math 299 class. I have some questions about the last section we
covered, but I cannot come to your office hours due to schedule conflict with another class.
Could I make an appointment? I'm available tomorrow 2-4 pm, on Wednesday 10-11 and after 3 pm,
and on Thursday before 11 am. Would any of these times work for you?
My name is Jill Brown and I'm in your Math 299 class. I'm working on HW4 and I have a few
questions about it.
In problem 1, are we supposed to assume that the function f is differentiable? The textbook
does not say that, but the method recommended in the hint is only valid if the function is
In problem 3, do we have to use Lagrange multipliers, or can we use a different method?
Also, in question 24 from the recommended homework in Section 14.5, I got the correct answer when
I used x and t as independent variables, but if I use x and y as the variables instead, I get
a different answer. Could you tell me why the second method does not work?
General rules for writing email to professors
- Use formal language and style. Your email to a professor is professional
correspondence with a senior person in a position of authority over you.
Do not try to be too familiar or casual. "Hey, do u have time to talk tomorrow" is not an
acceptable email to a professor. (See the first template above for the correct
- Use last names and professional titles. In professional correspondence
with professors, the polite default forms of address are "Professor Lastname" or "Dr. Lastname".
If you're not sure whether your professor has a Ph.D., or if you don't know their formal job title,
you can still use "Professor" because that is still the role we perform.
Do not use first names unless your professor explicitly tells you that you may do that.
Do not use "hey" or "yo" as a greeting. Do not use "Mr.", "Ms.", "Miss", or "Mrs." unless your
professor tells you that this is their preferred form of address. Please be aware that calling
female professors "Miss" is a throwback to the times when female teachers had to resign their jobs upon marrying.
Traditional greetings and closings (Dear Professor Lastname, Sincerely yours, etc.) are
still used in professional correspondence including email. I will not require them, but if you choose to use them,
that is fine.
- Identify yourself and the course you are taking. We often teach more than one class in the same semester, and we cannot (for example) reserve an appointment for you if we don't know who you are.
- Try to ask all of your questions the first time.
If you have several questions, include them all in your first email.
We understand that follow-up questions are sometimes needed, but on the other hand,
emailing a professor does not
work like social media chat. Outside of designated times such as office hours, I'm only able to check and answer
my email once in a while (sometimes only once or twice a day), so that extended back-and-forth conversations may not be possible.
- Understand the limitations of email.
If you have many questions (more than 3-4), or if you have questions that may require long answers
("I don't understand this concept at all, can you please explain?"), you should come to
office hours instead. If you cannot come to the scheduled office hours, please request an appointment.
- If you are requesting an appointment: Please provide your name, course/section number,
reason for the appointment, and the times when you will be available. Give us several times to choose from.
You can ask whether a same-day appointment will be available (it might be!), but make sure to give us other
options. (If you email me at 12:30 pm requestimg an appointment at 2 pm on the same day, chances are that
I will not even be able to read your email until well after 2.)
- If you are requesting a videoconferencing appointment: Zoom fatigue is a real thing,
both for students and for professors. We will be able to use the videoconferencing time more
efficiently if you tell us in advance what you would like to talk about, so that we could
prepare and adjust our technical setup if needed. (For example, if you tell me
"I would like to ask about how Question 3 on last week's homework was graded", or "I have some questions about the demo from Friday's lecture", I can look up your homework and the grading scheme before the meeting, and make sure that I have the materials from Friday's demo with me.) This will make it
more manageable for everyone.
- If English is not your native language: Use the templates above. Keep your writing simple.
Do not use any words or phrases that you don't understand. If in doubt, ask.
There are many other pages and articles on writing email in academia, for example:
You will notice that different people have different preferences, so there may well be no perfect way
to email that will keep everyone 100% satisfied. For example, I do not require formal "Dear Professor" greetings,
formal closings, or "acknowledgements of common humanity" such as "I hope you are having a good day".
But a few points are universal:
use formal language, use last names and professional titles unless instructed otherwise,
state your request clearly,
provide all necessary information, do not make unrealistic or impossible demands.
One more word about formal language: the point is not to have you use archaic phrases from
the 19th century, but to communicate effectively with someone who only has a professional (not
personal) relationship with you and who might not share your background. "Hey, do u
have time to talk tomorrow" is completely appropriate when you are writing to a friend.
Your friend may already know what you want to talk about (or if they don't, they probably want to
see you anyway), and you can be casual about the scheduling. These are not assumptions that you
can generally make in a professional setting.
Copyright I. Laba, 2019.