Ask Meaghan: Email etiquette

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My name is Meaghan and I’m the Student Advocacy Resource Coordinator with the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University. I have so much to tell you about self-advocacy!! Through this bi-weekly series, #AskMeaghan, my goal is to answer any questions you may have about this crazy-little-thing-called-UNIVERSITY ♫ (see this video to sing along).

I got an email from my prof and he wants to meet me outside of class time? Am I in trouble?

Receiving an email from your professor outside of a grade and/or guidance on an assignment can be a scary thing for sure, kind of like the sorting hat. Being that it’s exam week, you’re probably stressed enough already. If you are a Muggle like me, regardless of the past, you cannot make this email disappear and I wouldn’t suggest ignoring it. Instead, you can prepare a professional email response back to your professor (as long as they’re nothing like Snape).

As much as you’ll want to panic, I recommend you take a few deep breaths before responding. You have no idea what this meeting is about and you shouldn’t assume the worst. That being said, I encourage you to inquire what the meeting will be about so you can be your best self-advocate! You may want to word your email similar to the following:

Hello *Insert Name of Professor*,

Thank you for your email. Can you please give me an indication on what this is in regards to so that I can prepare for the meeting ahead of time? I am available at the following times:

  • Option 1
  • Option 2
  • Option 3

Thank you for your time,

*Insert Your Name*

Now, that’s a well-written, professional email, if I do say so myself.

The importance of sending professional emails to your professors cannot be understated. Communicating in a negative way can result in a non-academic misconduct incident report. You may also end up like this person, and be publicly humiliated:

You want to make a good impression with your professors because they can be great allies for you during the semester. It’s also good practice for when you leave MRU and go out into the “real world.”

There may be times where the shoe is on the other foot and you’ll want to setup a meeting with your professor. Whether you’re asking for an extension on an assignment, requesting to meet to discuss a grade on an assignment or midterm, or asking for an exam deferral, emailing your professor should be your first step. TIP: make sure you check the course outline first to see if the answer is in there.

Here are some tips to get you started on writing a professional email:

  • Subject Line. Many professors appreciate it when, in your subject line, you include your course code as well as the section of class you’re in. This way they can easily identify which class of theirs you’re enrolled in and give some context to your email. Here’s an example of a subject line: “PSYC 3345-1: Hoping to Schedule a Meeting.”
  • Have a greeting/introduction. Readers want to know who you are and the reason for your email. Tip: Start with “Hello, Dear, Good afternoon, etc.” and state the person’s name you are contacting. If you are addressing an instructor that holds a PhD, it is strongly encouraged you address them by Dr. (Trust me, if a professor has earned their PhD, it’s music to their ears when they hear/read the word “doctor” in relation to their name)
  • Be solution-focused. Outlining solutions versus pointing out problems shows high levels of professionalism. It allows your reader to see your collaborative efforts and willingness to negotiate.
  • Ask questions to gain deeper understanding. Use “What/How/Where” or even some open-ended questions as opposed to “Why” questions because the latter signal that you are on the defensive.
  • Always proofread. Ensure there are no spelling mistakes as sometimes email does not pick up on grammatical or sentence structure errors.
  • Be courteous and respectful. Thank them for their time.
  • Have a signature. At minimum, this should include your first and last name, student number, the subject and/or program information (if you haven’t already included that in somewhere in your email)

TLDR: be professional in your email communication. It just might get you 10 points to Gryffindor!

Would you like someone to proofread an email draft for you? Here at the Student Advocacy Resource Centre, we provide students with correspondence review. I or one of the part-time administrators would be happy to look over your email and provide you with feedback on spelling, grammar, and wording.

How to submit your questions to Meaghan:

Get involved today and #AskMeaghan to discover how you can become a #SAMRUselfadvocacy champion! Submit your questions by using the #AskMeaghan hashtag on social media or email me directly at m.paturel@samru.ca. I’m in the Student Advocacy Resource Centre (Z303) in Wyckham House from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm but feel free to pop by during drop-in hours from 12 to 2 pm on weekdays. The Student Advocacy Resource admins or myself would be happy to help you!