The Academic Services Office staff had a good laugh at this post, which shows every type of email professors receive from their students. We enjoyed this one especially:
hay professor i have 97 grandmothers, all dead, i will not be in class for the rest of the semester
Which is more tragic – losing 97 grandmas at once, or the affront to grammar and usage? To the professor, probably the latter.
Once the laughter finally died down, it occurred to us that it would probably be helpful for you to know the RIGHT way to reach out. Here are the most important tips:
1. Grammar Matters
Oh look – an opportunity to practice your Business Communications skills! The more professional the better, because you are asking for something above and beyond their usual work load, and a carefully prepared letter shows your professor that you respect their time and assistance. Use proper punctuation and capitalization, and take a minute to run spell check. Close properly (with gratitude) and include your contact information. If it fits in a tweet, it’s probably not enough.
2. Use a Subject Line
Without a good subject line, your email is less likely to be seen and read. If it’s about your Pre-Calculus class, say so – the professor may be teaching three different types of math this semester. If it’s a question about homework, add that. “Help needed” makes you sound helpless. If you’re asking questions, it would be better to say “Pre-Calc Homework Questions” – that shows the professor that you are taking ownership for you success, and not passively asking them to be the Answer Fairy.
3. Do Your Own Leg-Work First
As we may have mentioned before, often the information you need is in the syllabus. Sometimes it’s also in Sakai or on the department’s website. If the information is readily available and you asked the professor to find it for you, they just wrote you off. If you’re missing a class, don’t ask the professor first, ask a classmate to share the information you missed – preferably in advance. If an assignment or test is due on that class, submit it (or ask to take the quiz) before the due date, not after. Know what you’re asking for and be as specific as possible. Don’t fish for extra time.
4. Excessive Details = Excuses
Unless you’re entering a Sad Country Ballad competition and they’re judging, the details of your personal drama are irrelevant to your professor. They’ve heard it all, and assume most sob stories are excuses. Keep it simple: own it, specify the problem/question, and (if applicable) offer a plan to fix it. Your goal is to solve a problem by being proactive, not by eliciting pity.
5. Extra Credit Is For Extra Effort
Professors expect to get the “end of semester beg for extra credit” email from students who didn’t attend class regularly, submit assignments on time, or study for exams. After putting forth almost no effort all semester, these students expect the professor to put forth extra effort (i.e. creating and grading additional assignments) to save their GPA. Most profs know that if you’d put forth the effort you’re about to cram into that extra credit all semester, you wouldn’t need the extra credit. That said, if you’ve been using their office hours and tutoring, attending all classes, and submitting homework completed and on time, professors are far more likely to reward that effort and help you pass the course. Consider this expression: “a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” Does it apply to you in this scenario? Just re-take the course; you need to know that material anyway.