All emails sent in a professional setting (which includes University) should contain the following four sections:
- An informative subject line. This means the subject line is not blank and contains details informing the recipient as to what the email is about. If you are an undergrad emailing a course instructor/TA, the subject line should include the course name number, such as CSC 101, as well as what the email is about.
Good Example – CSC 101 – Mark for Assignment 2
Bad Example – Assignment 2
- Who the email to. Just because you got the email address right, you should still confirm in the body of the email who you are talking to. This is not so important in future replies within the same email chain, but the first one should be correctly addressed. I know some people want this to be very formal, and it’s best to learn how people wish to be addressed. If you’re responding to an email, I usually look at how they signed it, and repeat that back. If they signed it <first name> <last name> then I’ll address the reply to <first name>. But if they signed it Dr. <last name> or Prof <last name> then I’d reply to Dr./Prof <last name>.
Good Example – Hi <first name>
Bad Example – <blank>
- A body of information/context. If you’re sending an email, then there’s obviously some amount of information you wish to convey to the recipient. Make sure the body of the email actually does this. Just because you wrote in the subject line that your email is about “CSC 101 – Mark for Assignment 2”, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to specify what about the mark you want to ask.
Good Example – I was looking over my mark for Assignment 2 and it’s not clear to me why I lost 4 marks on part 2. When I compare my output against the sample in the assignment description it matches.
Bad Example – My mark is wrong.
- Who the email is from. Yes, the email arrives with an email address attached. But, email addresses are not always informative. Who exactly is “ak10”? At my university, email addresses can be super informative (like first or last name), but once there are multiple students with the same name, they start getting assigned email addresses with their initials and a number. Not at all clear. Add on to this, students who send email from their non-university accounts (note: don’t do this) and therefore their email address doesn’t contain any part of their name.
Good Example – <First name> (and potentially <Last name>)
Bad Example – Thanks.
To me, the above is ridiculously straight forward and common sense. However, it continues to amaze me the number of people who can’t figure this out, and expect the recipient to decipher exactly what it is that they want. Those emails make me frustrated and lower my opinion of the sender.