How to Write an Email to Professors

Use a professional tone when emailing professors.

Many college students find it necessary to email their professors from time to time. It's important to remember that emails to professors should be more formal than emails to friends and family. Professors receive lots of email, so writing concisely and providing effective subject lines is essential. In addition, if you don't know your professor well, she may judge you solely on your emails. Make a good impression by sending professional and polite emails.

Verify that you need to email your professor. Don't email your professor to ask for information you can look up yourself, such as for a course syllabus available online. Don't forward jokes or chain letters to your professors. And serious matters, such as grade disputes, may be more effectively addressed in a face-to-face discussion during your professor's office hours.

Locate your professor's email address. Most professors list their email on the syllabus, and your university website also likely has a faculty guide that lists contact information.

Open a new email and write a concise, informative subject line, such as "Question on persuasive essay." Do not write vague subject lines, such as "Help," or teaser subject lines, such as "Guess what?" Those subject lines sound like spam and give the professor no indication of how urgent the message is.

Write a greeting, such as "Dear Professor Smith," at the top of the email. Do not address professors by their first names unless they have specifically instructed you to do so.

Ask your question clearly and succinctly, using standard spelling and punctuation. Make sure the professor has enough context to answer your question; for example, specify which class you're in if you aren't sure he knows who you are. Use a professional tone of voice.

Sign the email with a polite salutation, such as "Thank you" or "Sincerely," and type your name.

Delete your email signature if it contains anything other than your standard contact information. For example, if your signature contains song lyrics or jokes, do not include it while emailing a professor.

Reread your email briefly for spelling and punctuation errors. Delete any wordiness that makes the message unnecessarily long. Your professor won't likely have a lot of time to spend on the email so get to the point. Use spell check. Send the email when you are certain the message is suitable.

  • Avoid netspeak, such as "LOL," when emailing professors. In addition, never write in all caps.
  • Avoid irony, sarcasm or jokes; they often come off poorly in emails.
  • Use a professional-sounding email address, such as one that includes only your name and numbers.
  • Allow your professor at least 24 hours to respond to the email. If you need a faster answer, talk to him after class, contact him during his office hours or try calling his office number.

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.