Friday, January 4, 2008

Tips for Students - Email

To continue on yesterday's theme, I'd like to offer some tips on effective email communication, for students first:

1) If you have an email address that does not properly identify who you are, consider creating a new email address specifically for academics - one that contains a portion (or all) of your name. When teachers receive emails from students, but the email addresses do not give the teacher an idea of who the sender is, writing a reply can be difficult. I'll give you an example. I recently received the following email:

Re: Class

Hi, I don't know what to do for this class. Please help.

An email like this one poses problems for the receiver. For one thing, the receiver has no idea who Butterflyer2007foryou might be. It could be a student. It could be spam from an online retailer of butterfly catching equipment. Then again, it could be a student. After concluding that the email came from a student, the teacher has to try to answer the email. She can't, and the reason she can't is that the email does not say what class the student is in. Most of us teach three or more different courses at a given time, so the words "this class" could mean Seventeenth Century French Poetry or Freshman Composition - but your teacher has no way of knowing this, which brings me to my second tip.

2) Use specific subject line headings - and always include an indication as to whether your email is urgent or not. For example, if you are in ENG 301, Seventeenth Century French Poetry, simply type the words ENG 301 and the section number into the subject line. Then include the word "urgent" if the email happens to be truly urgent.

3) This is a matter of preference, but I think it shows poise and civility to use salutations and closings in emails. What would be so hard about adding a greeting, such as "Hi Professor _______," or "Dear Professor ________," to the beginning of the email? While you are at it, try closing your email with something like "Sincerely, _______" or "Best, ________" of "Cheers, _______" - whatever suits you. That way even if you don't follow the advice in item #1, at least your instructor has an idea of who you are.

4) Consider putting an auto-signature on your email that includes a return email address, a phone number and an instant messenger screen name. Doing so will allow your instructor to get back in touch with you by phone or IM if he or she thinks the question you ask might need more than a few sentences of typing to answer. Most internet based email services, such as Yahoo Mail, Gmail, and Hotmail, include easy ways to add an auto--signature. It is a great idea to add one now. If you are concerned about giving your phone number to everyone who you send email to, again, consider an academics-only email address - one that you use for communicating with your teacher and your teacher alone.

A much better email might look like this:

From: Michelle
Re: ENG 301 section 004, URGENT!

Dear Professor Smartness,

I am lost. I do not know what to do. Please help me.


Michelle McStudent
AIM screen name: Butterflyer2007foryou

If I got an email that looked this like, I would answer it instantly, or I would call or IM the student. If I got an email that looked like our original example, I would answer it, but I would have to ask three or four questions before I could really help the student. Those questions slow everyone down.

Take these tips into consideration as you start your distance courses this semester. They will make communicating with your instructor much easier and faster.

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