How to Write Emails in a Professional or Academic Context

I just received the following two emails from students and I’m sitting here, fuming.

Email 1.

I’m read the material need for the final paper but I do not understand it. I am confused and is unsure how to start my Final paper.

Email 2.

Do to my computer internet not workin at home, I was not able to send it to you at the moment you requested. Sorry for the inconvience but i made sure i sent it as soon as i back.

That’s all the emails contained. I did not edit them in any way. There is no signature or any information that would allow me to identify these students. I have no idea which of my courses they are taking. There was no subject line, either.

Mind you, these students know how to write a correct sentence. We’ve done enough written assignments in both of my courses for me to know that I don’t have students who always write as badly as this. It’s just in the email format that they regale me with something like this. Why, people, why? And this is the technology generation we have been hearing about?

I’m so fed up with getting this kind of email that I just devised a PowerPoint presentation for them on how to write emails in a professional context. I know that the PowerPoint sounds snooty and patronizing, and I hate doing that to students. But I can’t face a flurry of such emails at the end of the semester, and I know they are coming.

Here is the presentation if you are interested:

How to Write Emails

Is there anything I should change or add?

18 thoughts on “How to Write Emails in a Professional or Academic Context

  1. I would add that they start making a habit of using their school email to write to professors/TAs/staff/potential employers.

    I think it makes a bad first impression on a potential employer if they see a random email from (if they make it past the spam filter, that is).


    1. Our school email system allowed us to pick any username we wanted – terrible idea. Students made email addresses as silly 18 year old freshman, and had to go through their academic career with email addresses like “”

      So we always had the issue with needing to sign your name anyway.


  2. This is great. I’d also suggest adding that short forms/text talk are not acceptable. i.e. ttyl, btw, lol etc. and let’s not forget those little smiley faces.

    My experience has also been that when completing on-line assignments in a forum format they forget they are still writing at a University level.


    1. If they use “ur” and they’re not referring to an ancient Sumerian city-state or using an prefix denoting “original” then you should probably give them an F on something.


  3. In your sample, include an example of an informative subject heading. I once almost deleted an email from a student that had the subject heading, “Help!” because it looked like spam. Note to student, “Spanish 152 Help!” is a better subject heading.


  4. Pretty excellent, in fact I am stealing it from you … I shall properly acknowledge you, of course 😉

    Anyway, I would add something to the effect that there is such a thing as spelling and poor spelling conveys a sense of sloppiness and carelessness that won’t help them in the long run.


  5. “Do to” makes me so upset (and similar situations where people put the wrong word in a commonly-used phrase when it would make so much sense with the right word.

    Also, ptiderman, should you have put a comma before “or two”? (Or otherwise you need one after.) It is the curse of correcting someone else’s grammar on the web – you will have a very high chance of making your own error.


  6. Ha. I have a possible explanation for the disparity: they have English majors looks over their papers. I spent a good deal of time doing that very thing at WKU.

    One quote from a friend’s paper that I will remember until the day I die: “Historians be believing that slavery was not profitable.”


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