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Sound Writing

Section 11.1 Writing Emails

Emailing faculty, staff, and off-campus professionals can be daunting because it is unfamiliar. What kind of language is appropriate? What should I call them? How do I write formally without sounding weird? Although an email to a professor doesn’t require the same level of formality that a letter to the Queen of England does, using formal conventions and style is a valuable way to show respect for your professors and communicate your own maturity. But formality becomes especially tricky because different professors often have different preferences about the type of language they use and expect to receive. As a general guideline, it is better to err on the side of formality than to risk coming across as disrespectful. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to be relatively formal in your first email to a professor and then alter or not alter your style depending on the professor’s level of formality in their reply (see Section 10.1). Much like an academic essay, formal emails contain an introduction (or a greeting), a body, and a conclusion (or a closing). Below are some tips to keep in mind when sending and receiving emails.
This is a cartoon of a letter sticking halfway out of an envelope, with the words "Dear Professor" at the top.


(from most formal to least)
  • Dear Professor ,
  • Dear Professor,
  • Professor ,
  • Hello, Professor .
  • Hi, Professor .
  • Hi Professor ,

The Body.

The body of your email, like the body of a paper, contains the information you want to convey to your audience (i.e., the email recipient(s)). Since people usually receive a lot of emails throughout the day, it’s best to keep your emails short and to the point.
Of course, being brief doesn’t mean that you have to be curt or abrasive; professors, staff members, and other professionals are people, too! If you feel so inclined, you might begin the body of your email with something like “I hope your week is off to a good start,” or “I hope you have been having a good summer.” In general, the key is to be polite but not too personal.
Next, you want to write everything you need to say clearly and concisely. It’s helpful to break up your text into paragraphs that are shorter than paragraphs you’d typically write in an essay. You can also put an extra space in between paragraphs to make them easier to read quickly.
Finally, because writing to faculty and staff members is a professional activity, you will often be expected to write using Standard American English conventions (see Standard American English), including punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, and word choice.


Even if you have an automatic signature set up, it’s best to precede your name with a nice closing remark.
(From most formal to least)
  • Sincerely,
  • Regards,
  • Best regards,
  • Onward,
  • Warmly,
  • Thank you,
  • Many thanks,
  • Best, [the easiest and probably most common]
  • All the best,
  • Best wishes,
  • Cheers,
This is a list of greetings and closings for emails. From most to least formal, the greetings are: "Dear Professor; Dear Professor Jones; Professor Jones; Hello, Professor Jones; Hi, Professor Jones; Hi Professor Jones." From most to least formal, the closings are: "Sincerely; Regards; Best; Best wishes; Thank you; Cheers."
List 11.1.1. Strategies for Responding to Emails
  • Send a polite follow-up if you have not received a response within 24 hours (Monday through Friday).
    If it’s not the weekend, a holiday, or a vacation, and if your professor is not out of town, on leave, or at a conference, you should be able to expect a reply within 24 hours. If you haven’t received an email back after 24 hours except on the weekend, when many faculty members don’t check email, it is usually okay to send another email. When writing your second email, continue being polite and don’t be hurt, offended, or frustrated that you didn’t get a reply. Remember, professors are people, too, with lots to juggle, including email responses.
  • Address your professor with the name they use to sign their emails.
    If a professor uses their first name in their closing, then it is likely that the professor is okay with you calling them by their first name. However, if you’re in doubt, then you should definitely ask the professor’s preference.
    It’s much easier to ask at the beginning of the semester how a professor prefers to be addressed rather than at the middle or end of the semester, when it is more awkward.
  • Reply to emails promptly.
    Just as you expect quick responses from the people you email, so too should you be conscious of the time you take to reply to emails.
  • Take a moment to write back to acknowledge or thank the professor for their response, especially if it was an especially long or thoughtful response.