How to email your professor or a professional colleague

I strongly recommend reading Ch. 21 “Email Thoughtfully” from Josh Bernoff’s book Without Bullshit. Here is a list of the key points.

The main takeaway is to respect what he calls the Iron Imperative:

> Treat the reader’s time as more valuable than your own.

The way to start honoring the imperative is to think about what you want the recipient to do after getting your email.

Here is a template for students:

[ Dear / Hello / Hi ]* [ Prof. Smith / Mr. TA ]**,

I am [ in your class ].

I am writing because [ reason ].

Here is the information I would like you to have.

Here is the action I am requesting from you.

[ Best regards / Sincerely / Thank you],


A few other pointers:

•Use full sentences, paragraphs, capital letters, and punctuation.

Brevity is best.

•The subject should convey what the message is about.

•If you want to schedule a time to meet or talk, suggest a handful of different times that work for you. (You can also do this on my Doodle page). This minimizes back-and-forth.

•A or email is most professional; if you use a personal address, it should contain only your name (and numbers, if needed). No

•For more professors’ views on email, see How to Email a Professor and Re: Your Recent Email to Your Professor. For business and military types, see How to Write Email with Military Precision for clear and efficient communications.

*Not “hey!”
** Where I was raised, we default to using titles unless someone asks to be called by their first name. Your culture may vary, but this is a safe bet if unsure.

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