Email Etiquette for the Online Classroom

email etiquette

Kayla Meyers here, writing instructor at the Well-Trained Mind Academy. In online courses like those offered by WTMA, email often serves as the most convenient form of communication among parents, students, and instructors. However, it is not always the easiest or most efficient way to get information across. Often tone falls flat, emails are lost, and vague wording can cause a lapse in understanding. But because emailing is the best way for us to communicate between class times, I have come up with some do’s and don’ts of email etiquette. These can help students craft emails that make a great impression, ease communication, and ultimately make the most of their class experience.

Tips for Proper Email Etiquette

DO write a greeting at the beginning of your first email.

  • One of my most beloved college professors once said that emailing someone without a greeting is like barging into their house and yelling. While that might be hyperbolic, I think it has some merit, especially when you are emailing someone new. It’s all about being polite.
  • NOTE: If the correspondence becomes more of a back and forth, or the people communicating are familiar, it is OK to drop the greeting.

DON’T be vague in the body of your email.

  • Sometimes what you mean is not always what gets typed. Try to be as clear, descriptive, and specific as possible. It is easier for me to write clear and complete responses when I know exactly what is in question or what the student needs.
  • Example: “I’m confused with the assignment! Help!” ✗
    “Do we need to include citations in this essay? If so, what kind?” ✔
  • While the first email might be what you’re thinking, I won’t be able to help you until we spend some time figuring out exactly what you need help with – sometimes that’s OK! But the second is best because I can respond with an answer quickly.

DO read all of the emails sent out by your instructor!

  • Often, I will email clarifications, homework, or scheduling changes between classes. These emails are for you – please read them!

DON’T hit “reply all” when responding to class-wide emails.

  • If you have a question for the instructor, just hit “reply.” That way, student-teacher or parent-teacher communications remain private.

DO include a heading in the subject line.

  • It can be something as basic as “assignment questions” or “absent next week.” Subject lines help instructors prioritize and manage emails.

DON’T forget to proofread your emails!

  • Grammar and spelling errors can make your emails difficult to understand. Plus, if you are emailing someone new, a well-written and error-free email makes a great impression.

DO account for tone in your emails.

  • When we communicate in person or even on the phone, our facial expressions and voice convey so much information. However, that information is lost over email, so you want to make sure you are choosing your words thoughtfully.
  • NOTE: I am a huge advocate for adding tasteful exclamation points or even a “Thank you!” at the end of an email – being polite and enthusiastic will always improve the tone of your correspondence!

DON’T forget to check your email.

  • I suggest checking your email once a day on weekdays when you are enrolled in online classes. Forgetting to check your email can allow your inbox to “flood” and prevent you from getting important class information in a timely manner.

DO give the school your correct email address.

  • Instructors receive contact information based on registration. As mentioned before, so much important information for the class is exchanged through email. To get the most out of your online class experience, it is essential the email address you provide is correct.
  • NOTE: If you change email addresses during the year, let your instructors know so they can update class information.

A note from Dean Julia Collier:

Communication with instructors is key to a student’s success. Communicating about personal challenges, the need for an extension, or just chatting about course content in the middle and high school years will help students feel comfortable talking with their professors when they head into college. I taught college freshman for many years, and I was always surprised by how many of my students were afraid to see me after class, to email me with a question about their coursework, or to develop any kind of personal relationship with me. Whether a student ends up at a small liberal arts college or a big state university, the professors will expect the student to communicate his/her needs with proper email etiquette. Practice now with your online instructors! 

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