writing email university
Need to write an e-mail to a university for the first time? We've got you covered. Source: AFP/Kirill Kudryavtsev

Have you ever frantically Googled “How to email professors”?

You’re in a foreign country for the first time. The lecturers don’t look like you and you don’t feel your English is good enough.

You need help with an assignment. Or how to prepare for a pop quiz. Or guidance on how to apply for that OPT stint.

You need to email your university lecturers and staff. A lil’ intimidating? Yes. Insurmountable? No.

This challenge can be easily overcome with a few simple practices. Here are some tips you can follow for effective, professional communication at university, with anyone at all. 

Address & sign off respectfully

It’s best to address your recipient with their suitable title and surname (eg. Dear Mr Smith). However, if you are writing to university staff for the first time, it’s acceptable to start the email with “To whom it may concern”.

If you’re emailing professors or faculty members you have interacted with in person, address them the way they prefer. Write in a polite yet conversational tone.

Formal sign-offs are also important, especially in first correspondence. You can use “Yours faithfully,” or “Yours sincerely,” in this case. If you’re writing to someone you know like a professor or coursemate, you can also go with “Yours truly”.

writing email university

If you’re not confident in your use of language, get a fluent friend to help proof-read your email. Source: AFP/Joe Raedle

Be specific in your requests

Whether you’re writing to check entry requirements or clarify an assignment with your professor, it’s best to convey your request in a straightforward manner. 

Use simple but complete sentences, and avoid flowery words or academic writing (save that for the journals!).

Remember to use a concise subject line but avoid the generic – for example, instead of just “Enquiry”, use “Enquiry on Assignment X”. Never leave the subject line blank.

Besides that, if it’s your first time emailing them, it would be helpful to include relevant details such as name, country of origin, and student ID number.

The university staff you are contacting likely deals with numerous emails like yours daily. Make it easy for them to understand and assist you.

Check language & format

Though there is no strict format for an email, you should keep the flow standard: Start with the salutation, then body text, thank you, sign-off, and finally your name.

Be sure to give your email a final read-through before hitting “Send” – typos and grammatical errors express a lack of thoroughness and care, which reflects poorly on anyone.

All communication should be in English. When emailing professors and peers, it’s fine to use the language of instruction. If you’re not confident in your use of language, get someone who is fluent to help you proof-read.

How to email professors? Maintain professionalism

A good rule of thumb is to avoid asking generic information that can be found on a website or in course materials. Do your research beforehand and only reach out for insights or personal recommendations.

One commonly-overlooked marker of professionalism is your email address. Prospective students should stick to first and last names in their email address, avoiding childish names and inappropriate words. For example, lisaleong@gmail.com would be more professional than lisalovesunicorns98@hotmail.com.

This applies to university students, as well. Set up a professional account with a trusted domain before embarking on your higher education journey – it will come in handy for years to come.

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