How to Write Better Emails

Photo:  iStock

Photo: iStock


During my freshman year of college, I quickly learned that email was an important form of communication. We had an email system called "Blitz," and everything that you needed to know about the college came via Blitz. Want more information about a student organization? Check your email. Want to know a little bit more about a class? Check your email. Hell, tryna' figure out where the party is later that night? Check your email. (But still text to confirm.) 

Looking back, I'm grateful that some upperclassmen took time to teach me the craft, because most of my "networking" with professors started with an email exchange. If you find yourself in similar situation, here's how you can write better emails to your professors.


Step 1: Greet accordingly.

After you state why you're sending the email in the subject line (i.e. - "Office Hours for Fall Semester"), greet the recipient. For contacting professors, the rule of thumb is to start with a formal greeting: "Dear Professor [Last Name]" or "Hi Dr. [Last Name]." Stick to this format until the prof tells you otherwise.


Step 2: Introduce yourself.

Since some of your classes will have over 50 students, it's a good idea to break the ice by giving a little background information.

Here's one example: "My name is Bennie, and I am an English major from Tampa Bay, Florida."

However, if this is too personal for you, you can say: "My name is Bennie, and I am currently taking your 'Modern Black Literature' course."


Step 3: Get to the Point.

Say why you're sending the email. Be specific, but keep it short & sweet. Remember, you're writing an email, not a book. (Save the details for office hours.) Want to introduce yourself to a professor? Going to miss a day because you're sick? Want to get into a professor's class? Say that in 2-3 sentences.

Here's one example: "I had a few questions about how Toni Morrison is thinking about black motherhood in her novel Beloved. I'd like to write about this topic for my final paper, so I'd love to talk to you whenever you're free."


Step 4: Ask a question.

You gotta' ask a question. Not only will this increase your chances of getting a response, but also it will make it easier to start a conversation.

And if you're taking a class with the professor you're emailing, make sure that you don't ask a question that's already answered on the syllabus.


Step 5: Close.

Before pressing send, proofread everything and end the email with: "Thank you, [Your Name]" or "Best, [Your Name]." 


Some Examples.

Dear Professor Brown,

I hope that this message finds you well. My name is Bennie Niles, and I am currently taking your "History of Sports" course. The deadline for the final paper is quickly approaching, so I'd like to talk to you sometime soon about my paper topic. The syllabus says that your office hours are on Wednesdays from 1:00pm to 2:30pm. Can I stop by this Wednesday around 2:00pm?

Please let me know.

Thank you,



Oh, yeah. Don't take it personally if you don't get a speedy response. Professors are busy people. Just give it a few days and send a follow-up email.


Hi Professor Brown,

I hope that you're well. I just wanted to follow-up about meeting with you. Since your office hours are from 1:00pm to 2:30pm on Wednesdays, can I stop by next week around 2:00pm?




About the Author

Bennie is a third-year PhD student at Northwestern University, where he is studying African American Studies. He created Just Tryna' Graduate to help Black students get to & through graduate school. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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