Email is a very handy vehicle for talking with people around the world — professors, experts, businesses, family, friends, lovers, and so on.  While in some circles and for some recipients email is not as formal as paper mail, in other circles there are some expectations of protocol.  However, because email use has literally sprung up on its own and relatively recently, people often do not realize that there might be some ways to use it that are better than other ways — ways that communicate better, and/or ways that might better produce the desired result of the message.

To prepare students for situations beyond the classroom and the university in which greater formality is useful, and because I myself find it difficult and frustrating to read certain forms of email, I would like those of you who communicate with me to observe the following guidelines when you email me:
  1. Always include something in the subject line that tells me the nature and topic of the email.  For example, one of the following subject headings is right and one is wrong.  Guess which is which!
  2. Use capital letters when (and only when) the text calls for capital letters, such as at the beginning of sentences and proper names.  Spell correctly.  Use appropriate punctuation.
  3. Emphasize words or phrases by bracketing them between asterisks, as it, "I *knew* he was going to get the award."  Words in all capital letters are generally considered to represent shouting, so don't use them unless you really mean to be shouting at me.
  4. End your email with some sort of final salutation ("Sincerely" or whatever) and your name — the salutation to be polite, and your name so that I know who you are.  "" tells me little.  Even signing it (say) "Dave" or "Jess" isn't enough, since I know a number of Daves and Jesses.  If your signature box has your name, you can possibly omit typing your name.
  5. Acceptable form of address:  "Dr. Chilton" or "Prof. Chilton".  Unacceptable forms of address:  "Mr. Chilton" or "Chilton".  Students with whom I have a less formal relationship can call me "Steve".

I hope you will benefit from practicing this more formal style, since you will surely be using it in other settings, but in any case I really appreciate your using it.  I correspond with dozens of students in the course of a week, and your use of this style really helps me be more efficient.

The original idea (and most of the content) is from Prof. Denise Bussa's article in [UMD's] Instructional Development XIX (1, Fall 2002), p.5.  Thanks, Denise!

Author:  Stephen Chilton [emailLast Modified:  2003-11-13
Honor Roll  |  UMD  |  Pol Sci Department

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