Class and e-tiquette

Tim Sampson and Tim Sampson

Dashing off a quick two-minute e-mail is something most people do on a daily basis. But the ease of electronic communications can cause friction between professors and their students.

Professors and instructors often complain about laziness and lack of formality in the e-mails they receive from their students. Many even go so far as to include written policies in their syllabi and will take the time to go over e-mail etiquette in class.

‘I think most students are used to e-mailing friends and not to e-mailing professionals in an academic sort of setting,’ said Meredith Graupner, English department instructor.

According to Graupner and others, the biggest problem they see is students not bothering to address or sign their e-mails.

‘There’s no context a lot of times. They start off like their walking into my office,’ Graupner said. ‘And then I have to e-mail back asking ‘who is this?’ and wait for them to reply. It slows down communication.’

But even students who do address and sign their e-mails can still run into trouble. Whether or not to refer to a professor by first name can frequently be a gray area.

Tom DeWitt, marketing professor, requires that students use proper titles in addressing e-mails. He feels it’s an important part of professional communication.

‘I get these e-mails that just say ‘hey,” DeWitt said. ‘Now if you’re talking to someone you go out drinking with that’s one thing, but to a professor it’s another.’

Dewitt feels the informality students express in e-mails translates into the real world.

‘I walk through the lobby and a student will be on the other side of the room will go ‘hey DeWitt’ or ‘hey Tom,” he said. ‘I haven’t created that. That’s something they’ve created themselves.’

Because different professors have different expectations, knowing the level of formality to use can be difficult, according to Lance Massey, assistant English professor.

‘E-mail is oddly situated between being formal and really informal,’ Massey said. ‘They have to develop the ability to read these situations themselves.’

Massey says that a good rule-of-thumb is to send an initial e-mail using the

receiver’s proper title. If they use their first name in the reply, then it’s all right for you to use it.

In addition to informality, many professors also complain about receiving demanding e-mails from their students.

‘I get e-mails from students at the eleventh hour saying ‘I need an extension,’ expecting that I’ll be able to reply in the middle of the night,’ said Montana Miller, assistant professor of popular culture.

According to DeWitt, students are more comfortable asking for extensions and extra points through e-mails rather than in person.

‘It takes away the face to face confrontation,’ he said.

Although many instructors say it’s less important than informality, lazy grammar errors can also plague student e-mails.

‘They just don’t realize that there are some words spell check just doesn’t catch,’ DeWitt said.

According to Massey, the occasional grammatical error is not a big deal, but certain blatant or ‘stigmatized’ errors, like using ‘me’ instead of ‘I’ can reflect badly on students.

‘There are certain grammatical errors that even professors make, that no one notices or cares about,’ Massey said. ‘But students should always proofread for stigmatized errors.’

Taking a little extra time to proofread the e-mail before clicking the send button can make all the difference in how a student is ultimately perceived by their instructor.

‘If you want a professor to have a positive impression of you, take the time to write out a good e-mail,’ Miller said.