From the email files:
To: Science Woman (email@example.com)
can u tell me how to do number 4 on the problem set. i no u went over it in class but i have had a VERY LONG week lol tests ha ha ha and i lost my notes. pleeease help
The notes are available on the class website, but you can also solve #4 by … We’ll also be working more examples in class tomorrow. Please see me during office hours if you need more help.
I am *so* sick of correspondence like that – and that’s from a typical student in my upper-level class. Let me vent a bit and enumerate its faults, and then I’ll propose a strategy for dealing with it and ask for your suggestions.
First, the problems with emails like that (in case there are any of my students or other similarly clueless souls reading this blog):
- The email is invariably from a non-university account with some obnoxious or cutesy address, and no indication who the sender actually is.
- The subject line is vague. Is it spam? Is it an old friend sending an update? Oh, maybe it’s from a student. Well, what do they want? Is it urgent? I don’t know until I open the email.
- no capitalization. ever.
- No punctuation or wrong punctuation
- Misspellings and internet slang, lol.
- a lame excuse (totally unnecessary) is usually included (or will be in subsequent emails)
- No taking responsibility for the course materials on their own
- Usually sent late the night before (or the morning of) an assignment deadline
So these emails are incredibly unprofessional and even somewhat rude. I’m not trying to be on some high horse about being better than them or being an authority figure. I’m just hoping that students will treat their upper level courses like the professional training grounds that they are. Plus, I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds this sort of email hard to read and understand.
I’m tired of these unprofessional emails, but the image I have been cultivating with my upper-level students is that of a fun, informal prof. They call me Dr. Firstname and I’ve been making an effort to get to know about their lives and career aspirations. Many of them are looking for senior thesis and MS topics, and I’d like to convince some of them to work with me.
So how do I get them to write me grammatically correct emails with descriptive subject lines? I could stand up in front of the class and give them a lecture about appropriate communication behavior, but that would definitely come off as uptight. So here’s what I am thinking of doing.The next time I get an unprofessional email from each student, I’ll write back answering their question but also including the following.
“I am hoping that you will use this class to practice professional behaviors that you will use when you work in industry. One of these practices is making sure that all email communication comes from your university email address, has a descriptive subject line, is grammatically correct, and is free of slang. Thanks in advance for making sure that future emails correspond to these guidelines.”
I’m also thinking that I need to stop letting it slide in my freshman level class. After all, if they get away with it early in their college careers, how will they know it’s inappropriate later on?
How have you handled this sort of email ettiquette problem? Have you had success? Am I just uptight for no good reason? If you were (are) a student and got an email like that, what would your response be? Thanks for your help.