Guidelines for emailing a Professor or a TA
The student-teacher relationship is a kind of professional relationship
and involves certain professional courtesies. Here at IIT Delhi I have
found that most students are indeed very courteous in their behaviour
except in one important aspect: email communication. And so, here are
some suggestions for how to write an email to a professor or a TA. I
should add that if you are a student emailing me then you should
consider these suggestions mandatory.
- Open with a salutation.
Start your email with "Dear X," on a separate line by itself. This "X"
could be "Dr Lastname" or "Prof Lastname", or, as is common in
India, "Sir" or "Madam". If we are on first-name terms, it can also
be only "Firstname". Since your TAs do not have a PhD yet, you can
attach the honorific "Mr" or "Ms" before their last name (not
their first name) or address them by their first name if you are on
first-name terms with them. In India TAs generally do not mind being
addressed as "Sir" or "Madam", so you can use that form of address
too if you wish.
- Sign off at the end.
At the end of an email, as at the end of a letter, it is good manners
to sign off with something like a "Yours sincerely" or a "Best wishes" or even a
simple "Thanks" if thanks are called for. Below this you should type
your name. If you are in a tearing hurry then you may omit the
signing off statement, but you must, at the very least, type out
When we are in a hurry, or if there is a lot of back and
forth of email, then people do sometimes forget to sign their name,
but you must understand that this is informal behaviour and
is not appropriate in a professional communication.
- Write in sentences.
Write in proper sentences, as you would in a letter. This is not a
text message, it is a formal communication, so do not use ellipses
(i.e., ...) to punctuate your email. Don't break sentences across
lines. Use fullstops and commas and other standard punctuation
marks. And remember: begin your sentences with uppercase
- Don't use abbreviated words.
Usages like "thx", "c u" and other such are commonplace nowadays and
they are, in my opinion, perfectly acceptable in electronic or
written communications between friends, but not in
professional or even semi-professional emails. So please avoid them
entirely when emailing your Professor or TA.
- Don't use all uppercase.
ALL UPPERCASE IS LIKE SHOUTING AT SOMEONE. Please do not do this in a
- Think before using emoticons.
Smileys are now commonplace in electronic communications and I
feel that they can be used occasionally, and can be important in
situations where you want to make sure that the recipient
understands that you are talking in a light vein. In general, however, avoid using them in professional exchanges where possible.