How to Write an Email

+ 22 FREE email templates every grad student needs

 

Have you ever wanted to send an email to one of your professors, department chair, or your advisor and you didn’t know how to start it?

 

Should the tone be conversational?  Or strictly professional?  How long should it be?  What should the subject line say?

 

It can be difficult to strict the right balance between professional and casual.  Or even, too much information v. not enough information.

 

When I was a grad student, I was the go-to girl when it came to sending emails.  My friends would always ask for my help when they were sending an email to someone they didn’t know.

 

Why was I so good at it?  I’m not sure, but I realize now that my parents can be very formal people and I probably learned all about email etiquette from them.

 

Typically in academia, especially in the STEM fields, you can’t really go too wrong in an email.  But I do want to give you some guidelines and benchmarks to use.

 

Throughout my grad school experience, I’m sure I sent about 1000 emails but I did notice which one’s I wrote most often.  Here is a list of some of the emails grad students will write before graduation:

 

  • Making an appointment for office hours
  • Asking for a letter of recommendation
  • Asking faculty members to be on your dissertation committee
  • Meeting with your advisor
  • Accepting a job offer
  • Declining a job offer
  • Asking for funding
  • Scheduling an interview
  • Declining an interview
  • Contract negotiations
  • Thank you’s
  • Applying for a job
  • Asking for advice
  • Applying for summer research programs
  • First day of class for your students

There are many more but me and my friends spent a lot of time crafting these emails together.

Let’s get started!  Here are my suggestions for how to write an email in grad school.  (Btw, you can pin the image below for safe keeping!)

Get templates for every email you will write as a grad student | How to Write an email plus 22 email templates | The Academic Society | for grad students in Math and STEM

how to write an email + 3 emails that every grad student will write | the academic society | for grad students in STEM

The Subject of the Email

 

Your subject line should be as descriptive as possible.  If you are sending an email to a faculty member, they are probably very busy and get soooo many emails from students.  (They teach undergrads too…)

 

So, without making my subject line overly complicated, I try to fill it with as much information as possible.  So that they can get everything they need to know about the email without even opening it.

 

For example:  Suppose you want to make an appointment to ask your professor some questions about a homework assignment but you can’t make it to their scheduled office hours.  I would use the following as my subject:

 

Office hour appt. 8/23 between 1-3pm?

 

From the subject line alone, the professor will know that you need help with a class, you can’t make the scheduled office hours, and when you are available to meet.

 

Just by making your subject line super detailed, you will probably relieve your professor of some anxiety and stress.  As a full time faculty member, sometimes I cringe when I get an email from my students.  Not that I don’t like to communicate with them.  But usually when they email me something is wrong.  Maybe they will need to miss a test or the software for the homework is malfunctioning.  I even put off opening email just because I don’t want to think about whatever the issue will be until later.

 

So yeah, a super detailed subject line is great!

 

The Greeting of the Email

 

Just be normal.  Say “Hi Dr. Blah Blah” or “Hello Professor So-and-So.”  There is no need to be ridiculously formal.  

 

If you don’t know who you are emailing, you do know why you are emailing them.  For example, let’s say that you are applying for a job in academia and you have to submit your application materials via email.  I suggest using “Dear Search Committee” over “To whom it may concern.”  “To whom it may concern” just feels overly formal and kind of cold to me.

 

On the other hand, you don’t want to be too casual.  Don’t say “what’s up” to your professors…unless that is the type of relationship you have developed with the person you are emailing.

 

I wouldn’t worry too much about the greeting.  Again, just be normal.

 

The Body of the Email

 

Get straight to the point.  Try to put the most important information in the first sentence.  Then you can elaborate in the rest of the email.  You don’t want the person you are emailing to have to search for the purpose of your email.

 

What if the person you are emailing doesn’t know you?

If the person you are emailing doesn’t know who you are just by reading your name at the closing of the email, your first sentence should explain who you are:

 

Hi, I’m Toyin from your MATH 2250 class (9am)

 

Then move right into the reason for your email.

 

How long should the body of the email be?

As short as possible, no fluff.  You don’t need to try to impress whoever you are emailing.  They will be more impressed with you getting straight to the point and being succinct than with your ability to craft 3-5 sentence paragraphs.

 

What if you reference outside information?

Make sure that you include all links and attach all supplemental information to the email.  Don’t make the reader have to leave the email to search for anything.

How to write an email to your professors, advisors, and students plus 22 email templates that every grad student needs

The Closing of the Email

Again, my advice is to be normal.  You don’t need to say, “Yours Truly.”  “Best” is my go-to and “Sincerely” is good too.

 

The only times I stray away from my go-to closing is typically when I am talking with one of my students and they tell me bad news.  Maybe a family member is sick or they are having a hard time.  I like to end with this:

 

Warm regards,

Dr. Alli

 

Those are all of my tips and guidelines.  How do you feel about your email etiquette as a grad student?

 

If you want to save some time, copy and paste my emails.  I have email templates for 22 emails that every grad student will write.  Download them here.

 

By | 2017-08-05T14:28:04+00:00 July 10th, 2017|Grad Lifestyle|0 Comments

About the Author:

I'm Toyin, a newly minted Math PhD just starting my career as a professor. I know, first hand, that navigating the real world after years and years of educational preparationcan be difficult. So I'm here to help!

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