Email writing tips
We are all busy. As for me, I teach multiple classes, I do research, I take care of my family, and I would like to have some time for leisure such as playing tennis in addition to eating and sleeping. Let’s say I am teaching 200 students in a quarter (10 weeks) and each student asks me a question by email once per quarter. Then on average I would receive 20 emails per week. Because answering questions by email oftentimes requires multiple exchanges, the number of emails I would have to write (and the amount of time I would have to spend doing so) becomes substantial. Personally, I feel bad when I fail to answer a personal email, so even if I choose not to reply to some emails, I feel significant stress for dealing with them.
So please help make my life easier by following some simple tips.
- I would like to maintain a professional student-teacher relationship. Undergraduate students should address me “Prof. Toda”, not “Hey Prof.” or “Hi Alexis”, which are not very respectable. I will not answer to such emails. (On the other hand, “Hi Alexis” is acceptable and even encouraged for PhD students because I view PhD students as colleagues.)
- Please write a concise, imformative title.
- Please write the body concisely.
- If you have a question about a course, you should mention which course you are taking because I might be teaching multiple courses during a quarter.
- I cannot answer to questions about the grade until after the final exam because I do not know what your grade will be until after the final exam.
- Many questions can be resolved by simple Google searches. Think twice before asking a question.
- Important information is often included in the syllabus. Do not send me emails before thoroughly reading the syllabus.
- For questions related to course materials, please ask questions in person during classes or office hours.
- Please do not expect a response from me unless your inquiry is “appropriate” (see examples below).
According to my experience, the vast majority of emails sent from undergraduate students are inappropriate. Examples are
- “When is the exam?” (Please read the syllabus.)
- “Will the exam score be curved?” (Please read the syllabus.)
- “What materials would be covered in the exam?” (Please pay attention to course announcements.)
- “I don’t understand the derivation of such-and-such. Please explain.” (I am happy to explain in person during class or office hours.)
- “Do you think such-and-such is a good investment?” (I have no idea and that’s not my problem.)
- “I missed the class today. Could you let me know what you covered?” (I expect students to come to class. Maybe you can ask a classmate instead.)
- “Why did I receive B, not A?” (I assign letter grades mechanically based on ranking within class, so it just means you didn’t do as well as A students.)
- “Please extend the deadline of such-and-such.” (It’s your choice to take the class, and if you take it please follow the rules.)
- “I have a schedule conflict with the exam, can I take a make-up?” (Please read the syllabus. There are no make-up exams. Exam exemptions are allowed only for university-approved reasons, which requires documentation.)
- “I got kicked out from my apartment because I couldn’t afford the rent, I didn’t have time to study, and I did poorly in the exam. Can you change my grade from D to C?” (I feel sorry about your personal situation but that is not my problem. I assign grades mechanically and fairly and there is nothing I can do.)
- “I want to graduate this quarter and I really need to pass this class. Can you change my grade from D to C?” (No. If you need to pass, please study hard enough to pass.)
Appropriate emails (which tend to be a small fraction) include, for example,
- “I believe there is a typo/error/bug in the slide/lecture note/code.” (Thank you, let me take a look.)
- “I would like to apply to a grad school. Can you write me a letter of recommendation?” (I am happy to discuss that, but please read my letter of recommendation policy first.)
- “I missed (am going to miss) an exam for such-and-such (university-approved) reason. What should I do?” (Please submit evidence that supports your claim if you missed a midterm. If you miss a final, you fail automatically the course per university policy.)