An Emailing Guide for the Undergrad

A junior in college, I feel as if so many of my professors are now stressing the importance of articulating and conducting yourself appropriately in interactions that take place both in-person and online.

“This skill,” they say, “will serve you well once you start working.”

Of all of the social media platforms that I use, email is by far where I am the most formal. And indeed, I think that understanding email etiquette will be hugely important once I enter the workplace. Those etiquette rules, however, have never really been spelled out for me. So, I’ve put together the following guidelines on emailing that I have learned and used in the past few years in the hopes that they’re helpful to you, as well.

Separate your college email address from your personal email address

Leave your college email for conversations with professors, classmates, and possible companies you may want to reach out to for internship or job opportunities. Use your personal email address for messages between family and friends, as well as for websites to which you may want to subscribe.

A handful of my classmates have used their college email for both. On the one hand, it’s convenient for keeping everything in a single place. On the other hand, your messages can get really disorganized if you don’t know how to filter or categorize them efficiently.

Be aware of whom you’re addressing

Mrs.? Dean? Doctor? Ms.? Professor? Mr.? When needed, remember to add the appropriate title. How you would address a professor or employer over email is probably more formal than how you would address a friend. This is another reason that I separate my college email from my personal email – doing so makes it easier to keep in mind my audience.

 Avoid emailing like you text

Try to avoid the shortcuts and emojis in your email interactions with professors or people with whom you aren’t as familiar. It doesn’t hurt to do a quick spell-check and grammar check, too. U will b better off! 🙂

Reply (and in a timely manner)

This is simple online courtesy – replying is how you acknowledge the sender and her message. Sometimes, all that a reply entails is a quick, “Got it, thanks” or even a simple “Ok.”

If you feel that you’re too busy to reply and/or need to take some time to respond, try one of the following:

  1. Reply to the sender right away and let them know that you’ve a). Received the message but b). Need some time to respond.
  2. Reply once you have the time. In your message, include some variation of, “Sorry for the delay in response – it’s only now that I’ve had the time to fully reply to your note.”
  3. Put an automated reply system in place that indicates when the sender can expect to receive a response from you.

I have been in a couple of situations where I received a message, didn’t feel the need to reply, and subsequently received a follow-up email from the original sender asking whether I received their first message. So, even if it may feel a little unnecessary, just err on the side of caution and send a response.

Check your Spam and Junk Folder!

I’ve missed important messages from classmates and professors because their emails were marked as spam. To avoid that from happening to you, be sure to periodically check either your spam or junk folder.

Ask yourself: Do I really need to “Reply All?

I’m sure that we’ve all received an email addressed to multiple people. In my experience, follow-up replies that are sent to everyone in that group are intended for only the original sender. Those messages have the potential to fill a thread with extraneous information while simultaneously cluttering inboxes.

A “reply all” can sometimes be necessary to keep everyone on the same page with regard to a discussion or a project. Be mindful of when you use this tool.

And of course: Avoid emailing when you’re angry

What you write and send online can be accessed and viewed repeatedly and potentially by multiple, unintended audiences. Though you may feel justified in sending an angry email, bear in mind that how you react in that moment may be something that you regret later on.

And there you have it! In no way am I an expert on email etiquette, but I hope that this personal guide is useful to any fellow undergrads who may chance upon this article.

Photo feature: Amanda Mills

Jocelyn Lim