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Words of Wisdom

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine.

— Marianne Moore

March 2008


MEGHAN: Good Morning, College Station and welcome back to “Write Right.”  I’m your host Meghan Wall, and this is the University Writing Center’s student podcast.  Today we’re taking a crash course in e-mail etiquette.  What’s e-mail etiquette, you may wonder? As career-driven adults, the ability to form a clear and concise e-mail message is vastly important, so listen up for some great tips and see if you’ve been following the rules of e-mail etiquette.

MEGHAN: Tip #1: Have a clear and concise subject line.

FLO:  Yo, what’s up, how ya doin’? These type of subject lines may work with your friends, but in a professional setting the subject line decides whether your e-mail gets opened or trashed, so make it a relevant one.  Definitely don’t leave it blank! Instead, be brief and concise so as to catch the reader’s attention. Here is a bad example of a subject line to send to a professor, “Please Help!” Why? Because it could be perceived as spam and get junked immediately.

AUDIENCE How about, “Fix my grade!”?

FLO: Although brief and concise, a statement that is demanding and negative may not be the best way to get your professor to respond. Identify your purpose clearly and politely. For example, title your subject “Question about Assignment 1” then in your message state your name, course name and number, along with your specific question.

If your professor has specific guidelines on what your question should say. For example, that it should include your class name, number, and section. Be aware of these guidelines, and follow them. Many times professors teach a lot of different sections, and this is the way they can keep up with what is coming from whom.

MEGHAN: Tip #2: Have a professional sounding e-mail address.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well back in high school my e-mail address was Can I just use that?

GINGER: That’s probably not the best way to use your name for your professional e-mails, now that you are in college. Typically, it’s best to use some form of professional identification like your name, career title, or business name. I suggest you keep your non-neo address for social e-mailing, and use a more professional e-mail address for your neo address.

MEGHAN: Tip#3: Keep e-mails short and to the point.

MANDY: [CLOCK TICKING AND COO COO CALL] Nobody likes wading through a long e-mail. So here are four ways to make it quick and easy to comprehend. First, try to put your most important information towards the beginning of the e-mail.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Dear Doctor Blabbermouth, my name is Sally, student from your Poultry Science 304 class, and I was wondering if you would be available to discuss the extra credit chicken wing eatin’ contest with me this Friday at 2:30pm.

MANDY: Good! Also if you have bad news, you should state that right off. For example…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Dear Ms. Holiday, my name is Sammy Surfsalot, and I unfortunately will have to be absent this week prior to Spring Break for a mandatory family gathering in Hawaii. Could I take the midterm after the break?

MANDY: Second, always use separate paragraphs for each idea, and put spaces in between the paragraphs to make it easy to read. Also: If you have several ideas or a long e-mail, make obvious divisions with bullets. Use words like “also,” “next,” and “in addition to,” to transition between paragraphs. Third, use the attach feature to send any lengthy documents instead of pasting them into the main content. For example, when applying for a job just include your resume and any extra information in an attachment, and just use the e-mail as a cover letter to express your interest in the position and state who you are. Finally, when you receive an e-mail, you should respond within 24 hours or within the same time that you would return a phone call.  [PHONE RINGING] Hello?

MEGHAN: Tip #4: Be cautious about e-mail content.

PAUL: “Dear Janet, I know we’re co-workers and we are not supposed to date, but I think you’re a mega fox. And I’m just the man for you. If you think so too, meet me in the break room at 4.”
GINGER: Hey Paul you’re not gonna send that are you?

PAUL: I was thinking about it.

GINGER: You should definitely not do that. Don’t you know that e-mails are not always private around here?

PAUL: What do you mean?

GINGER: When you are e-mailing to someone in the business you work in that e-mail is considered company property and can be retrieved, examined, and used in a court of law. With a click of a button your email could be forwarded to the whole office. That means Janet could let everyone in on your little love idea, and you could get in big trouble for that here at work.

PAUL: Woah

GINGER: Yeah, a basic rule of thumb is to avoid discussing private concerns and issues in your e-mail messages. Think about it this way. Never put something in an e-mail that you wouldn’t put on a post card.

MEGHAN: Tip #5: Use an appropriate tone when writing e-mails.

J.R: For example; writing in all capital letters sounds like you are shouting. It’s also unprofessional, so just don’t do it.

MOLLY: Unlike the e-mails you might send your parents…

“Dearest Mother, I need money! Love, Topanga”

…you should try to be more polite with professors and employers.

J.R: For example; use a greeting with their name and be sure to include their title, whether it’s Doctor, Mr. or Ms., as a sign of respect.  When closing, it’s good to say thank you for your time or have a nice day. End with sincerely and your full name. Do all of these things and you’ll have your profs. saying,

“Gosh! Those kids are so sweet. I’m gonna give them all As.”

MEGHAN: Tip #6: Be cautious in dealing with conflict over e-mail.

ANGRY STUDENT: Well, my professor gave me a D on my final project, which means I’m going to fail the class, and that’s not fair because I worked really hard. And it’s not my fault that my computer froze, and I lost half the project and had to turn it in incomplete.

XAKEMA: Stop! Think before you write that e-mail. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to this person’s face?”

ANGRY STUDENT: Yeah, he’s a total jerk, and I’m an innocent victim.

XAKEMA: Okay, well the next step is to calm down. Writing an angry message to your professor isn’t going to make him raise your grade. Now, think rationally and follow these 4 steps in writing the e-mail: you should briefly state the history of the problem to provide context for your reader; explain the attempts you made previously to resolve the problem; show why it is critical for the problem to be resolved by your reader; offer suggestions on ways you think it can be resolved or how you are willing to help in the matter. And remember, once you send a message, it’s gone, you can’t take it back, so be careful what you write.  A good tip is also not to wait until the end of the day to introduce a problem or concern via memo or e-mail. If your disagreement becomes very heated or you have something private or personal to discuss it’s still best to call someone or meet face to face.

MEGHAN: And finally tip #7: Always remember to check your e-mail for errors.

JOHN: When you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to misspell something. We all do it, but it can be embarrassing if you tell your prof. to meet you in the liberry at nine. Always use the spell checker function in neo or copy and paste the message into word to spell check it, and re-read your message before you send it.

GINGER: Also, your professors and bosses will probably not be impressed with your use of slang so instead of lol, jk, and ttyl just use plain English and you’ll get your point across a lot better. [TEXT MESSAGE BEEP] Got to go, bye!

MEGHAN: Here is a Quick Recap on our 7 great tips! #1 Include clear and concise subject line.  #2 Have a professional sounding e-mail address.  #3 Keep e-mails short and to the point.  #4 Be cautious about e-mail content and privacy.  #5 Use appropriate tone when writing e-mails.  #6 Be cautious in dealing with conflict over e-mail and #7 Always remember to check your e-mail for errors.


Even if you aren’t planning on being in a writing intensive career, chances are that you will still have communicated through e-mail.  It may take some extra time, but a little organization in your messages can go a long way to get your point across and dealt with promptly.

For more information about the Texas A&M University Writing Center please visit us online at  And don’t hesitate to swing by the writing center here on the 2ndfloor of Evans library where we can help you with e-mail writing as well as all of your other writing needs. I’m Meghan Wall hoping you’ll join us next time for another exciting episode of Write Right!

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

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