How to Email a Professor

The end of any university semester brings the usual anxiety of many exams, papers and final projects due before summer vacation. One of the best things about professors in the United States and the United Kingdom is that they are approachable and available to help with your questions and concerns. We definitely would recommend to take advantage of professors’ office hours! While there are many different ways to email a professor, the following steps will ensure that your request is both polite and direct when written in English.

Subject Line: This is the first way to signal to the professor what you are requesting. Your subject line should be short, clear and summarize the type of request you are making. Your subject line should NOT be a sentence or an outright request for something:

Bad Subject Lines:

  • Help!Wake Forest junior Kelly Rumbaugh ('12), a double major in computer science and mathematics, talks with computer science professor Jennifer Burg, left, in Burg's office in Manchester Hall on Thursday, September 2, 2010. The two were discussing Rumbaugh's computer-generated music project.
  • I need you to…
  • Can you do this for me?
  • Your Name

Good Subject Lines:

  • Question about History 206 Final Assignment
  • Office Hours Appointment Request
  • Interest in Biology 101 Course
  • Final Exam Conflict

Greeting: This should be a formal greeting, such as Dear Professor Smith or Dear Dr. Jones.

Introduction: University professors meet thousands of students and often are teaching hundreds in one semester. The first thing you should do in the body of your email is to clearly introduce yourself and how you know this professor. Things you should include in your introduction sentence are:

  • Your full name
  • The course you are taking (or previously took) with this professor
  • Any indicators of how they might remembers you, such as a question you asked in class, your last paper topic, an event where you ran into them etc.

Your Request: Now that you have properly signaled the request that you will make, it is time to explain why you are writing. Be clear and concise with your explanation. The most important thing to remember in your writing is that you should not assume anything of your professor. This means using a lot of the conditional tense:

  • Would you be available to meet tomorrow afternoon?
  • Could you assist me with my thesis topic?
  • Would it be possible to still register for your class
  • Given this circumstance, could I please postpone the midterm to next week?

Follow-Up Plan: Conclude your email with a way that you will follow-up on your request using the future tense:

  • I will email you again next week to follow-up.
  • I will stop by your office tomorrow to discuss this possibility.
  • I can stay late after class on Tuesday to meet with you.

Sign-Off: Sign your email with one of the following formal closing phrases, as well as your full name:

  • Sincerely,
  • Regards,
  • Best,

Best of luck with your finals and the end of your semester!