How to Politely Email Your Teacher or Boss
Let me be honest for a moment. In middle school and high school, I struggled with knowing how to politely email my boss and teachers. It was hard for me to tell if I was being too casual or too formal. I always felt any request I made was too forward in a way that bordered on rude. To make sure that that doesn’t happen to you, here are some simple tips to make sure that your emails to your boss or teachers are as respectful as they need to be.
1) Subject: Be simple and concise in the subject line
If you are emailing teacher/ professor, put your name in the subject line, and the name of the class and section number you are in. Teachers and professors sometimes have requirements for how they want students to format the subject line when you email them. These requirements can usually be found in the syllabus. If these requirements haven’t been specified, here is a good generic format for teachers/ professors:
“Questions about mid term, English 101-4D, StudentFirstName StudentLastName”
If you are simply emailing your boss, here is a good generic format:
“Questions about over time, Name of Your Department, EmployeeFirstName EmployeeLastName”
2) Always start with “Dear Dr. LastName,”
It’s important to start by using “Dear” followed by their appropriate honorific, such as Ms. or Dr. or Mx. If you don’t know which honorific they use, be sure to ask respectfully and in person. The question, “Which honorific and title do you go by” is perfect for that. Use “Dear FirstName LastName,” if you can’t ask prior to sending the email.
While this isn’t ideal, it is better than unintentionally offending them. Additionally, be sure to get their name correct. A teacher or professor’s name can usually be found on the syllabus or on your school’s website. The same goes for your boss, you should be able to find their name on the company’s website.
3) Add a nicety by wishing them well
After the “Dear Dr. Lastname,” hit enter twice so there is visible space between the greeting and the content of the email. Then start the body of the message with something along the lines of, “I hope this email reaches you well and that you are enjoying your summer” or “I hope that you are enjoying the lovely weather we’ve been having” or “I hope you are staying dry and out of all of the terrible rainy weather we’ve been having.”
Part of the reason we do this is to show that we see them as people with lives outside of their work. It’s also a lot more jarring when you don’t add a nicety and jump right into what you are wanting to discuss.
4) Break up longer emails into paragraphs
Additionally, be sure to separate emails longer than 4 or 5 sentences into paragraphs. Reading a large block of text with no paragraph breaks is oddly stressful for most people.
5) Tell them how they know you
Be sure to remind them who you are. If you are a student in their Astronomy 200 course that meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:30 PM, then tell them that in the body of the email. This is especially helpful if you are in a huge class where they never got around to memorizing names of the students.
5) Be sure to make polite requests as opposed to demands
This may seem obvious, but reread that request. Did you say “Could you please” and end the email with a “thank you”? Did you specify that they do it at their leisure? A good generic format for this would be the following:
“I hope this email reaches you well and that you are enjoying the lovely weather. Could you please unlock the link on the online syllabus so that I can complete the assignment? There is no rush, so just let me know. Thanks so much for your help!”
This applies to anything you are talking about even if it isn’t a request. Just make sure that you are polite when you get to the part of the email that discusses why you are emailing them in the first place.
6) After you say “Thank you so much for your help” at the end of the body of the email, use a good salutations and then your name. Basically end with something along the lines of:
StudentFirstName Student LastName”
What if you sent the email and they still haven’t responded after three days? Then it is ok to send a follow up inquiring if they got your first message, and to restate the content of the original. Additionally, try not to bombard your boss / teacher / professor with emails. Sending three or four emails with no replies in between doesn’t reflect very well on you.