Communicating through Email

Steven Girardot, Ph.D.

Few tools are as critical to academic or professional success as e-mail: when you have a question about an assignment, when you would like to make an appointment with a professor or advisor, or when you need to inquire about a letter of recommendation, e-mail will often be the most efficient and trustworthy means of reaching your professors. You will also be using e-mail to communicate with potential employers (for co-op jobs or internships as well as on-campus positions). It is important to keep in mind the distinctions between an e-mail to be sent to a faculty member, administrator, or potential employer and a quick note that you might send to friends or family. A message to one of these individuals is a type of professional correspondence, and it requires a particular sort of etiquette, professionalism, and respect. Beginning and e-mail with “Hey…” is not appropriate. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when corresponding with a faculty member, employer, or administrator:

  1. In written or verbal communication, always start with a salutation and address faculty and administrators as “Dr.” or “Professor” or their professional title (such as “Dean”) preceding their last name—unless they have indicated it is okay to call them by a more casual name or their first name.
  2. If you are unsure, it is always better to err on the side of a higher title. Almost all of your faculty will have doctorates (PhDs) and will go by “Dr.”—but if you are not sure, use the title anyway. If you are e-mailing an employer, it is appropriate to use Mr. or Ms. (but not Mrs.), unless you know the person has a doctorate (PhD or MD).
  3. Write a brief but descriptive subject in the subject line such as “Internship Inquiry” or
    “Request for Appointment.”
  4. In general, it is a good idea to make your e-mail brief and to the point. Often, an employer or professor will not have time to read a full page of text, but will read a brief paragraph or bullet points. If what you’re asking about takes longer than a few lines, consider giving the person a call or sending a short e-mail to request a meeting.
  5. Write in complete sentences and avoid an overly casual tone (“Hey Karen…”) or text message abbreviations or acronyms (“r u able to meet w me today?”)
  6. If you have an attachment, mention it in the e-mail so they don’t miss it. If you are e-mailing an employer a resume, it is also a very good idea to send it as a PDF.
  7. End your email with a closing such as “Thank you,” “Best,” or “Sincerely” followed by your full name.
  8. Don’t expect an immediate reply to your e-mail. Often, faculty and administrators have hundreds of students they are responding to, and employers may be receiving numerous resumes or inquiries about a job.
  9. If a professor, advisor, or employer takes the time to e-mail you (and only you or just a few other people) about something specific, take the time to write back promptly and acknowledge that you received their note. If their e-mail re quires a response that you need time to formulate (such as the answer to a job offer), it’s good practice to write back within a day or two thanking them for the e-mail and letting them know that you need some time to answer their reply but that you will be back in touch.
  10. Practice good e-mail habits. Some of these include:
    • Use only your Georgia Tech email address for professional communication with faculty, administrators, employers, etc.
    • Make sure your full name is in the export field so that it appears in someone’s inbox with your name—“George P. Burdell” and not gpb3@…
    • If you have a personal account (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) do not simply forward your Tech e-mail to it. These accounts tend to reach their quota or you change them—and then they bounce emails back. The sender does not know if the e-mail ever reached you.
    • Use the “Signature” feature in your email to automatically include your name, major, university, and full email address at the end of each message. Almost all email programs allow you to do this. Keep it simple and avoid using inspirational, humorous, political, or religious quotes. An example of an appropriate email signature is:George P. Burdell
      Georgia Institute of Technology Class of 2021
      Mechanical Engineering (B.S) 
    • Check your email at least once every 24 hours, and keep your inbox organized and up-to-date.
    • Even when someone is expecting an email containing an attachment from you (such as a resume), make sure you include text in the body of the email. It may come across as rude not to include a short email text.
    • When asking for an appointment, provide some specific times. For example:Dear Dr. Harwell,

      I would like to make an appointment with you to discuss undergraduate research programs. I am free next week on Monday, Oct. 3 from 1-3pm and Thursday, Oct. 5 from 2-4pm. Please let me know if one of those times works for you.

      George P. Burdell

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