The follwing article from The Daily Pennsylvanian can be found here.
Jamie France | E-mailing, like, whatever to profs
For students and professors struggling with e-mail etiquette, keeping it formal is the safest choice
'What's in an e-mail sign-off? A lot, apparently. Those final few words above your name are where relationships and hierarchies are established, and where what is written in the body of the message can be clarified or undermined."
This quote was taken from an article by New York Times reporter Lola Ogunnaike on the issue of "netiquette," or online etiquette.
Few people realize the importance of small details in their online communication. A "Warmest regards," an "All the best," and a "Sincerely" may imply entirely different meanings, depending on the audience. It is important for e-mail writers to evaluate each audience separately and, for college students, each professor separately.
Recently, I discovered that the way students address their professors in e-mails - their diction and tone included - has become a significant topic of conversation (and sometimes controversy) among college faculty. Few students realize the gravity of their salutations and sign-offs in e-mails to their professors, and how these seemingly minute details impact the way professors receive their students.
The problem is that many of us, like, write how we talk, or whatever. We don't consider how this affects our student/teacher relationships.
Using an informal tone with a professor when it's not completely warranted or forgetting to proofread and spell check e-mails is a figurative slap in the face to most professors.
"Too many typos say: I don't care; I'm not taking you seriously," admitted Thomas Devaney, a professor in the Critical Writing Program, in an e-mail interview.
Devaney conceded that, in most cases, the professor will set the tone for e-mail correspondence with his or her students. But if the student is the first to write, it is important for them to assume a formal and respectful tone. If you offend your professor right off the bat - and you can never be sure what your professor will find offensive - you're diminishing your chances of receiving the response you're looking for. This is a rather clear concept.
But students are not always the ones in the spotlight: A similar tumult resides on the faculty side as well. Professor Valerie Ross, director of the Critical Writing Program, has witnessed several discussions on this topic in staff meetings and elsewhere.
In an e-mail interview, she noted: "None of us quite knows what tone to use in an e-mail when we are addressing strangers or venturing into unequal power relationships. Should we be chatty, comical, formal, humble, belligerent, demanding, assuming, pleading, placating?"
The use of certain greetings and closings can be additionally threatening.
The salutation sets the tone for the rest of the e-mail, and the way you address an individual, whether of lower or higher status, can make or break you. As a first-semester freshman, I was unaware of the importance of the Mr./Ms./Professor distinction. I had been writing to professors for nearly half a semester, ignorantly addressing them as Mr. or Ms., before my psychology professor decided to express his discontent. Talk about an awkward situation.
Surprisingly, however, many professors toil over the same dilemma. "I am uncomfortable writing: 'Hi Jamie,' but I also know that students can feel uncomfortable getting 'Dear Bill' or 'Dear Ms. Wong.' I have offended a few students by replying on a first name basis to their e-mails; others find the formal salutation off-putting," wrote Ross.
Evidently, students and teachers feel equally uneasy about their self-presentation in e-mail communication. So how can we find a common ground? It seems that establishing netiquette standards and publicizing them to the community is the only way to relieve this tension.
A possible solution, as proposed by Ross, suggests that we (1) "drop all salutations and closings (all Dear, Hi, Greetings, etc.)," and (2) "confine ourselves to formal titles and last names in the opening and closing of our e-mails."
Students and professors should also be wary of the content included in their e-mails. Avoiding jokes is a good idea, as they can be easily misunderstood. We've grown so accustomed to writing with sarcasm or wit to those who know us well that we often forget the following: professors/students just might not get it.
Refrain from asking for generous favors in e-mails. Such requests will be much better received on both ends if asked in person.
Save personal matters and complaints for private meetings. You never know which students or professors will feel no shame in sharing your e-mails with their peers.
And, when in doubt, stay after class.
Thank you for your time,
Ms. Jamie France