Email is a relatively new privilege. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student, I would have to go to lecturer’s office hours or telephone them and leave messages if they were not available. The relative inconvenience of traveling to your lecturer's office for a face-to-face meeting has been replaced by the far more convenient luxury of email correspondence. The trouble with conveniences, however, is their ability to be abused. Such abuses have become manifest through the bombardment of emails that one receives on any given day. The following is meant to be a guide for how one should approach communication with lecturers.
Given that we are constantly bombarded by email, it is a good idea for students to take a different tack in communicating with lecturers.
Please think carefully before you email a lecturer. Ask yourself the following questions:
Is this information on the paper outline / course syllabus?
Is this information in the University calendar or is it available on Moodle?
Have I checked every other resource where my question or concern may be answered?
Is this something that I should ask or tell the instructor in person?
Is this information I could receive from another student?
Can my email be answered in a few sentences?
Is this email a good use of my lecturer's limited time and attention?
There are no guarantees in life but death and taxes, so let me say that I will make every effort to reply to your email within two business days of receiving it. This means that I do not answer emails at night or on the weekend. This also means that if you send me an email at 3am on Wednesday, I may not answer until Friday. I don't have email access on my smart phone, so don't expect quick email responses. And don’t expect emails more than a few sentences.
This raises another issue. If your email asks a question that is easily resolvable by reading the paper outline more carefully or exercising some patience, then I will not reply to your email. Let me repeat: I will not reply to your email if there are resources available to you that answer your question.
This means that you should think about whether emailing me is the best recourse for finding the information that you need, if that's the purpose of your email. If I have not responded within two business days, please send me a follow-up email. Sometimes emails get missed: I tend to receive upwards of 200 email messages per day.
As far as your email is concerned, it should include your paper title in the subject of your email, followed by a brief description of why you're contacting me (e.g., PHILO204: Request for additional resources). Include a polite salutation (e.g., Hello, Joe), use complete sentences (emails are not text messages), and sign the email with your full name, so I know who you are.
Email is now part of your professional identity as a student and it must be used professionally. This will help you throughout your university career and beyond, I assure you.