Teaching Matters: Email Etiquette, Part 1

“They know enough who know how to learn.”

—Henry Adams (1838-1918), American historian

Email has become a part of our daily life in the 21st century. We send so many emails that we sometimes forget the difference between casual and more formal types of communication. As a result, emails are documents that can make positive or negative impressions and can document in print our feelings or thoughts at a particular point in time. That’s one reason why investigators and lawyers often seek emails during the first stage of investigations and lawsuits. Email etiquette, therefore, is more than just good manners; it’s an essential skill for modern professionals in school and the workplace. It’s our responsibility as English teachers to help immigrants, refugees, and international students become both more comfortable and competent in writing emails.

What could go wrong?

In class, I like to have students gather in small groups and create a list of potential mistakes that students and professionals can make in writing emails. They then share their answers with the entire class.  This simple exercise can spark some surprising answers!

Student answers might include:

  1. Revealing secrets
  2. Oversharing personal details
  3. Long-winded explanations
  4. Closing with “Love, _______” or other inappropriately personal send-offs
  5. Using slang or text lingo like “lol” or “omg”

To avoid these common pitfalls, it’s important to impress professional, concise email etiquette on your English language learners. In this first installment, we’ll discuss how to get an email off to a strong start from Subject line to the opening address.

Being Professional in College

When writing to an instructor, students should use their college or university email. Using a campus email shows the instructor that the email is school related and not spam. If they don’t have a campus email, suggest a neutral email address that does not give an unprofessional, or even potentially negative impression. Email addresses should be based on your real name, not a username or nickname. If you have a popular name, periods [.], hyphens [-], or underscores [_] are all tools to personalize the address.

Sample Activity: Based on the above information, have your students put a check next to the appropriate email addresses to use.

Name: Hào Nguyễn









___   coop.brad488@gmail.com

___  eric.roth2004@smcc.edu

They’ll notice that appropriate email addresses focus on information. They may sound boring, but sometimes boring is also professional.

Always use the subject line.

When filling in the subject line, it’s crucial that it remain short and clear because you don’t want your email to appear like one that may end up in the spam folder. Students should always include the class title, time, name and topic of the email because the instructor may teach more than one class or have other students with the same name. The subject line should make the intent or purpose of the email as clear as possible. Doesn’t that make sense?


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Address your instructor directly.

It’s also important to carefully which salutation the email will open with. Examples such as “Dear…” or “Hello…” are the most common in professional settings. Following the greeting should be the person’s title (Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr.) with their last name followed by a comma or colon.  Using the last name is more formal and should be used, unless the student is on a familiar first-name basis with the instructor. It’s worthwhile to note that most American teachers don’t like to be called “Teacher,” but students should always defer to the instructor’s preference.

Here are a few salutations to avoid:

  • What you doing teacher
  • Hello beautiful teacher
  • Yo, teacher!
  • Hi Prof!
  • Hi, dude!
  • Most highest sir,
  • Dear Most Esteemed Professor
  • Yo ><
  • Boss man

Giving your class clear directions on how to address you, the teacher, as a professional will not only smooth over your own interactions with them, but give them a template to work from in the working world. Many English language learners are pursuing those studies to find better employment in the first place, and distinguishing how to address one’s co-workers, supervisors, and clients early on sets them up on the path to success. Audience and context always matters.

Do you go over the importance of email etiquette in your English classroom? What are your do’s and don’ts for student emails?

Our next blog will continue exploring this topic. We will focus on the body of the email and the importance of selecting an appropriate closing remark. Stay tuned!

This blog post uses material from the upcoming second edition of Compelling Conversations – Vietnam, which will be released this fall! For more information, including sample content, from the first edition of Compelling Conversations – Vietnam, click here.  

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