Email Etiquette 101: A beginner’s guide to messaging teachers, universities and more

  • Career coaches and manners experts give their top tips on formality, structure and greetings in your emails
  • Remember to proofread your message, be polite and add a simple but informative subject line
Amalissa Hall |

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One of the most important things you can do when sending an email is proofread it - reading it out loud can help a lot!

Emailing people, especially those we’ve never met or spoken to before, can sometimes feel like a daunting task. How do you address them? Should you get to the point immediately? How formal do you have to be? What greeting and sign-off should you use?

This simple guide, with reassurance from career coaches and email etiquette experts, will make you feel confident about emailing just about anyone.

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Consider who you are emailing

Is this a friend? A teacher? A university contact? Someone new? That will affect the way you address that person in your opening and closing remarks. “Your email greeting and sign-off should be consistent with the level of respect and formality of the person you’re communicating with,” says Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting From College to Career.

For friends, or someone you know: “Hi __”, or “Hello __” will suffice. You already know each other so you can skip the formalities.

For teachers: depending on how well you know them, or if it’s a teacher you’re less familiar with, it’s always good to be polite. “Dear Mrs __” and “Hello Mr __” are good options to use here.

For university connections and new contacts: “Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms __” is always the best way to open an email, as it is the most formal and respectful way to address someone.

There are plenty of options to sign off your email, and acceptable choices include “Best regards”, “Thank you”, or “Sincerely”.

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Introduce yourself

It’s always a good idea to state who you are and why you are contacting them. Starting with, “My name is X and I am from Y School. We met at Z event and I have questions regarding ...”, will help the recipient understand who you are and why you are contacting them. It seems like a really obvious thing to do, but sometimes we can forget.

Structure your email

Emails are not like text messages! You should structure your emails appropriately. Start with a greeting, get into your main body of text - broken up into multiple paragraphs or even bullet points if necessary - and finally sign off. It’s as simple as that.

Check your font and punctuation

Use standard email fonts like Arial, Calibri or Helvetica. Size 20 purple Comic Sans will not inspire confidence in the validity of your email, and it may be mistaken for spam.

“Exclamation points should be used sparingly in writing,” says Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette. If you want to appear professional, refrain from using exclamation points. Save those for people you are familiar with; otherwise you may not be taken seriously.

Emails are a bit more formal than text messages, so there are some best practices you should follow.

Use the subject line

People who receive lots of emails will refer to the subject line if they’re searching for something, so use it. For example, if you’re emailing someone about the details of a university application, put “University Application Questions” in the subject line so the recipient can refer to your email quickly.

“People often decide whether to open an email based on the subject line,” Pachter says. Make yours count by using the subject line to refer to the key information in your email, so the recipient has an idea of what you’re asking for or talking about.

Be concise but polite

It’s best to keep your email short and to the point. You don’t want the receiver to be reading an essay before they get to what you’re asking for.

“You should state the purpose of the email within the first two sentences. Be clear and be up front,” says Pollak.

Always remember to be polite! “Please” and “thank you” can go a long way, even online, so make sure you include those in your message.

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Read your email aloud before you send it. This is so important and makes all the difference. Check that you’ve spelled the person’s name correctly, keep an eye out for misspelled or missing words, and check if your tone is friendly. A final once-over will ensure you’re making a good impression.

It’s also good idea to add the email address last, just in case you accidentally press send before you’re ready.

Final pieces of advice

It’s important to read everything thoroughly so we don’t miss important details. Double check any details stated in the email to make sure you are responding with everything you need, especially if you are including attachments.

Make sure you reply to your emails. Even if you don’t have further questions, be courteous and say your thanks to end the email chain.

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