There’s a lot of hype about the importance of first impressions. You never get a second chance, etc. etc. To a certain extent, this hype may overemphasize the importance of first impressions. After all, if you don’t reinforce that first encounter with a series of subsequent good impressions, the best first impression will cease to matter. But it’s certainly true that, in some instances, you will only get one shot at making an impression at all. In cases like job interviews or first contact with potential employers or investors, a poor first impression could lead to your being written off entirely. Even in cases where you have the opportunity to recuperate a first impression fail, you may end up having to work really hard to correct that initial judgment. So it’s worthwhile to make sure your first impression is a good one.
A while back, I published a post on best practices for e-mail communication with instructors and advisors; that post was primarily aimed at grad students, and though it would be useful for all students, it focused on the finer points of maintaining a collegial and professional tone in e-mail. Recently, I’ve been reminded that many students (even grad students) could benefit from some nuts-and-bolts advice for communicating effectively via e-mail, so I thought I’d tackle some of the most common issues I encounter in e-mail correspondence with my students in a series of posts.
To start things off, here are the three fundamental things you need to do when e-mailing your professors.
Once upon a time, I received an e-mail from one of my M.A. students asking me to review her essay and provide her with feedback…except that it didn’t actually ask, nor indeed did it clarify that what she wanted was feedback. In her defense, she had previously mentioned the essay to me in person, but there are really no circumstances where “Here is my essay” constitutes an appropriate example of collegial communication. I took the opportunity to offer her some mentorship on the conventions of communicating with colleagues and advisors, and I thought I’d share my advice here.
While this advice is particularly important for grad students, it represents best practices in e-mail communication for students of all levels.