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Communicating with Instructors

A good rule of thumb is to start with most formal—include greeting, title, use full sentences, proper grammar, a closing, and sign your name. Once a faculty member responds, mirror their level of familiarity (if they sign with first name, use their first name). In talking with faculty, ask them what they prefer to be called. On the first day of class, when the instructor introduces themselves, note how what they would like to be called/how they introduce themselves.

Office hours are an excellent way to get questions answered, build rapport, and get the most out of your classroom experience. Understand that your professors want you to be successful. 

Pay attention to methods of communication. Typically, this will be described on the syllabus or mentioned on the first day of class. Note whether email, phone, text, online classroom or office hours are preferred methods of communication. 

Plan ahead and leave time for questions to be answered—if you only leave a few hours for a response before an assignment is due, you may not get the answers you need.

Use Office Hours

Go early: Make an appointment early in the semester as soon as questions arise. It will make building a relationship and open communication easier.

Prepare: Make the most of your time and make notes of what you want to cover. Write down your questions and be organized. 

Introduce yourself: Don’t assume your instructor has everyone memorized. Make sure to address your faculty as they have instructed you to (Dr., Ms., Mr., Professor). If they haven’t specified, use “Professor.”

Respect your instructor's time: Avoid canceling and arrive on time. If you must cancel, send an email or text (if an approved form of communication) well in advance.

How to Write Effective Emails

Interaction should be professional and meaningful: This is particularly important in fully online courses.

Proofread: Read the email aloud to yourself or a friend before sending, particularly if it is on a sensitive topic like a grade challenge. 

Start email with a greeting: For example, “Professor Smith,” “Good Afternoon,” or “Hello Dr. Smith.”

Remember: Is this a question you should know the answer to? Make sure you review the classroom or syllabus for the answer before sending an email. If you can’t find the answer, try to ask your question as clearly as possible.