FUNNY WOMEN #29: Rules for Emailing Your Instructor


RHET1002 Students,

It has come to my attention that many of you are unaware of my policy on email etiquette. Please take a moment to review the following guidelines to better facilitate the exchange of ideas within our learning community.


1. Include a salutation EVERY time you send an email, even when replying to an established thread.

Examples: “Dear Sara”; “Sara”; “Hi Sara”

2.  Also, why not try a pleasantry?

Examples: “How is your week?” or “I hope your date that you mentioned in class on Thursday went well.”

3. Use correct grammar and spelling, as well as complete sentences. Remember to consult Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for any style/format concerns.

Good: “I will be late to class on Tuesday because I have a threading appointment. Please let me know what I will miss.”*
Bad: “Sry i was l8 tues is there hmwork?”**

4. When requesting an extension, clearly state the reason for your request, as well as your proposed new due date.

Good: “The Delta Delta Delta Spring Gala is the night before our research project on gender performance is due! May I please turn it in on Monday instead?”
Bad: “Sara you seem cool so can I please turn in my paper late or maybs just skip it that would be so awesome thanks.”

5. Please be courteous and respectful, especially when inquiring about the grading policy.

Needs improvement: “I was wondering how many MORE weeks before you hand back our assignments?”
Better: “Could you let us know next week in class when we might expect comments on our papers, please?”
Best: “Grading all those critical analyses of the same text must be an incredibly tedious and soul-crushing task. I have a cousin in Duluth who freelance edits for cheap if you’re looking for someone to take those papers off your hands. He’s also single and tender.”

6. Check all course resources, especially the syllabus, prior to emailing with routine queries.

Needs improvement: “Is there homework?”
Better: “I’ve checked the syllabus, but I cannot find the reading that is assigned for this week.”
Best: “I don’t have any questions about class tomorrow, but I wanted to tell you that I thought you looked classy last week when you wore those high heels. A lot of us noticed. And you should wear your hair that way more often—I don’t care what your mother says.”

7. I’m inclined not to open emails with subject lines that annoy me. Try to pique my interest!

Acceptable: “Free sandwiches!”
More than acceptable: “Free coffee!”
Encouraged: “Free wine!”

8. My name has no H, no B, and no T.  I am not married, nor do I have a Ph.D. or tenure.

9. I am not your mother.

No: “My roommate has scabies.”
No: “It’s just really hard to focus on your class when I really want to be with my boyfriend in Europe.”
No: “I have scabies.”

10. If there is an attachment, then indicate this.

Examples: “Attached please find my essay”; or “P.S. I thought you would think this Far Side dinosaur cartoon (attached) was funny.”***

11a. Always sign your email.

Examples: “Sincerely, John”;  “Best, John”; “John”

11b.  If you have an iPhone or a PDA, disable the email signature. I make $12,000 a year, you know.

No: “Sent from my Blackberry via AT&T”
No: “Sent from my iPhone while almost getting hit by a car.”

12. Exemplary student email:

from         [redacted]
to              Sara Joy Culver <[email protected]>
date          Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 4:40 PM
subject     Free cheese!

Hi Sara,

Though I have no concerns about the upcoming assignment—I’ve already completed it, and enjoyed every minute of it—I was just in University Wine & Cheese, and I noticed that they were handing out free samples. I thought you would want to know.

Also, I’ve nominated you for a university-wide teaching award. Your willingness to move class outdoors at the slightest suggestion, your brilliant unpacking of contemporary television, and your dedication to the Oxford comma inspire me. Someday, when I have a child, I hope you’ll agree to be his/her (hir—I’m so glad you taught us that word!) secular godparent. You will probably say you have too much on your plate—finishing your doctorate, wrapping up the book tour, jetsetting to grammar symposiums—but that’s just you being modest. I don’t know how you are still single!

Thank you for all you do and all that you are,



*The course’s excused absence policy does not cover salon and elective personal care appointments, however much you may need it.
**For guidelines regarding text-messaging etiquette, please see separate email.
***Nice try, Erica, but I like the ones with ducks better.


Original art by Mikayla Butchart.


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Sara Joy Culver holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota; she has work forthcoming in Puerto del Sol and at Sometimes she thinks she'll start a food blog, but then she never does. More from this author →