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E-mail Etiquette

A professional writer usually considers an e-mail message sent in his or her professional capacity as being on the same footing with any other professional communication. That is, the writer's skill is constantly on display, and his or her reputation is constantly at stake.

A poorly constructed message or one containing imprecisions, factually inaccurate claims, or inappropriate language or displaying lapses in spelling, grammar, or logic will discredit the writer and could well disqualify him or her from (further) employment with the addressee. In an effort to develop good e-mail practices among our students, we ask students in PRWR courses to observe the following conventions when sending e-mail messages to their instructors.

  1. You should use your York University e-mail account for all correspondence concerning classes in the Professional Writing Program. (Students taking Seneca courses will also receive a Seneca e-mail account which they will be asked to use for Seneca-related business.) Quite apart from this convention, the instructor probably won't open any attachments accompanying an e-mail message sent from a non-York account, simply as a matter of computer security.
    You should also ensure that your instructor is always in possession of your current York e-mail address in case important course information needs to be disseminated in that medium. If you have failed to keep the instructor apprised of your current address, it is not the instructor's fault if such information doesn't reach you.
    To activate your York e-mail account, go to the York Home page (, then click on "Current Students," then click on "My Mail" on the left side of the screen and follow the prompts.
  2. Remember, you are responsible for all material conveyed in class and should not expect an instructor to provide you with a private recapitulation if you have chosen not to attend. If you miss a class or scheduled exercise without a doctor's letter and as a result have a question about that class or about an assignment, you should always try to get the answer from a classmate. If you send the instructor an e-mail message containing that kind of question, it may well go unanswered. Of course, you may always ask questions in class or go to see the instructor during office hours.
  3. More generally, you should avoid asking the instructor questions via e-mail that you should be able to answer yourself with either a little thought or a little research online or in the library. Answers to almost all questions about university, program, and course requirements can be found in on-line materials. In a professional situation, it is never acceptable to pepper a superior or supervisor with e-mailed questions just because you don't want to take the trouble to research the answer yourself. In your courses at York, if you have tried to find an answer to no avail, raise the question in class or come to see the instructor during office hours.
  4. If you ask the instructor a question via e-mail the answer to which is clearly contained in the course syllabus or handout or is available on a York website, the instructor is not obliged to respond to you. The proper course is always to read carefully the instructional materials made available. However, if you have a problem following instructions contained in the syllabus or a handout or online (e.g., if there seems to be an error in the dates for a class meeting or if a URL is broken or a course book is not available in the bookstore), you shouldn't hesitate to e-mail the instructor immediately. If you've really tried to understand something in the instructional materials but just can't make sense of it, you may also e-mail the instructor (but make sure you indicate in your e-mail the wording in the materials that you don't understand).
  5. If you have a complaint or are upset about something in a course, it is always best to make an appointment to see the instructor, course director, or program director in person rather than to send an e-mail message. E-mail is often of little use in such situations and may lead to unfortunate misunderstandings.
  6. Remember that an e-mail message sent to your instructor should be a well-crafted, formal message, just as an e-mail message sent to a supervisor in a business context should be. This means you shouldn't use a salutation like "Hey Prof!" or use text-messaging abbreviations.
  7. If your instructor explicitly allows, you may submit an assignment via e-mail attachment, with the following caveats:
    1. You should not consider your assignment submitted unless you have received an acknowledgment from the instructor. You should save that acknowledgment (as well as a copy of the original submission e-mail) in case a disagreement should arise about whether (and if so, when) the assignment was submitted.
    2. Your instructor is not obliged to provide written comments on your e-mailed assignment or to print it out. Usually, a student who submits an assignment by e-mail will receive his or her grade by return e-mail.
    3. Once you have submitted a paper by e-mail, you should not thereafter hand in a paper version unless asked to do so.
    4. Only use common software (MSWord, MSExcel) to encode files sent as attachments, unless you have confirmed beforehand that your instructor has the software to open the attachment.

  8. Always back up your files. It is never a persuasive excuse to say that your assignment will be late because your computer crashed.
  9. Always close an e-mail message to your instructor with your name and student number (it's useful to program these as part of your signature block). Do not assume that your instructor will automatically know that a message from the address yu1234567@ or is from you.