Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another Entry Into the "Let's All Communicate Better" Sweepstakes.

After yesterday's post about student email etiquette, we got quite a few notes from folks with suggestions and ideas. The posting below caught our eye, with its authoratative tone (and 1-10 number system!). So we share it with you below:

  1. Always sign an email how you wish to be addressed. If you end it with “Regards, Robert,” don’t be surprised when the next email starts with “Dear Robert.” “Prof. R. Jones” or “Prof. Robert Jones” are suited much better, unless you want your students to call you by first name. Some professors like to be called by their first name by email, but not in person – don’t do that. It’s either one or the other.

  2. Make it clear when students can expect a response to their message, preferably at the start of the semester. Email communication isn’t for urgent requests, students may just have to wait 48 hours. Also indicate if you’re responding to emails on weekends or not. Some people don’t mind things that can be answered quickly and just leave longer emails for Monday. Absolutely don’t let yourself be pressured into responding “asap.”
  3. If you’re not available for some time (vacation, or you just don’t want to be bothered) set an auto-response in your favorite e-mail program. While a quick reply is of course never guaranteed, it’s nice to know if the other person won’t see it for a week.

  4. E-mails are informal. Sadly, some people consider this an excuse to disable the spell-check in their email program, but there’s nothing we can do about it. If you understand what the other person wrote, consider yourself lucky and ignore the spelling.

  5. It’s an e-mail, not a lecture. Keep your responses short and to the point. You shouldn’t have to waste your time writing a novel and the other person shouldn’t have to read two pages to get the answer. If you feel the matter would be better discussed in person, say so and have the student show up for office hours. If you get a wall of text as an email, copy your students’ desire for abbreviations: “TL;DR” for “too long; didn’t read”

  6. Set up an email signature with your office hours and the location of your office. Don’t include your favorite inspirational quotes (especially not if there’s more than one!) and – please – don’t include any images. It’s not a problem to download those on the campus network, but try downloading that 400kb image on your mobile, repeatedly.

  7. Never ignore a student email, no matter how ridiculous it is. Not responding is akin to hanging up the phone without saying anything, except the other person won’t know if you have even received the mail. If you’re asked where book X can be bought, tell them to check the university bookstore. Some universities have an online system through which students can order all the books for their classes – if yours has that, point them there. (many people don’t know that’s available) Worst case, tell them you can’t help with that.

  8. Email programs support an “urgent” or “high importance” flag. If you use it for all of your messages, it defeats the point. This, in my experience, is mostly an issue with correspondence from the administration, but some professors are guilty of it as well. If there’s something happening two weeks from now and you don’t require a response, don’t use the flag.

  9. Don’t include a request for a “read notice,” unless it’s critical you know when the person read it. (in which case a phone call would likely be more appropriate) It’s the ultimate “asap,” except you can’t even pretend you only just read the email that evening. Make sure you set your email program to not automatically accept these receipt requests, as students may use them as well.

  10. I don’t have a number 10, so this one I dedicate to the English teachers/professors out there: If you have any time in your class available at all, dedicate it to proper email etiquette – for all our sakes. It appears that at least some students don’t know that what they’re doing annoys the rest of us, maybe they’re not yet beyond hope. There are plenty of resources online, including a short guide on Microsoft’s website.