Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Informality of Email

The New York Times has an interesting article called "To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It's All About Me." It talks about how informal and even inappropriate students' emails to their professor can be. By inappropriate they are referring to asking questions about school supplies (to get a binder or to get a notebook, that is the question), asking for lecture notes when they've missed class (that is the student's responsibility to get that from classmates - the prof may not have readily available class notes), and so on.

As an instructor, I have noticed this informality to some degree, not in the sense that my students are requesting things of me that they should not be (no one has asked for lecture notes or anything), but rather the lack of capitalization and punctuation that probably stems from IM use. It does not really bother me, but I have noticed it.

Anyway, I think the article is a good read, particularly for students. It gives them some sense of the boundaries for email communication with a professor. Of course, this does vary among professors - some of them can be rather informal, and prefer to be that way.


Nye! said...

i had a professor in undergrad who told us on the first day that she was our instructor, not our friend, and she expected to be treated as such. she always called me Mr. Nye, and I always called her Professor Tartakoff, and she told all of us that she expected any emails or phone calls to her to be done formally and that we should extend the same courtesy to anyone else who wasn't our friend. i think it was a good lesson and it seems that doing so increases the likelihood of a meaningful response.

paul said...

On the other hand, I had a professor call my cell phone at 9pm on a Sunday to ask me what I thought of his homework assignment. (I am still not sure how he got the number). I didn't mind at all; we were on friendly terms and I was flattered that he wanted my opinion. (He was considering simplifying the assignment and wanted my input.) He also encouraged students to call him by his first name. It seems like it's not just students changing the formalities and that there are benifits.

Kat said...

Nye! and Paul - Guess your experiences really show that professors can run the gamut when it comes to how formal or informal they are!!

Paul - That's the most informal I think I've ever heard of a professor being! I want my students to call me by my first name, but I don't think I'd call them up and ask them what they thought of my assignments. I have asked one of them about an assignment in person though.