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How to Email Your Professor When You Have A Problem

When you need to email your professor, what are some tips for helping reach the outcome you are looking for?

I’ve been an adjunct professor for decades – adjunct means that I teach part time, usually just one class a semester. I don’t have that many students, and I’ve been fortunate to get to know some of them over the years. I tell my students to keep my info for future internship or scholarship applications or for that first “real” job because even as an adjunct I still can use the college stationery and the title of Professor, which holds some weight when you are applying for things.

One of the things I’ve helped students with is writing emails to their professors when an assignment or a grade has gone awry. When you’ve messed up, it’s always worth a try to contact your professor and politely ask for help. The professor may say no, but since nothing ventured is nothing gained, I advise students to give it a go. Here are some tips and an example to guide you.

The Email Address

Your professor’s email address should be in the syllabus. If not, it may just pop up when you start typing in his or her name. Oddly, at one of the schools where I teach, professor email addresses have our first names in our email addresses, so my email address is Student email addresses at that college use last names; the use of the teacher’s first name has always seemed strange to me. If you can’t find the email address on the syllabus, you can go to the college’s directory, type in the professor’s name, and find the email there. If you don’t know the professor’s name (yes, some of my students have not been sure), you can go to the department website and see a list of professors with their pictures and figure out which one is yours. Sometimes adjunct professors like me aren’t listed in the directory, but usually you can find professors that way. You can also wait until the next class to ask a fellow student, although in these Covid-19 days, learning is remote so that can be difficult. In that case, if you can find your class schedule, the name will be listed there.

The Subject Line

Include text in the subject line, preferably text that reminds the busy, probably full-time professor who you are from which class. A sample could be

From Chris Co-ed. English 101, Section 123 – Question about Quiz 2

Salutation (or Greeting) and Closing

Not to go all Victorian England on you, but “Dear” and “Sincerely” are still in fashion as polite ways to address your “superior,” which in this case, your professor actually is. I’m not saying that any person is “better” than another, but in the case of the professor in a college class, he or she is the same as your boss in a job.

Use the correct title, which could be Dr., Professor, or Mr./Mrs./Ms. In my case, I don’t have a PhD, so I am not addressed as “Dr. Hauer” but as Professor Hauer or Mrs. Hauer. However, I never mind if I see “Dr. Hauer”! Some of my international students have also called me Professor Kathryn. If your professor IS a Dr., be sure to write Dr. Brown because academics can be sensitive about that title. Once my son was on a study abroad trip and at a casual dinner he mistakenly addressed his professor as Mr. Fry instead of Dr. Fry. The professor reminded him: “It’s Dr. Brown, not Professor Brown.” You can well imagine that quote has lived on in our family joke history for a solid decade.

So start your email with

Dear Dr. Brown: or Dear Dr. Brown,


Dear Professor Brown: or Dear Professor Brown,

You can use a colon (:) or a comma at the end of the line. Colons are more formal; commas more personal or informal. Either is ok in an email to your professor.