Writing E-mails That Have a Clear Purpose (FT Press Delivers Elements)
Perhaps students—as digital natives brought up in an Internet world filled with opportunities for online relationship building—are simply more seasoned in developing online relationships and more apt to view computer-mediated conversations as a means to that end. Two additional survey components captured interesting results: Clearly, faculty at UNC underestimate student apprehension about initiating e-mail communications with professors. While 35 percent of faculty indicated they perceive students to be apprehensive, 66 percent of student respondents indicated that they were apprehensive.
In contrast, percent of faculty responders said they did not feel apprehensive the first time they e-mail a student, while 13 percent of student responders reported believing their professors are at least sometimes apprehensive in initiating e-mail communication. Nonetheless, several students noted comfort using e-mail over other forms of communication.
Another student noted that the more casual an e-mail conversation, the less intimidating it is for the student to respond:.
Both students 43 percent and faculty 64 percent believe e-mail training would benefit others, but neither group indicates a strong desire for their own personal training in e-mail use. Only 14 percent of faculty and 31 percent of students indicated interest. Faculty's major objection seemed to be time:. This exploratory study examined e-mail communication between faculty and students. The primary limitation of the study is sample size. Before results can be generalized to other institutions, further research conducted in multiple academic institutions is necessary to confirm, expand, or revise findings and propagate development of a model of best practice for instructional e-mail use in academia to enhance learning.
We also believe that future studies would benefit from a more-even gender distribution, relative to enrollment, among student responders. It is not clear why female students responded at higher rates than male students in this initial study. Another limitation of the study was the exclusion of other instructional members of the academic community such as graduate students, adjunct professors, and practitioner instructors, as well as those participating in distance education courses.
It is also prudent to consider the possibility of survey bias in terms of those who chose to participate in the survey. If, as Presky notes, digital immigrants in this situation, professors lack a proclivity toward technology use, many might not have read the e-mail calling for participation or might have chosen not to participate in the web-based survey.
Exercise: plain English
Future studies, therefore, might benefit from including an alternate method of information gathering for those who are averse to e-mail or Internet interaction. Without question, e-mail has grown to be a viable and indispensable means of information exchange in academia. Results of this initial study unfortunately indicate that e-mail has yet to reach its full potential as a meaningful instructional tool for inquiry and higher-order learning. Survey results and narrative responses, however, offer insight into possibilities for expanding the role and functionality of e-mail as an instructional tool.
We propose that professors can greatly improve e-mail communication and alleviate frustration simply by taking a few minutes at the beginning of each semester to set clear expectations and guidelines for e-mail use. Survey responses indicate that both faculty and students believe this initiative would be helpful. Topics to address during this discussion might include apprehension about using e-mail, appropriate use of e-mail communication, hours during which faculty will respond to e-mail, formality of the communication, grammar standards for the messages, information necessary to include in messages, ways faculty prefer to be addressed and to address students in return, expectations of responsiveness, and appropriate subject lines see Table 5.
We believe e-mail communication has the potential to greatly enhance learning. As survey results indicate, faculty and students agree that increased e-mail communication can have a positive impact on learning. To realize this impact, though, e-mail communication between professor and student must be seen as an extension of instruction. A paradigm shift from viewing e-mail communication solely as suited for housekeeping functions to viewing it as a means to further scholarly discourse and cognitive challenge is needed. We suggest that appropriate e-mail use be reframed into an instructional conversation.
Students, for example, might be encouraged to ask substantive questions over e-mail without expecting answers.
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A professor might instead respond with a series of questions or suggest a different angle from which the student could begin to research the answer. The professor might also bring a student's e-mail question to the classroom for discussion or post it on an online discussion board for class collaboration. If this type of exchange is a clearly set expectation at the beginning of the semester, both parties will benefit. Faculty will not feel burdened to answer all questions, and students would not expect them to. Instead, students will be challenged to find their own answers, leading to a truly scholarly exploration that extends the classroom experience.
Finally, as our study revealed, many students feel uneasy or intimidated when initiating face-to-face conversations with faculty; they prefer using e-mail to ask questions or relay information. It is important for faculty to recognize this. Addressing these issues, conveying a sense of openness and availability, and engaging students in positive one-on-one conversations may alleviate some of these feelings and create richer and more meaningful scholarly interactions in the classroom and digital environment.
The ubiquitous use of e-mail in academia coupled with the strong relationship between student achievement and faculty-student one-on-one communication necessitates continued exploration of the influence of instructional e-mail correspondence. It is also a compelling reason for faculty to proficiently, thoughtfully, and strategically craft their e-mail messages to students. In doing so, faculty may increase the scope of their influence, establish a cognitive online presence, and extend scholarly dialogue and thought. Additionally, we propose that the development, communication, and adherence to agreed-upon e-mail expectations, norms, and guidelines would improve communications, lessen faculty and student frustrations, and alleviate student anxiety.
Achieving these goals requires instruction in e-mail use, however. Despite objections to attending e-mail training, both faculty and students agree that it would be beneficial—for each other. By raising awareness of the association between student success and one-on-one communication with faculty in an environment where e-mail serves as one of the primary methods of contact, we hope that both faculty and students will begin to see the value of e-mail training and become more willing to attend.
Moreover, we believe it is critical for faculty to realize that learning how to better use e-mail can save them time, assuage a number of their current frustrations, and alleviate student communication concerns. Clearly, unless training options are flexible in method of delivery, efficient, and relevant to each audience, high attendance will be a challenge.
We believe, however, that faculty trained in the optimal use of e-mail can better expand and reframe the use of e-mail communication to enhance teaching and learning and thereby improve student outcomes. Expectations, Use, and Instructional Impact. An exploration of e-mail communication between faculty and students at UNC Chapel Hill identified issues surrounding the use of e-mail to advance instructional outcomes. The single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language that of the pre-digital age , are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.
What do faculty and students perceive as appropriate e-mail use in their communications with one another? How do faculty and students actually use e-mail in communicating with one another? Does e-mail communication have a perceived positive impact on learning, grades, and faculty-student familiarity?
It is not a substitute for office hours, nor am I willing to answer long substantive questions in e-mail. I prefer e-mails for some purposes like excuses for absences and not for others like answers that will take a long time to formulate in writing. I think students should meet with instructors during office hours for lecture clarifications, questions about grading, advising, and meeting with prospective instructors.
The professor not taking the time to thoughtfully read my e-mail. Professors usually send very short e-mails in response to my long ones and don't answer all of my questions. Too often professors will pop back a quick response when I have sent a well thought out but e-mailed [set of] questions. The habit of writing quick e-mails overrides the original goal of communication.
When I e-mail a professor, I don't expect to have a 3 or 4 e-mail conversation; I think out my question in detail hoping they will do the same with their response. I respond to all my e-mails the first time I receive them.
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I will forget to respond if I read them and log out of the session. I just have to return e-mails as soon as I check them so that I don't forget; also so that my inbox isn't flooded which it always is. I think you should have asked if the increasing volume of e-mails from students is posing a problem for the faculty, who are having to spend hours extra a week in answering e-mails, but get no credit for this in their departments or in the university—the answer is a resounding YES!!! I would like students to ask themselves if the question can wait until my next office hours.
I'm simply too busy to reply to all of the e-mails I get from students. I would like for them not to ask questions that require long, thoughtful answers. I get hundreds of e-mails a day and am swamped with work. If they need that kind of answer they should talk to me after class or come to office hours which almost no one does any more. I wish that they would become more personal with students, ask questions and try to get to know the student.
Relationship building and career advice should be done in person, but setting up appointments for this by e-mail is fine. I think e-mail communication is great, convenient, and helpful in many ways, but I am concerned that it replaces face-to-face contact with me in too many instances. Fewer students come to office hours because of e-mail, and I think that is a potential problem, especially for students who aren't doing as well in the class as they could be. Because I am shy and don't like to speak on the phone first, I prefer e-mails so I can really think out my message and construct what I want to say so I can avoid miscommunication or sending a garbled message on my part.
So I typically use e-mail as a communication mode more than office hours or anything. I noticed my computer science professors are much more casual in their e-mails to me. Don't always use a lot of formality, sometimes don't use complete sentences, address me by my first name, and sign with their first name.
I like this better than the more formal e-mails I have received from other professors because it makes it less intimidating for me to write them back, and it makes me more comfortable with communicating with them via e-mail. E-mail is a method of communication that can reduce anxiety for a student who needs additional help or who wants to express an idea without the judgment of peers. Yet another of those desirable things like training on using PowerPoint or other computer programs that I'd love but absolutely don't have time for.
I'm so bad at e-mail etiquette, and I can't handle the sheer number of e-mails. I would love to attend training on using e-mail productively.
E-Mail in Academia: Expectations, Use, and Instructional Impact
I do not think that real training is necessary; if professors do receive a lot of lazily-composed e-mails, perhaps a few guidelines on the matter, presented at the beginning of the course, would suffice. It sounds interesting, but I would have to be convinced that it is relevant and necessary in my life. Pascarella and Patrick T.
Terenzini, How College Affects Students: For a review of the literature of a number of Pascarella's studies, see Mark A.
A Review of the Literature," Adolescence , vol. Duran, Lynne Kelly, and James A. See the studies by D.
E-Mail in Academia: Expectations, Use, and Instructional Impact | EDUCAUSE
Virginia Shea, Netiquette San Francisco: Tyler and John C. ACM Press, , pp. Lauderdale, Florida New York: Facts and Figures," , accessed November 20, , at http: University of North Carolina, "Undergraduate Admissions: FAQs," , accessed November 4, , at http: Faculty believe it is appropriate for students to use e-mail for:. Business professionals spend 16 hours a week reading emails, and most are sending or receiving more than per day.
Punching through this noise demands a radical rethink of the way you communicate. So change the way you write. Keep your email to words maximum. According to email software provider Boomerang , every word over begins to reduce email response rates. If you have more to say, link to a more detailed document or, if absolutely necessary, attach one.
Forget the friendly warmup. The first two or three sentences — no more than 20 words — should explain exactly what the email is about. For example, when the Boston Globe changed delivery suppliers in December last year, it found that the new company was unable to deliver all of the papers on time. We are in crisis mode. We are looking for people to work tonight delivering papers in the Newton area.