Online Communication Etiquette

As an online student, I communicate with professors via email 90% of the time. The other 10% is through discussion boards and webinars for class. Communication for online courses is a bit different from face-to-face courses, but email is still what students and professors are using to communicate most of the time. I have seen a statement about communication etiquette in just about every syllabus this semester. But what is communication etiquette? And why do we need to use it when interacting with professors?

A students works on a computer in the Central Library.
Courtesy of

Professors are professionals, and could be potential employers. Professors could be the door to your big career break. Maintaining a professional attitude as a student will let your professor know that you intend to be a professional in the work world.

Look at the following statements and decide for yourself which one is easier to understand, sounds most professional, and looks best:

“Was absent Tuesday. Missed test. Free to retake it on Friday. Thx.”

“Hello Professor. Due to a car accident, I was unable to make it to CRCJ 4333 – section 002 on Tuesday at 8am. I understand that I missed a test and that you have retake policies. As stated in the syllabus, I am allowed one retake before the week ends. I am available Friday after my 1pm class. Please let me know a time that we can meet to further discuss this issue. Best, Student name.”

Although the 2nd one seems a little longer, it shows that you CARE and have respect for the professor.

Student uses a laptop near the University Center.

Some general rules for communicating with your professor…

  1. Never use slang or text language. Sure you may be sending that email from your phone, but using “u” instead of “you” is unacceptable. I actually had a professor use “u” in an email to me. It made me think a little less of their professionalism. I will discuss this incident more in a later blog post! Stay tuned!
  1. Always say the course number, section number, and time of the class in the email. Some professors prefer that you put the course number and section number in the subject of the email. I’ve noticed that this usually results in a quicker reply. Remember that professors have hundreds of students and sometimes teach up to 7 courses.
  1. Include your student ID number. There are probably several students named “Taylor Smith” in the student directory. Even if you think you have a unique name, the student directory still has some alumni from years ago. If the professor can locate you with your student ID, it makes it more efficient for them to help you with your issue, especially if it is concerning a grade.
  1. If it takes you more than 2 paragraphs to discuss your issue in email, make an appointment. Most professors are more than happy to help you with anything during office hours. If the issue takes a while to explain, it is probably best said, and taken care of, in person.
  1. NEVER send any emails on the following subjects:
  •       “Can I have extra credit?” (Unless the syllabus says you can email for extra credit.)
  •       “Can I turn in an assignment late?” (Unless you have a LEGIT, REAL reason to do so.)
  •       “What did I miss in class today?”
  •       “What is due this week?” (It’s on the syllabus.)
  •       “When is the test?” (It’s on the syllabus.)

I hope that some of these tips help you!