Email basics (for students)

by John Bandler

Email communication is an important skill and a method to practice and improve our writing.

After many years teaching as an adjunct (part-time instructor/professor), I realize teaching is not just about the subject matter, but also helping students build important life skills. One of those is email communication. If I can help students learn those skills now, all the better.

I teach undergraduate, graduate, and law school students. At each level I find there are students that need to learn, refresh, or practice the important life skill of proper email writing and communication. So I created this page.

The email basics in sum

An email has some basic parts:

  • Your brain and your thoughts. You create the below parts and proofread and reflect before sending.
    • I put this first because sometimes it is overlooked.
  • Address line (the email addresses you are sending it to. The "to" and "cc" lines)
  • Subject line: Every email must have an appropriate and helpful subject
  • Body: The body of the email, where you write your text. The body includes:
    • Greeting, e.g., Dear Professor,
    • Main text: The point you are trying to communicate
    • Mention of any attachments
    • Signoff, e.g., Best regards, John Doe
  • Attachments: Some emails might have attachments. If there is an attachment, it should have a helpful filename and should be referred to in the body.

Now we talk about each part in more detail.

Think and reflect before and while composing the email

Think and reflect about the purpose of the email, and the tone.

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Avoid sending multiple emails or repeat emails in short succession.
  • Ensure your tone is polite, collegial, and professional.
    • Upset about a recent grade? Probably best to wait a while before hitting "send".
  • Use your official school email account.
    • If you are locked out of your official school email account, ensure you copy (cc) your official school email account, and are clear in the subject and body about your name.
  • Remember this is a life skill and practice to build professional life skills.
  • Emails to an instructor require more formality than text messages to a fellow student.
  • Before you send the email, it is best to review prior instructions and communications.
    • For example, if the syllabus, LMS, and multiple reminders indicate when office hours are and how you can meet with the instructor, try avoid asking questions like "When can I meet you?" but instead say something like "I will be there to meet you at the next office hours on DATE/TIME"
    • That said, better to ask the question (rather than hold the question out of fear you missed something).

Address line (email recipients)

  • The address line is the email addresses you are sending the email to.
  • Double check who is on the address line.
  • Send it to the right person for the right course
  • You should know who your instructors are for each course. Double check to be sure you are sending to the right person for the right course.
  • Don't use bcc.

Subject line

  • Your email must have a helpful subject line. Do not leave it blank.
  • The subject line is like the title of a paper.
  • Your professor may be teaching many courses to many students, so the subject line probably should include the course number.
  • Sometimes it might be helpful to include your name in the subject line (though using your school email address, and signing the email properly usually make this unnecessary).


The body of the email must have three parts: (1) greeting, (2) main text, (3) signoff.

1. Greeting. Proper greetings should include the name of the recipient and title if appropriate. E.g., "Dear Professor Bandler" is best since it shows you know my name and are sending it to the right place. "Dear Professor" is acceptable but less good. Part of the greeting can also include a pleasantry such as "I hope this finds you well" or something along those lines.

2. Body of the email. Here is where you clearly communicate your message. If you have included an attachment, you should mention it in the body (for extra precision, you can write the filename).

3. Signoff. This is where you sign the email, and include a closing pleasantry. E.g., "Best regards" and then you write your name. You should include your first name and your last name. Help the recipient know who you are. (Some students may have an official school name of three or even four names, and may not use the same name combination as reflected within school records. Your full name helps the recipient know who you are).


Remember, if you are including an attachment, your email body needs to refer to it.

Apply your brain throughout and especially before you hit "send"

Think and proofread and reflect before you hit send.

  • If you are emailing in response to my feedback, have you properly read it (twice), reflected upon it, and considered all issues.
  • If you are emailing in response to a grade, have you properly read my feedback (twice), reflected upon it, and allowed yourself time to consider and review.
  • Check for tone.

Other communication

Email is usually best. Avoid phone calls and text messages unless there is a real and true urgent need.

Definitely do not call or text after business hours, such as at midnight.

Things to avoid

Here are some miscellaneous tips:

  • Don't send multiple emails in rapid succession. Instead, wait before you send the first one, reflect, then send a single thoughtful email.
  • Don't include personal information such as your student ID number. Your full name and course number are sufficient.
  • Don't use ALL CAPS WHICH CAN SEEM LIKE SHOUTING. Use proper capitalization.


Email communication is essential for life and the professional world and a way to practice important writing skills.

Start building and practicing good habits and skills now.


Posted 2/20/2024 based on years of teaching. Updated 4/16/2024