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Email etiquette

  1. Apr 12, 2016 #1
    I noticed that almost every professor and departmental staff at any university only uses salutations (Dear xxx, etc.) in their first email post. In subsequent email posts in the same email thread, they do not continue to use salutations.

    Will it be considered rude if I, as a student, also use salutations (Dear Professor xxx, etc.) only in my first email post, and drop the salutations in subsequent email posts in the same email thread?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 12, 2016 #2
    Professors generally don't even have time to notice things like that. See this relevant comic: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1047

    Of course, it's impossible to say that no professor would ever take any offense. But a reasonable professor probably wouldn't mind, especially if they dropped the greetings first.
  4. Apr 12, 2016 #3


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    I almost always use the salutation Dear <whoever>, no matter to whom it is addressed, because it is considered polite and that way I don't have to spend time thinking about how to open the communication.

    However, when it's a continuation of an existing thread AND I am only briefly asking or answering a single question (eg Q. do you have a link for that paper? A. Yes: <URL>) I tend to drop the salutation, as long as I know the person well enough to know they do not expect greater formality.

    As axmls says, if you wait for them to drop the greeting first, it would probably be safe - assuming you are in the US.

    These things seem to vary by culture. In some cultures formality is expected from somebody talking to someone that has a higher point in the hierarchy, even though informality is often used in the opposite direction. The use of familiar second person pronouns (tu, du, thou vs vous, Sie, you) seems to work asymmetrically like that.
  5. Apr 12, 2016 #4
    Dear Professor XXX,

    Please use your mental powers to teach me trigonometry and to fill my subconscious with pornography...also use them to crush Apocalypse, Magneto, and his Army of Disgruntled Mutants.

    Sincerely failexam

    (seriously, it depends upon the professor...some professors are very casual and go by a first name basis, some are sticklers for protocol...you have to get a feel for it during lectures...personally, I've never been much a 'Sir' and 'Mister' kind of guy...I didn't dress up in nice clothes and use formal language for God Almighty when my parents took me to church as a kid, what chance does some nerd in a tweed suit with patches on his elbows stand?...ultimately, my distaste for boot-licking probably ended my career in physics...so make of that what you will)
  6. Apr 12, 2016 #5
    I often write for my 1st email either Hi or Dear

    Hi/Dear <xxx>

    etc. etc.

    Best regards

    Often times I get replies starting with just 'Stevie,' but I always reply back with Hi <xxx> (and not continue Dear if I first started with that).

    Note: it is standard for letters/emails to not include a comma after Hi/Dear Stevie and Yours sincerely/Best regards in New Zealand. I note this is different in America, where it is "Hi Stevie:"

    Regardless of where the person in the world is, I use UK English and the standard format of letters in NZ.
  7. Apr 13, 2016 #6


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    And by type and size of institution.

    At the small liberal-arts college in the US where I work, classes are small and professors are expected to be "approachable." Students usually begin an e-mail "thread" with professors simply with "Dr. xxxxxx," or "Hello, Dr. xxxxx," then in followup e-mails (in response to a response by the professor) they omit this. However, when e-mailing a professor outside the college (or when someone outside the college e-mails a professor here), they tend to be more formal ("Dear Dr. xxxxx,") at least in the beginning.

    At another college where I taught before coming here, it was always "Professor xxxxx", not "Dr. xxxxx", even in face-to-face conversation.
  8. Apr 13, 2016 #7
    Greeting a professor with "hi" sounds cool! People in NZ must really be as laid back as I imagine :-) I think even the most liberal professors would be mildly offended by that in here :-)

    And, we always have to make sure you don't forget any of their titles. When writing to a professor, especially older professors could be offended if you call them "doctor", while in fact, they are "docent" which is higher in the hierarchy. On the other hand, some don't like being called "professor" (this term is used here in two meanings : a) high school and uni teacher b) the highest university degree formally awarded by the president) They would always say "No my dear, I am not a professor yet, I am only a doctor".

    In subsequent emails, you could only start with the greeting without using the title or get straight to the point. I used to always greet them because it's just one or two words and I didn't want to be rude, especially when you are not replying the same day. If he replies the same day, than greeting can be omitted.
  9. Apr 13, 2016 #8
    Generally these days I start with Dear <First Name> <Last Name> (no titles or anything). Before it was simply "Hi <First Name>. Both apply to people at universities within NZ and abroad. No one, so far, has taken issue with how I've started correspondence with them, to date.
  10. Apr 13, 2016 #9
    Yes, it hugely depends on the culture.
  11. Apr 13, 2016 #10
    I use the rule of thumb that you use proper salutations to people older than you, or experts in their fields, informal ones to everyone else for the initial contact. Then informal salutations after that for experts and elders, and none of everyone else.

    First contact:
    Dear Mr Johnson, <- Nobody special, but my father's generation: use title and last name unless asked to do otherwise
    Wanna meet for dinner tomorrow?
    Best wishes,

    Dear Ms Lawrence, <- Younger than me, but top of her field (Jennifer Lawrence)
    Wanna meet for dinner tomorrow?
    Best wishes,

    Hey Jason, <- Just somebody, about the same age as me or younger
    Wanna meet for dinner tomorrow?

    Follow ups in the same thread
    Hey Mr Johnson, <- informal, but still use their title instead of first name
    Great, I'll see you then.

    Hey Ms Lawrence,
    Great, I'll see you then.

    Great, I'll see you then. <- No salutation or signature

    So in your case, I'd probably use a formal tone for the first and semi-formal for everything after. You can be less formal with grad students or TAs probably.
  12. Apr 13, 2016 #11


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    I remember this very formal , traditional professor, and once a student just issued a 'hey' , referred to him by his first name , and patted him in the stomach. Prof. did not reply, but you could tell he was fuming. I am willing to bet the student in question did not get much help from the department (I think it was Physics)
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2016
  13. Apr 13, 2016 #12
    I'm too relaxed to be that pedantic. When I wrote to Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the US, regarding the signing of my copy of her book, I started the (handwritten) letter with 'Hi Sonia'. I told her I don't think anyone is below or above anyone else, which is why I was so informal with the start of that letter.
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