A more generic title for this article would have been “How to email the right way.” As an opening remark, it would be appropriate to mention here about why I chose to write this article at all. I mean, emails have been in circulation for quite some time now, right? Surely, everybody must be killing their email game!

Sadly, that’s not the case. For many of us, writing emails can be a dreadful, daunting task. The reasons as to why I say this will become clear in due course. The short story is, many of us are pretty bad at composing and sending appealing emails. When we manage to send a good enough email, we panic when we get a reply, not knowing what to write in response. When we do reply, some of us might send the email to the whole class!

It is surprising how students are expected to learn the art of emailing on their own. I did okay with the emailing thing. This article is an attempt to help other people navigate. If you found the guide useful, you might consider buying me a coffee. Or even if you did not find it helpful, you can still buy me a coffee. Lol, thanks!

tl; dr. Google! Whenever you have doubts about anything before you make a fool of yourself.

Table of contents

How to compose and send effective emails

1. To Professors

You might want to send an email to professors for several reasons. The most prominent ones are asking about a course that you’re enrolled in or wish to enrol in, asking for a project(s), seeking life advice etc. I’ll write about inquiring about courses and asking for work opportunities.

Asking about a course. Sometimes you might want to email the professor, seeking details about certain things like grades, attendance, office hours, prereqs etc. The following template should do the job for you.

Template

Subject: [Short, to the point subject]
Dear Prof. [lastname] / Dear Professor,
My name is Debashish Reang. I am a third-year undergraduate student studying EE. I am writing to you to know about [why you're writing the email]. [Some reasons here].

I would be grateful to you if you can let me know about [why you're writing the email] at your earliest convenience. Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Debashish Reang
170228, BT-EE

Sample: Scheduling an office hour

Subject: Request for office hours this Friday.
Dear Prof. Reang,
My name is Human Cat. I am a third-year undergraduate student studying EE. I am writing to you to know about your availability this Friday. I am enrolled in your course XYZ69A, and did not quite understand the part where you explained about "how people are mean and terrible" in the last lecture. I was wondering if it would be possible to come to your office during the office hours and get the doubt clarified.

I would be grateful to you if you can explain the concept to me once again. Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Human Cat
170228, BT-EE

Asking for a project to work on. This one might be a little tricky and varies from professor to professor. However, the general template should work in most cases. Of course, mere copying and pasting the template given here might not help.

Template

Subject: [Short, but catchy subject line]
Dear Prof. [lastname] / Dear Professor,
My name is Debashish Reang. I am a third-year undergraduate student studying EE. I am writing to you to know about [why you're writing the email]. [Some reasons here].

I would be grateful to you if you can let me know about [why you're writing the email] at your earliest convenience. Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Debashish Reang
170228, BT-EE

Sample: Asking for work opportunities

Subject: Undergraduate research opportunities in your group.
Dear Prof. Reang,
My name is Human Cat. I am a third-year undergraduate student studying EE. I have a great interest in Machine Learning and its applications, and that is one field that I want to pursue later as a postgraduate. I believe doing a research project with you would help me gain invaluable insights and experience that I would not get in a classroom setting.

I learned from your site about Machine Learning for Natural Language Processing as one of the research areas you are actively working on. I would love to know more about the work and would like to work on it over the course of the semester and possibly beyond.

As for prior knowledge on the field, I have not done any coursework formally. But, I have tried going through open-sourced coursework like Stanford's CS299 (Machine Learning) and CS231n (Convolutional Neural Networks for Visual Recognition).

Would you be free to meet sometime next week to further discuss your work? Kindly, do let me know if there is anything else that you wish to know. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you so much for your time.

Sincerely,
Human Cat
170228, BT-EE

2. To admin

Sending emails to administrative staff. There is a formal procedure for most things. Still, exceptional circumstances may arise, or it is possible that you just aren’t aware of the process. In most cases, writing an email and then following the instructions that you receive in reply to your email should work. As a pro tip, smiling almost always helps. Concretely, I applied for a scholarship sometime back and really screwed up a few entries while filling up the form. The guy in the office seemed like he did not have a great day either. However, I went up to him and smiled broadly for some reason, explaining to him what I’d done right and what I messed up. He corrected the mistakes and approved my application within 10 minutes or so. So, smile!

Template

Subject: [Really short to the point subject]
Dear Sir/Ma'am,
My name is Debashish Reang. I am a third-year undergraduate student studying EE. I am writing to you to know about [why you're writing the email]. [Some reasons here].

I would be grateful to you if you can help me out. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Debashish Reang
170228, BT-EE

Sample: Asking for a bonafide certificate

Subject: Bonafide certificate for taking part in a competition.

Dear Sir,
I am applying to the Intenet-breaking Meme Making Competition 2020. The application requires a bonafide certificate, certifying that I'm currently a first-year student at IIT Kanpur. I tried searching the web for relevant procedure but that did not help at all. I'd be really grateful to you if you could help me out with that.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Human Cat
BT-EE, 170228

3. To alumni and strangers

Sample: Asking for the template of that nice resume that you just saw

Subject: Inquiry about CV LaTeX source code.

Hi Reang,
I was browsing through your website and came across your CV. And, it seemed simplistic but beautiful to me. I am in the process of making an academic CV, as well. Hence, I would be grateful if you could share the LaTeX source code of the same. I tried searching for similar formats but couldn't find one. I could try to format one myself, but I guess it'll be better to just build on top of the already lovely looking format.

Thanks!

Regards,
Human Cat

Before you send the email. Make sure you check the following and verify that those are correct.

  • Check that you have a subject. Subject-less emails look irritating, and the receiver may not even bother reading them. Some spam filters might also classify your email as spam.

  • Check that the salutation is correct. You don’t want to get this one wrong. For example, if you write, Dear Debasis, instead of Dear Debashish, you have just ruined my day. Also, you don’t want to get the titles wrong. For example, addressing a woman as Sir might disqualify you from a lot of things. I learnt this the hard way. I once emailed a woman IAS officer in my district as Dear Sir. Spoiler. No, I was not detained for doing that. But, you get the idea!

  • Check the receiver’s email address. This one is absolutely important. You don’t want the whole class to read your baby-crying to the professor about how if you had attended just that one lecture, you’d have been above the cutoff. So, instead of emailing to XYZ69A@iitk.ac.in , you should send emails to profwhoteachesxyz69a@iitk.ac.in . I’m surprised by how many people get this wrong!

How to respond to emails

  • If the email asks for a reply. For example, profwhoteachesxyz69a@iitk.ac.in might ask you to reply to the email that was sent to XYZ69A@iitk.ac.in asking your marks in midsems. Listen here, you not-paying-attention little brat, you should choose reply instead of reply to all when replying to this sort of emails. If you respond to all your response will be sent to the whole class. I don’t care if you got 0 or 100% in midsems! Instead, if you want to just reply to profwhoteachesxyz69a@iitk.ac.in , you should choose to reply .

  • Thank the person. Whether the reply you received in response to your email is positive or negative, start the answer by thanking the person for their time. Then, you can craft a friendly reply.

Rule of thumb. You will probably never need to reply to all . If you do that, the Computer Center might even block your email address, for spamming!

The art of saying no

This section was added after a junior asked me about how to write emails informing the professor about one’s will to discontinue working on a project. While it should be easy for most people, I’m putting it out here so that someone might benefit from it. In general, you can follow the template below.

Sample: Informing the professor about one's will to discontinue working on a project.

Subject: Regarding Project.

Dear Professor,
I wish to let you know that I shall not be able to continue working on the project. I have signed up for 6 courses for the upcoming semester. The experience of doing 6 courses along with a project in the last semester was not a good one. Hence, I wish to solely focus on my courses for the upcoming semester.

I am grateful to you for letting me work on the project, and I wish to thank you for that.

Yours sincerely,
Human Cat

A general guide on communication

I am in no way an expert on communicating effectively. In fact, there have been times when people left the dinner table because of something I said or something I expressed incorrectly. Communication is hard. Period. There would be a lot of rejections. But, your chances of getting rejected reduces when you write and communicate effectively. It is worth the effort, trust me, when you get a positive reply or a piece of advice or the information that you have been seeking — it is liberating!

Bonus

Real email: Asking about hitchhiking across Europe

Subject: Comments about "Whirlwind Tour of Europe".

Hi,
I recently came across your article about the travel while trying to pen down my own experiences. I am an undergrad at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, and traveling to other countries has always been my dream.

I was just curious about the expenses that you incurred while traveling through Europe. I would love to do the same someday soon.

Thanks for writing the wonderful articles.

x
Debashish Reang

Reply

Hi,
I probably spent 5-6,000 dollars in three months.

Endnote. I hope this guide has helped you. I might have missed out a few things. You can send an email to hi{at}reangdeba{dot}xyz if you think I should include something else or if you just wish to leave feedback. In fact, you can practice sending the email templates that I provided above Happy emailing!

And No reply to all please!

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