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Learning Online

Communicating with Professors

One difference between high school and university is the way you may communicate with instructors. Although some can have upwards of hundreds of students in their courses, they still want to interact and connect with you. Here are several ways to improve your communication with instructors. 

First, ask yourself: is there a quick, easy-to-find answer?

  • Check your syllabus — your question may already have been answered there.
  • Use Q&A discussion threads to get answers to your course-related questions.
  • If you need additional support, try contacting the teaching assistant (TA) first.

When emailing your instructor:

  • Send the email from your school email address, not your personal email address.
  • Write a concise subject line that clearly identifies the purpose of your email. Include your course code.
    • Example: “(Course Code): Clarification on Q3 of assignment 1”
  • Address your professor with their preferred greeting. If you’re unsure of their preference, use their formal name. When your instructor responds, they will likely sign off their message with their preferred name for you to use in the future. 
    • Example: if your instructor's name is Dr. Hannah Lam, start with “Dear Dr. Lam.” If Dr. Lam calls herself “Hannah” in her reply, you can then address her as Hannah in subsequent emails.
  • Include your name and student number. 
  • Be concisestate the main content of your email clearly and briefly. 
    • Example: “Are we allowed to reference external sources in assignment 1?”
  • Write respectfully and be polite. If you’re annoyed or upset, remember that there could be a misunderstanding or miscommunication. Ask for more context or clarification.
  • Allow time for them to respond. If a professor has not responded, check their email policy before following up. If they do not respond within the time outlined in their policy, forward the email again with a polite follow up message.

Using Office Hours:

  • Office hours are dedicated times that instructors set aside for meeting with students. During office hours, instructors will answer course-content questions, review assignments, and address other issues. Office hour times are on your course syllabus.
  • Have questions prepared before your appointment.
  • Bring materials and take notes of the conversation.
  • Be respectful when asking for feedback on an assignment or exam.
  • If office hours conflict with your schedule, speak to your instructor and offer some dates and times to meet.
  • Office hours are a special opportunity to get to know your instructors and build relationships. You may one day need a reference letter!

Looking for extra support? Check out these resources:
Academic Skills webpage: 
https://studentsuccess.mcmaster.ca/academic-skills/
LibGuide (skills tip sheets): 
https://libguides.mcmaster.ca/sb.php?subject_id=133401
 
We also offer 1-1 support from Academic Coaches and The Writing Centre. Book appointments on OSCARplus - SSC - Appointments - Academic Skills

References:

Using Office Hours Effectively. The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Sending Email to Faculty and Administrators. The Writing Center, George Mason University. 

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