Thursday, August 4, 2011

Email Etiquette, or Yet Another Rant about Kids These Days

I'm sure I have nothing new to say on the topic of email etiquette, but it's on my mind as my husband is struggling with emails from his students. This summer he is teaching students who were tentatively accepted into the university. They have to do well this summer and in their first year to be fully admitted, so these are young people, perhaps in slightly over their heads, trying to do well in their first college course.

It has become clear that they are not yet prepared. One of my husband's major pet peeves is that his students will send him emails with attachments, but the body of their emails will be completely blank. No salutation, no signature, no request to perform a function. Yes, these emails were requested, but that doesn't mean they should skip a prefunctory "Hello Dr. L, Attached, please find my speech outline. I appreciate your help. Sincerely, Student." I mean, at least putting their own name on the email would be a start.

What bothers us both about this is not just the lack of politeness, but also the assumption that he would know what to do. These 17- and 18-year-olds are assuming that my husband knows their thoughts and intentions, and they are too lazy to even be nice about asking. It shows a lack of respect - both for his seniority and for his time - as well as a an egotism that I fear has become all too commonplace. They are treating the professor as if he works for them.

Our education system is suffering (well, for a lot of reasons, but partly) due to a shift to consumerism. Current students view universities as vendors: the students pay and the school provides a degree. This is not how education works. You have to earn it. You have to put forth effort and be willing to change and grow. A professor is not there to service your needs (meet with you at any time, answer emails in the middle of the night, give you extra days on assignments because your life has been "really crazy" recently), but rather to challenge you to peform better.

I know I am preaching to the choir here, and - yet again - I am on my high horse preaching about old-school ideals. So let me step off the pedastal and at least offer these constructive Very Basic Tips for Writing Emails:
1. Put a salutation (a "dear" line) on all emails
2. Sign your name or have a signature on all emails
3. If there is an attachment, indicate what it is. Too many viruses circulate by attachment (not to mention tasteless jokes or sketchy links), so state what you are sending.
4. State what you want out of the email. Even if you just hung up the phone, telling the recipient what you are sending, add a quick line ("here's the report we discussed."). It adds context. It aids action. It helps organization. And it takes you less than a minute.
5. Spell check (that's another issue, but I'm throwing it in for good measure).

That's it. Now off to pack for a luxurious trip sans-toddler to spend a long weekend with dear girlfriends. I hope to return less cranky.

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit I'm guilty of sending empty emails with attachments to friends sometimes, but in the context of a class I definitely agree with you. Good guidelines.