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The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News


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COLUMN: When to speak up, the problem with lengthy emails

Dan Hahn
Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

The beauty of formal emails lies in the encouragement of favorable discourse. We may be flawed as humans, but in our private discourse we can strive for something better.

That being said, email is not an appropriate communication channel for urgent issues. Instead a phone call or face to face meeting will work best. But, what if you need a prompt response to an email but do not receive one right away?

I say wait 24 to 36 hours (about 1 and a half days) during a standard work week, then it is reasonable to send a polite follow-up email to inquire about the status of your original message. Keep common sense in mind, and do not expect a response over the weekend or within several hours.

Unfortunately, sometimes emails are so carelessly written that the recipient does not bother to respond, or simply does not understand the message. In this column, I aim to provide context on why it is wise to follow common email courtesies.

Rule number one of email is to always use the subject line when writing to a formal audience. The subject line of an email should summarize the purpose of your email in a few words. When writing to a college professor regarding a class, include the course title and number in the subject.

College educated folks will likely write many emails over the course of their careers, so get in the habit of beginning your emails with a formal greeting such as “Dear Professor [Last Name].” It brings me joy that we continue to honor the tradition of addressing others as “Dear” in the modern era.

Of course, avoid using informal greetings like “Hey” or “Hi,” and if “Dear” does not resonate with your message, try using “Greetings” or “Hello.” An appropriate greeting will show cordiality in a medium where tone is critical.

The beginning of an email message is a great place to briefly introduce yourself if you are unsure if the recipient knows who you are. Mention your name, program of study and any relevant context.

In the body of the email, state your purpose. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. If your email grows into a wall of text with three or more paragraphs, reconsider the purpose of your message, and instead set up a meeting to talk in person or over the phone.

Professional emails are supposed to be short and to the point. The problem with lengthy emails is that they tend to read like a soliloquy rather than a communication to another person. If you want to write long and formal messages to an unfamiliar audience, try becoming a columnist or blogger instead.

Remember to use proper punctuation and grammar. Do not use netspeak or acronyms like “lol,” “btw” or “fyi;” all capital letters and emojis are also inappropriate. Familiarity, jargon and an informal tone work well for email exchanges between friends and close colleagues, but they have no place in formal communications.

As you are wrapping up your message, remember to sign off from your email with a professional signature at the end. I wrote a column about email sign-offs last fall, and “Take care” or “Best” remain some of my favorites.

When you receive a response to your email, it is courteous to reply graciously. Remember to start the reply as you would normally: “Dear [So-and-so], thanks for the prompt reply. Have a nice day.” is a perfectly appropriate response. Replying with such a short message is not always necessary, but it never hurts. This also presents an opportunity to ask a relevant follow up question, and you have also left the door open for future friendly correspondence.

Remember, email is a communication channel between two or more people. It is an opportunity to present yourself professionally.

If you send thoughtless, rude or nasty emails they will be remembered, and can even be forwarded to others or shared widely which will be both embarrassing and damaging to your reputation.

Sending an email that should have been a conversation also has negative consequences. Email is a way to send a message instantaneously, but do not expect an instantaneous reply.

Put some thought into how you want to present yourself. This will ensure that you are seen in a positive light as a courteous individual with high standards and realistic expectations.


Dan Hahn can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.

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About the Contributor
Dan Hahn, Columnist
Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 581-2812.

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