6 answers

How do you address recipients in your email professionally?

Updated Binghamton, New York

Hello! I'm currently a freshman university student, and I send a lot of emails through my university email, to professors and university staff alike. I've done research on the right ways to email professors, reading tons and tons of articles but a Google search can't seem to help me.

It's a little hard to discern when to use "Professor" and when to use "Ms." or "Mrs." or "Mr."--which is completely different from high school, where seeing teachers daily let you know how to address them. In college, it's a different story. How would you start an email to someone older than you? I always try to look at what they sign off the email with, but starting off with "Hello William," to the head of the Global Studies department is rather off-putting to me. Do you use Professor, or Mr. or Mrs.? What about your T.A.s? Or the head of the Residential Life Department, or a financial aid advisor? What if they're not married? #college #university #communications #professional-development #communication-skills #professional-training #email #professionalism #personal-development

6 answers

Jeff’s Answer

Updated Round Rock, Texas


Very good question!

I agree with Ms. Carole. Having been a professor, I preferred being addressed as Professor. I would extend it to any of your university teachers. If they are teaching the class, they are the professor. Of course, if they earned a doctorate, Dr is more appropriate but I don't think to many teachers would be offended being called professor.

However, I always told my students to call me Jeff. I am very informal in class as long as the respect is there.

I also agree with Ms. Carole about using Ms.


Kim’s Answer

Updated San Antonio, Texas

Depending on the purpose of the e-mail, you could always consider skipping the name and just going with "good morning." I've noticed that when they write or respond to me, they usually just jump straight into the message, rather than starting with the greeting.

Obviously, if the note is just to ask for clarification of an assignment, this is okay, but, if you are asking for a letter of reference or something more important, you would want to stick with the formalities.

I still have problems with this, because although my professors are "Doctors," they are also lawyers, and most lawyers don't like being called "doctor." So I just go with "Professor." It seems the safe way, at least in my situation.

Good question!

Ms. Igleheart, thank you so much for responding so quickly to this question! I've been starting out with "Hello," then starting my message and I wasn't sure if it was too informal or not; I was incredibly worried I was committing some professional faux-pas. I've been fretting over it for a while, so I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one doing this, haha. Thank you for the clarification!
You're welcome! Of more concern is the overall tone of the e-mail, which can easily come across wrong. This happens because there are no body language or facial expression cues accompanying the message. So watch out for accidentally having the wrong tone. Also, keep it professional - no slang or emojis! Be respectful of their time. In studying law, we are taught to lead with our conclusion, and then explain it. I like it! So, for example, you can start out with "I won't be able to attend class on Monday." And then explain the reason why. This lets them know immediately the purpose of your message.
Excellent question! I use "good morning/afternoon/evening" myself when in doubt, but have wondered what salutation is appropriate in a business email when the sender doesn't know the precise title of the recipient and want to be respectful. I do believe that, if the tone and text of your message is courteous, thoughtful, and polite, a misstep as to precise titling will be excused. And when the mystery title person writes you back, check their signature block!
Don't overthink this too much Brenda. Let your good judgment be your guide - trust in yourself! Also, as pertains to calling "Adults" by their first names, a couple of thoughts. It's nice to want to show respect, however, you are now one of us, and need to think of yourself as somewhat of a "peer," depending on the situation. My guess is it is probably okay to call a TA by their first name. Take your hints from how they interact with students. Second, a lot of the questions you have depend on local custom. In the South, there are still a lot of "Ms. Katherine" situations.

Carole’s Answer

Updated Rancho Palos Verdes, California

Here is some information regarding sending an email or a letter and addressing the person.

  1. Dr. is used as an honorific if the person has a doctorate degree Dr. Smith. Mr/Ms. us used if an individual does not hold a doctoral degree: (Ms Smith).
  2. Anyone holding any of the graded ranks of professor such as (Professor, associate Professor, assistant Professor) may be addressed orally as Professor or Professor Smith. Graded levels of professor e.g. (assistant professor or associate professor), are not used orally and are seldom used in written direct address. They most often appear in publications and on list where the specific position is pertinent. You can always get that information from the office of the school.
  3. EXAMPLES: Letter SALUATION: (Dear Dr. Mr./Ms. Smith or Dear Professor Smith.
  4. If sending an envelope (Dr. Mr./ Ms Smith).
  5. Anyone teaching at a college/university level can be addressed in the classroom, or generally be referred to (as professor). The use is tied to the relationship created in the classroom between a teacher & student. Sometimes they will say you can call me ( professor James and they use their first name). If that happens you can do that orally, but written I would still us Professor Smith.

Bottom line is that it is almost always ok to address a profess, associate professor, assistant professor as Professor. If you aren't aware that the teacher is a he or a she (Professor is a good way to begin. Also make sure you check with the office or look up the name. Professor is usually safe, but always good to check to see if they are a DR.

Good luck on you emails and if other question please let me know.

Thank you so much for your quick answer, Ms. Curtis! (I hope I'm using the correct form here.) I hadn't considered looking them up for their official titles, which was a huge point that I missed, so thank you very much! I had another question as well--as a rule of thumb, is it better to address someone as "Ms." or "Mrs." if you don't know their marital status?

Shana’s Answer

Updated Atlanta, Georgia

Start off saying hello and addressing them by their last name Mr, Mrs, or Dr. Smith, then discuss the topic you would like feedback on.

Ms. Mays, thank you for your answer! I think to clarify, I was most worried about how to include their title within my greeting, rather than just starting with a simple and not very personal "Hello"--as in, whether to address them as Dr. or Professor with their last name. Your answer also raised another question for me, if you do not mind answering it! How should one go about addressing someone whose marriage status is not clear, or even their gender?

Carole’s Answer

Updated Rancho Palos Verdes, California


Regarding you second question, Ms. is the correct salutation to use when you do not know their marital status. It was encouraged during the women movement in the 1950's and is pronounced MIZ.

This rule goes for any women in which you do not know their marital status and should be used for TA's or any woman with whom you do not know their marital situation.

Thanks for the question and if you think of another just let me know.

Caryn’s Answer

Updated Milwaukee, Wisconsin

When unsure, Mr. and Ms. are safe options.