People get sick. Their cars break down. Loved ones are rushed to the hospital. Whatever the reason, college students will likely have to be absent from class every now and then. Using email to get in touch with a professor whose class you were absent from is not only proper etiquette, but it might be one of the only chances you get to find out what you missed as well as if and how you can catch up.
Include Pertinent Information
Note your class and section number in your email's subject line. You may also want to add a keyword or phrase like "absence" or "attendance issue."
Address your professor formally. You may use the "Dear" salutation, or simply type out the professor's title (e.g. Dr) and last name, followed by a colon.
Write to the professor before the absence will take place, if at all possible. For example, if you need to miss class due to a conference or trip, let your professor know beforehand. This timely approach means you can plan out your workload before your absence occurs, which means less runaround for both you and your instructor on your return. Otherwise, draft and send your email as soon as you can get to a computer, even if an unexpected absence has already occurred. For your professor's records, always note the date of your absence.
Use Concise Language
State the purpose of your email up front in clear, plain language. Professors are busy people and often receive dozens of emails a day. Don't make your professor have to comb through your email looking for your objective. Your first sentence should note that you were, or will be absent, and that you want to make sure you are on track with the rest of the class when you return.
Keep your email short and to-the-point. Again, professors don't want to spend a great deal of time deciphering the purpose of any given email. Be professional. Ask yourself what the professor really cares about. Do you think she will be worried about your absence? Address those worries. If you don't think your professor really has the time or inclination to care, don't spend time apologizing or making excuses. Sometimes, writing an email regarding an absence is nothing more than a courtesy and should contain only a brief statement noting the fact that you were/will be absent and your intention to not fall behind.
Check Your Syllabus
Never ask a professor: "What did I miss?" before checking the class schedule on your syllabus to see if the answer is there. You can also ask a classmate. Don't press your professor to give you information you could easily gather on your own. Instead, keep questions as specific as possible and only ask those questions if you really need an answer immediately.
If available, always read your professor's email etiquette policy contained in her syllabus before sending her a note. Sometimes professors have certain rules regarding content and address and these should be observed closely in order to communicate your attention to detail and concern for your teacher's time and efforts.
Compose an Appropriate Excuse
Offer only appropriate information. You may decide, however, to expand on your prepared excuse, depending on your relationship with your professor. For example, if you're undergoing an outpatient procedure, you might mention this fact, plus add on any accommodations you may need upon your return. You also may add details if you feel you will have attendance problems in the future.
Be polite. Again, you need not apologize profusely for having missed class, but be aware that professors work hard to provide a successful learning experience. Let them know you appreciate their work, even in absentia.
Proofread your email before sending it and make appropriate changes. Pay attention to grammar, punctuation and capitalization and edit accordingly before you hit "send." Remember you want to come across as a professional.
Write a Closing
End your email with a formal closing like "Sincerely," and then type out your full name. Underneath your name you might also want to reiterate what class and section number you are enrolled in.
- If available, always read your professor's email etiquette policy contained in her syllabus before sending her a note. Sometimes professors have certain rules regarding content and address and these should be observed closely in order to communicate your attention to detail and concern for your teacher's time and efforts.
Ruth Nix began her career teaching a variety of writing classes at the University of Florida. She also worked as a columnist and editorial fellow for "Esquire" magazine. In 2012, Nix was featured in the annual "Best New Poets" anthology and received the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award for excellence in teaching from the University of Florida.