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Marisa Gift, University of Notre Dame


“What’s up?”

“O dang.”

These statements sound like they should be shouted across a high school parking lot. However, these are just a few of the ways I, an academic advisor, have been greeted in advisee e-mails. Of course, many students also skip a greeting altogether and launch immediately into their questions or requests. Over the last five years, I have noticed a rapid decline in the communication etiquette of students, especially when it comes to e-mail communication. It often seems that today’s text-sending, iPod™-wielding college generation has forgotten that there are real, live people on the other end of their e-mail exchanges. Although e-mail etiquette problems often are lamented at staff meetings, the issue is discussed much less in print.

Most colleges and universities offer students the opportunity to take public speaking and composition courses; many require coursework in these areas. Yet, there is not a similar emphasis on basic, everyday communication skills such as e-mail etiquette. While formal classes addressing everyday communication skills might not be on the near horizon, academic advisors can make an immediate and important contribution to improving students’ communication etiquette. Below are three simple ways advisors can lead this effort.

First, advisors must identify the rules; they must give advisees basic guidelines regarding proper e-mail etiquette. These guidelines may seem common sense, but that does not mean that they are always followed. Reminding students early of these guidelines will cause them to think twice when writing e-mails to faculty and staff in the future. Advisors should emphasize to students that they are free to address their friends in whatever way they please; however, students should take a more cautious, professional tone when addressing faculty and staff in e-mails. A university official should be treated with the same respect in an e-mail that the student would give in a face-to-face encounter. Here are several examples of “common sense” e-mail guidelines:

  • Include a subject line that clues the reader into the subject of an e-mail.
  • Begin with an appropriate salutation including the person’s name (“Dear Mrs. Smith” or “Hello Dr. Johnson”). Starting with “Hey” is inappropriate.
  • Include an adequate amount of background information. Even if the topic of a message has been addressed before, do not assume that the reader remembers the details. Give him or her a quick refresher at the beginning of the message.
  • Use proper grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization.
  • Do not compose messages in all uppercase or all lowercase text.
  • Minimize (or preferably, eliminate) your use of emoticons and abbreviations.
  • Do not use text-message acronyms (“can u meet w me @12?”).
  • Proofread the message before you send to catch mistakes.
  • Double check the tone of your e-mail.
  • Respond in a timely manner: less than 24 hours is best.

Second, advisors must enforce the guidelines. In other words, an advisor must not hesitate to “call out” a student when the student sends an improper e-mail. For example, advisors should let students know when their e-mails look like text messages due to a lack of capitalization and/or punctuation. Advisors are doing a disservice to students if they respond to advisees’ poorly-written e-mails without acknowledging their lack of etiquette. Doing this sends the message that a student’s etiquette was appropriate, and therefore, suitable for future use. The way students address advisors, faculty members and staff now will most likely translate into how they address their employers in the future.

Finally, advisors must follow the same rules of proper communication etiquette; it is not enough for us to read and enforce the rules. In the hectic world of academic advising, it is easy for advisors to hit “send” on e-mails without a second glance. However, it is essential that advisors follow the guidelines listed above if they expect their students to do the same. Proper communication etiquette will bolster the credibility and professionalism of the daily contacts advisors have with their students. Furthermore, students will realize that their advisors were not just giving lip service to communication etiquette when they explained the guidelines. If advisors lead the way, students might just follow. Adherence to communication etiquette guidelines should help students leave the “Hey!” in the parking lot.

Marisa Gift
Academic Advisor
First Year of Studies
University of Notre Dame
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Gift, M. (2007, December). Leaving the 'hey' behind: communication etiquette. Academic Advising Today, 30(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.