E-mail Tips and Strategies for Faculty

These tips suggest methods to facilitate communication and help manage e-mail from and to students and others. Faculty may want to use some or all of these as course policies. They are organized into the following topics:

Course correspondence policies

  1. Any e-mail correspondence regarding the course must include the specific course ID as the first letters of the subject line (for example, PSU001).
  2. To distinguish each assignment and message:
    • The course ID should be followed by a space and a distinctive subject (e.g., PSU001 question on HW2, mitosis)
    • Each homework subject line should end with the student's last name
      (Otherwise, assignment submissions all look alike!)
  3. If you intend to use any other e-mail ID other than your Penn State access ID, you must let your instructor know.
  4. Students should follow Student Guidelines for Electronic Communication at Penn State.

Assignments as attachments

  1. When sending an assignment as an attachment,
    • Include the assignment ID as part of the attachment file name.
    • Add students' last name to the end of the attachment file name.
    • Also be sure to put student name and course ID within the attachment file you send.
  2. Include information in the e-mail note about the type of file you are sending as an attachment (e.g., Word, rich text format, and the word processor version).
  3. Don't send huge attachments (over 300k) unless you've verified the need with the recipient.
  4. Don't send attachments to listservs.

E-mail efficiency

  1. Give your e-mail a meaningful, unique-as-possible subject line,
     e.g., "software access question" instead of "question."
  2. Usually include only one major topic per e-mail. 
    - Recipients of your mail may need to forward the mail to another person for further information
    - Or the receiver may want/need to file the mail under a specific mailbox (e.g., assignments).
  3. Be complete. 
    - Check whether you are including the necessary who, what, when, where, why, how.
  4. Keep messages short. 
    - When replying, include the original text only if needed.
  5. When sending a Web site, write it as a 'hot link'; that is,
    - always include the "http://" so that recipients can double-click on it directly from their e-mail. 
    - put < and > before and after the address so that the Web site link doesn't separate onto multiple lines, e.g., <http://www.psu.edu/>.

    E-mail politeness 

  1. When composing e-mail, assume it will be passed on for others to see and read.
  2. Don't forward e-mail without an understanding among the persons involved.
  3. Be calm. If you're writing a note when you're angry, wait a few hours, and reread it before you send it.
  4. Recheck/review all e-mail before sending.

Formatting e-mail  

  1. CAPS imply SHOUTING in e-mail.
    - Use ALL CAPS only for emphasis. 
  2. Be concise. 
    - Use lists to help set off major points.
  3. Be vigilant when sending HTML-formatted e-mail
    - Don't send e-mail that is HTML-formatted unless you know all recipients use software that understands HTML.
  4. Be cautious about using color, font types and sizes in e-mail because settings on other computers may differ greatly from your settings.


  1. Sorting and filtering mail
    - Eudora e-mail and other e-mail software lets you sort mail into mailboxes and also filter incoming mail directly into mailboxes. If you don't know how to create mailboxes and filters, you should learn. You'll find that putting mail into mailboxes (folders) will help you greatly. See the Web site "Managing Your Electronic Briefcase."
  2. Use the address book capability of your e-mail software. 
    - You'll make fewer errors in the "To" line. And you won't have to look up people's addresses as often.
  3. Learn to sort your messages by date, sender, topic, etc.
  4. Use listservs as appropriate for bulk mailing.

Controlling volume of e-mail

  1. Carbon people who should be carboned. Omit names if they need not receive the message.
  2. Don't reply to a listserv unless that is your intent.
  3. Don't add to unwanted mail by sending virus warnings, jokes, pictures, etc. Before you send, determine if these are appropriate and/or wanted.
  4. Be polite, but don't overdo thank yous. That is, everything done for you by e-mail doesn't need an individual thank you!

Additional Resources   Student E-Mail: Issues and Solutions from the University of Oregon (http://tep.uoregon.edu/technology/discussion/heavyemail.html)