How to master your student emails

Ping. Ping. That’s not your microwave – it’s another email arriving in your inbox. Before you roll your eyes and shut your laptop, let’s pause to consider the importance of this modern-day carrier pigeon. In addition to Canvas, your student email account is the primary means of communication you have with tutors and course coordinators. You’ll find info on assignments, room changes and general admin here. If you’re struggling with course content, emails provide an appropriate and welcome channel to reach out to academic staff for help. Your inbox is also home to messages from the uni like surveys, careers insights and emergency information such as campus closures and pandemic updates.

If emails are so handy, how do we best utilise them and what language or tone should we be using in them? What should we do if we are new to uni, or just haven’t got the hang of NuMail? Or say, asking for a friend, our inbox is piling up and feels impossible to manage. Read on – Navigator has you covered.

The golden rules of email etiquette

Hey, gr8 2 talk 2 u 2day m8! XD

Unless you’ve just time travelled from the 2000s with a Nokia in hand, you would know that NO ONE types like that anymore. Emails are not texts and the rules of formal language apply. Sure your teacher may send you back the classic “K. -Sent from my iPhone” but be aware of the fact that not all academic staff will speak in a casual tone in email correspondence and it is best to adopt a formal tone from the outset.

Next time you go to draft an email, keep in mind:

  • Only send content you would be happy to read aloud in public. If you have a sensitive issue to discuss with your lecturer/colleague/group assignment member, it’s better to email to arrange an in-person or telephone meeting.
  • Start with a clear subject line – the aim is to help the reader to scan their inbox and identify important emails to open. Keep the subject line short and to the point, for example, ‘LAWS1001 Assessment 2 Query.’ Subject lines don’t need to be funny or creative – they just need to be relevant (and not blank).
  • Begin a new email thread (with a fresh subject line) for new topics. Even if you are emailing the same lecturer you spoke to last week, you shouldn’t use your ‘Assessment 2 Query’ subject line to talk about something else entirely.
  • Use polite greetings at the beginning and end of the email. A safe bet is to start with formal titles. For example, ‘Dear Professor Blogs’ or ‘Dear Dr Smith.’ If your reader is a close colleague or has introduced themselves by their first name it is appropriate to say, ‘Dear Joe.’ Sign off the email with a ‘Regards,’ ‘Sincerely’ or something to that effect.
  • Cut to the chase! Don’t waffle in your email – aim to keep things concise with plenty of white space for readability.
  • Use an email signature at the end. You can set this up in your mail carriers settings. Include your full name, student number, degree program and expected year of graduation. This will give you a professional look and allow your reader to instantly recognise who you are.
  • Proof-read before you hit send – nothing foils a well-constructed email like a typo. One final tip: to avoid firing off an unfinished email, type in your content and subject before entering the readers’ email address.

Learning to write professional emails at university will benefit you when it is time to start emailing potential employers. Work on your email skills while you have the support of teaching staff and university resources.

Panic! At the inbox

University psychologist Dr Emma Kerr says it’s common to feel overwhelmed when faced with a full inbox. Some of us try to deal with those feelings by checking our emails excessively, while others go to the opposite extreme, avoiding opening their inbox at all.

“While both strategies can work to reduce anxiety in the short term, neither are very effective as a long-term solution,” Dr Kerr says.

“It is important to break the task down into very small steps. For example, ‘my goal today is to open and respond to just one email.’ Often this can start the ball rolling and it gets easier from there.”

If you’ve been on a more long-term break with your uni emails, don’t panic. Start by reading and responding to emails from the last fortnight. For any older than that, scan the subject heading and only read those that seem important or addressed directly to you.

Dr Kerr says it’s then important to develop a routine to avoid future email anxiety.

“Try scheduling a particular time (15 min 2-3 times a week) in which you read and respond to emails. This can help people who tend to be constantly checking emails, or those who are avoiding them completely. You could experiment with making this ‘appointment’ with yourself more appealing by doing it at your favourite café, having a snack while you do it, or rewarding yourself after you have completed the task.”

Alright, I’m convinced – how do I access my account?

There are many ways to configure your student email account across your devices. If you encounter any issues check out the university’s self-help IT resources or contact the IT team on (02) 4921 7000 during business hours.

From Google, I like to log on to myUNI > NuMail. I also have the myUNI app on my phone which is handy for accessing NuMail, Blackboard and other features on the go.

For even greater accessibility (or to receive notifications) you could set up your student email account on the Microsoft Outlook apps for phone or computers, or through the Gmail or Mail apps on your phone. For those students who are also staff, it is tricky to access both email accounts simultaneously. My tips are to use a separate internet browser for each of your accounts (ie, Chrome for student and Firefox for staff) or use separate devices entirely.

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