Rock Valley College

Before Emailing Your Instructor

Tips for navigating your course and understanding what is expected of you

When presented with new material or a new assignment, understanding what is expected of you can be a challenge. This is true for traditional, in-person courses, but often the challenge multiplies when trying to find your way around anonline course, especially if you are new to this mode of delivery. Students often feel like they should be able to figure things out for themselvesand don’t want to appear as if they cannot. Whileyour professors are certainly theretohelp and guide you, worryingabout how often you send them an email is a concern with some merit. Many professors find there are rarely enough hours in the day to answerallemail expediently.Plus, if you ask for clarification via email, you are left waiting for a reply which cuts into your valuable work time. So,the next time you find yourself wondering about your professor’spolicy on late work, an important due date, the order of steps to take in a lab assignment, thepage requirement on a paper, or exactly what is expected for the task at hand, ask yourself these 5 questions before you send an email to your professor:

Have you read the syllabus provided?

Professors invest a significant amount of time and energy fine-tuning their syllabi to make their policies and expectations as clear as possible. They also try to anticipate the questions most likely to be asked by students based on their experience from past courses. Consider the syllabus like a FAQ page on a website—it is there to save you the time and trouble of having to search for answers. Most syllabi are sectioned off to includeeasy-to-navigate headings on topics like Policies, Methods of Assessment, Grading Criteria, CommunicationExpectations, Due Dates, Technology Requirements, and Important Dates and Deadlines. So rather than skimmingthe syllabus you were given, dive all the way in and read it from top to bottom. And then refer back to it often whenever questions arise.

Have you checked the Home page of your coursein EAGLE?

On the typical course Home page at RVC, there are sections meant to act as a quick referenceguide. The Announcements board in an online course is anexample of one such section. Instructors often use announcements to remind students of upcoming due dates, to change due dates, to answer frequently askedquestions for the class as a whole, to expand on a lesson, and to provide supplemental resources that may help the class with an assignment. The Modules tab in your EAGLE classroom is another great place to check. Modules organize information to help students find what they need more efficiently. Sometimes organized by the week, other times by assignments or tasks to complete, modules keep all related information grouped together so it’s there when you need it.

Have you checked your email to see if any information has been sent recently?

If you email your instructor with a question that, as it turns out, was answered yesterday via email, you have sent an unnecessary question. This misstep is completely avoidableby checking your email regularly.

Have you checked your assignment prompt andgrading rubric?

If your question relates to a particular assignment, closely examining the associated prompt and rubric may provide all the answers you need. The assignment prompt usually consists of information like the due date, the type of assignment,the purpose of the assignment,the required parameters (length, number and type of sources, referencing style, etc.), and specificinstructions for completing the work. In a writing prompt, you may also find a question or group of questions to which you must respond.When reading through the prompt, pay special attention to the verbs; verbs like compare, explain, justify, reflect, summarize, oranalyzecan tell you a lot about what you are being asked to do. Once you have found the verbs, conduct a quick Google search of these important terms,or check out the Writing Center handout called The Types of Writingfor a complete guide to what each rhetorical situation entails. A grading rubric is equally important to understand, as it provides the criteria for evaluation. Knowing exactly what you will be graded on can only help you todo well.

If you don’t understandyour instructor’sfeedback, have you looked up the terms?

Like conducting a close reading of the syllabus, prompt, and rubric,researching terms used in your instructor’s feedback is a useful step in understanding. Again, search for the verbs and be sure you know what they mean. For more on this topic, check out the handout called Understanding InstructorFeedback.

If you have worked your way through these steps and stillfind something unclear, go ahead and send that email!

After all, asking for clarification is a GOOD thing! Taking all the steps listed above first, shows your instructor that you respect their time. Formore on how to email your instructor, see the Writing Center handout on Email and Discussion Etiquette.

And remember: the RVC Writing Center can help,too!Students often come to us before they have any writing done at all. While we can’t answer questions about due dates or late work policies, we can work with you on how to read and understandyourwritingprompt, what constitutesan effective summaryor critical analysis, and many other writing skills. For more on how to book a session with a Writing Coach, see the handout called Scheduling a Live Session.

Handouts onUnderstanding the Assignment/Reading the Prompt, Understanding Instructor Feedback, and all otherhandouts mentioned in this guide can be found by visiting the Writing Center’s Resource Library at:

Download Before Emailing Your Instructor Handout here!