23 November 2022

Email: Why You So Like That?

By Jenny Hu

In the past semesters, I’ve been using electronic mail or e-mails as a feedback tool where students would attach their completed work and send the email to me for feedback on their work. While this is a great and convenient way for submission, I’ve overlooked the fact that most students are not familiar with emails.

Some common problems with student emails included no salutation or improper salutation; no subject title; no indication of who the sender is; no mention of the purpose of the email; impolite (and often) demanding tones; poor punctuation and grammar, and o mention of which work is being submitted.

Despite e-mails having been so widely used as a communication tool, it is still surprising to see how many students actually have no idea what is considered a proper email. Some examples of the kind of emails that I often receive are “… I hope professor can give me feedback…”, “like this can? Hope you reply as soon as possible”, and “help me check my essay…”.

Emails that I have been receiving from students are so consistently impolite and inappropriate that it has got me wondering what could possibly be the reasons for such poor email manners.

Lack of experience

A lack of experience is probably one of the factors contributing to poorly written emails by students. Most students are experienced and familiar with social applications such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger where short, simple text messages without salutations are common practice. Senders and recipients are clearly and easily identifiable in these applications, and these applications are usually used for social communication between family members or close friends, that is, people who are close to the sender. Therefore, when sending messages, informal expressions are generally used, and there usually isn’t a need to expressly greet the other party or to identify oneself as the sender.

Hence, applying the same writing habits and styles to emails, which are generally used for more formal communication between strangers or people who are not familiar with one another, in this case, faculty members and students, the emails can appear as impolite and inappropriate.

No feedback no do

It is interesting to note that it is not a common practice for one to provide feedback for another’s email. It is even more uncommon for students to show emails to their lecturers for “feedback”. Unlike unit contents, emails are usually private and confidential. Thus, it is unlikely and rather impractical for students to seek consultations for emails that they plan to send to a staff member.

Through casual conversations with students, I have come to notice that oftentimes students know that what they are doing is not right, but “since no one points them out”, they choose to be oblivious and continue the same practice.

However, if feedback is provided, students generally would make the effort to try at least to do it right.


It is therefore necessary to constantly reflect and check on our perceptions of students and technology use. Just because they have been exposed to a technology tool doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to use it. Also, some students may be waiting for proper feedback and guidance on the use of certain technology use.

Hence, before implementing a technology tool in class, it would be a good practice to check whether students are familiar with it and whether they know how to use it. There might be a need to teach them explicitly about the use of a certain tool in order to ensure and achieve its successful implementation.

Jenny Hu is a lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She teaches academic and communication skills, English proficiency, Innovation and Change and Law. Jenny is contactable at tyhu@swinburne.edu.my.