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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

It's time for some parameters

The development of e-mail was one of the most fundamental shifts in communication since the telephone. The ability to quickly send concise messages from any computer draws people closer. However, all sorts of communications - business, academic, personal, even commercial messages - flood inboxes everywhere.

The advent of e-mail has blurred the line between individuals' professional and personal lives. As these two previously separate worlds merge, people are often confused about how to interact through this versatile medium.

Just as a telephone call can range from a very casual or abbreviated interaction to a professional situation of extreme importance, the same can be said of e-mail - and the same etiquette guidelines should apply to both mediums.

The telephone analogy works in other ways as well. The advancement in mobile phones means we can immediately identify callers as well as log our conversations. This should indicate the tone which should be applied to the conversation. The same works for e-mail, where one even has the time to compose and edit a letter.

Given this extra time to edit for clarity, e-mail should naturally hold a more formal tone. As e-mail is simply an electronic extension of a regular letter, very little should change for etiquette guidelines.

While it would be normal to be colloquial with a friend in a letter, one would use a more formal tone when addressing a professor, especially one with whom there has been little previous interaction. Professors are often respected academics in their field, as well as adults who we have often not previously met. While formality is absolutely required in initial interactions, one can judge the tone in which a professor responds for later conversations.

Furthermore, there are times when e-mail simply isn't the preferred method of communication. It would be impractical to discuss a complex subject through a letter, and the same is true for e-mail. When corresponding with professors through e-mail, students should only expect clear-cut questions to be answered, and further questions should be discussed face to face.

E-mail should not become a substitute for other forms of communication. It is merely a tool to further enhance other types of interaction. When it is used to schedule appointments, send references or documents, or clarify certain questions, e-mail can enhance the relationship between students and professors.

However, with the increased mindset of treating higher education as a service, many students consider themselves superior to professors, and expect to be served like customers. Professors can easily remedy this situation with certain simple guidelines.

At 2 a.m., one of the few businesses one can call for service is late-night delivery. One would not expect a real estate agent, an accountant or a professor to be available at that time. Just as professors set office hours for those times when they are available for drop-in discussions, they should also clearly let students know what their e-mail policy is.

If students understand from the beginning that immediate responses, file attachments or excuse notes will not be tolerated through e-mail, professors are much less likely to view e-mails from students as akin to spam.

While it is somewhat saddening that with the decline of etiquette, implementing a policy is necessary, professors must take some initiative to clearly define to their students where they draw the line between the personal and the professional. In addition, if students know a professor will not respond to complicated questions or requests through e-mail, he or she are much more likely to end up in a professor's office - and that is ultimately a good thing.


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