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    Draft Email


    How to Write an Email to Someone You Don’t Know

    In your college career or your regular career, you will find yourself reaching out to someone with whom you are not familiar. Familiarity, from the Latin root familiaris, “intimate,” is something that grows between you and your professors or your boss over time, and it really doesn’t blossom as a perennial relation until the end of your formal relationship. In other words, you may be casual after you graduate or get promoted.


    Unlike the letter, the email genre adjusts significantly to the changes in topic and in the progression on that topic. A useful analogy for this may be the difference between a perennial and an annual plant. A perennial plant dies back in the winter and re-grows in spring, but an annual plant needs to be planted fresh by seed each season. The topics brought up between you and your professor are like seasons. At the beginning, it is important to write a formal email. Over time, your professor may let go of the formalities (especially the salutation and the valediction, or the “goodbye” complimentary close), but you should let them take the lead.


    To continue with the analogy of the annual plant, if each topic is its own season, then the first seed should always be the formal introduction of the topic. For example, in the beginning of the semester, the topic in an email to your professor is usually an assignment, either requesting information or sending a document. The first email is the seed, and like a seed it should have all the information required for the topic to blossom. It should have a salutation (“Dear Alexis” or “Dear Professor X”, an optional gesture or goodwill (“I hope you had a good weekend”), context(“I’m in your 9am College Composition course at Lehman College”), your main pointor request (“Would you please send a link to the blog?” “Here is my Rhetorical Analysis”), and a valediction (“Thank you, Student X”).


    Example from later in the semester:


    Dear Alexis,


    How are you? I’m writing in reference to the Lens Analysis revisions we’ve been workshopping in class. My peer said it’s better to paraphrase than to quote so much, but I thought quoting is the most important way to show evidence. I hope you can clarify.





    Remember the life cycle of an annual plant. It dies back at the end of the season and needs to be planted as a fresh seed to live again. As it grows it blooms, getting to its point faster and faster. Let the professor (or other authority) lead the way on this. Here are a couple of examples to show the lifecycle of the current topic of Mike’s quotations.


    Dear Mike,


    I’m glad you wrote to me about this, and I’m happy to help you. You and your peer are both partially right, but it depends on the context and how long the quote might be. If you find yourself inclined to include more than one block quote in your essay it is probably time to paraphrase. Keep in mind, however, that it’s actually more important what you do with your evidence, because evidence never speaks for itself.


    Let’s take a look at your draft together during my office hours. Can you come at noon on Thursday?






    Dear Alexis,


    Thank you for your thoughts. I can come at noon on Thursday.


    Thank you,



    . . . . Later, from Alexis:


    It turns out I have to take Latke to the vet at noon. Can we meet at 9am? Otherwise, after class Tues.





    This last note is a signal that the topic has blossomed and the correspondents can get straight to the point. Wonderful! Follow your correspondent’s lead. But, don’t get too cozy! Remember that you’ll plant a fresh, formal seed the next time you introduce a topic.

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