Email etiquette

Email etiquette

English Department, Saarland University, April 2020

Email Etiquette in the Time of the Corona Crisis (and Beyond)

Please note that all members of the department are dealing with a larger-than-usual number of emails at the moment. We therefore ask you to take extra care when writing to staff. In particular, please pay attention to the following guidelines:

  • Do think about the message’s content before you send it out. Ask yourself if the answer to your question involves information that is already available on our website (e.g. Exams FAQ), on moodle (e.g. the “Nachrichtenforum”) or simply via google. Remember, as well, that we are publishing updates during the Corona-Virus period on our department website (, and that the university has a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page in English, French and German on the Corona situation ( Please understand that we may not have time to respond to questions when the answers have already been communicated, for instance via your UdS email address, via moodle or via the websites given above.
  • Do make sure that the reason for writing is clearly identified in the subject line. If there has been an earlier exchange about a specific topic, make sure to include the thread in your email. However, do not reply to an old message in order to raise a completely different topic. It will be less confusing to begin a new thread with its own subject line. Do include a brief signature (including, for example, which course you are referring to and your matriculation number [this is especially useful if you wish to be added to a course]) in your emails to help the recipient understand who it is from, especially if the person is unknown to you.
  • Do make sure that you phrase your mail in a clear and direct way, and keep it as brief and to the point as possible.
  • Do make sure to always re-read your message, both for correctness and for clarity of expression, before you hit the ‘Send’ button.

Please also pay attention to the following formal guidelines:

  • Do pay attention to the recipient’s name and title (including the spelling of names). For a university, these include: Professor, Dr, Mr, Ms (this is the preferred title for any female member of staff without a PhD), or Mrs (this should be avoided unless you have been told otherwise by the member of staff in question). Getting such details correct suggests that you have taken time and care over your email. These details are easy to check via the departmental website.
  • Do open your mail with a polite address, i.e. ‘Dear Dr Smith’, ‘Dear John’, etc. For members of staff with more than one title, simply use the most advanced one in your address, e.g. ‘Dear Professor Fitzpatrick’.
  • Don’t address someone by their first name unless you know they are OK with it. Usually, if someone signs off with both their first and family names, this is an indication of formality, and you should reply by addressing that person with their title and surname. If someone signs off with just their first name, they are probably inviting you to call them by their first name, but if in any doubt, use the more formal form of address, or begin with ‘Dear Clive (if I may)’.
  • Do use a capital letter at the beginning of the email (unlike in German). Keep punctuation clear, spelling sound, avoid obscure abbreviations, and use paragraphs to separate your points. Don’t fire off emails without any structure as this makes a message difficult to follow.
  • Do use an acceptable sign-off, e.g., ‘Yours (sincerely)’; ‘Best’; ‘Best wishes’ etc.
  • Do send all emails from your official UdS email account.