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E-mail can be an effective communications medium in support of academic advising. For most students and advisers, e-mail is convenient, fast, and accessible. Yet students and advisers may have differing opinions about how e-mail should be written and different expectations about how it can be used effectively in place of, or in addition to, face-to-face advising contacts.

Because there is no universal agreement on the format, style, or uses of e-mail, the following are offered only as suggestions to help Penn State advisers and advisees use e-mail effectively in their advising conversations.


Suggestions for both advisees and advisers
  • Use a subject line that succinctly describes the content of your message.
  • Include a greeting and a closing. A simple “hi” and “thanks” can make a difference.
  • Try to keep your messages short and to the point.
  • If your message needs to be long, break it up into paragraphs to make it easier to read.
  • Avoid discussing confidential or sensitive information.
  • Be careful about using humor.
  • Spell-check and proofread your messages.
  • Never write or respond in anger.
  • Consider that any e-mail you send could be forwarded to others by the original recipient and could be kept on file indefinitely.
  • If you need more time to reply to an important e-mail message, send a quick response to let the sender know that you received the e-mail and that you'll reply in full later.
  • Use up-to-date antivirus software to avoid sending e-mail viruses to others.
Suggestions for advisees
  • Use your Penn State e-mail account rather than any other e-mail accounts.
  • Address your e-mail to “Dr. Smith,” “Mr. Jones,” “Ms. Brown,” etc.
  • Compose your e-mail as a form of correspondence, not as a rambling monologue.
  • Use correct punctuation, capitalization, and grammar.
  • Include your full name and your PSU ID number in your message.
  • Avoid using unusual fonts, colored backgrounds, and large, small, or colored text.
  • Avoid using e-shorthand, like BTW, LOL, IMO, TTYL, ROFL, etc. (Your adviser may not be “rolling on the floor laughing” when he or she reads your e-mail.)
  • Allow a reasonable amount of time for your adviser to respond (at least two working days).
  • Don't send e-mail if your question is urgent and requires an immediate response. Your adviser may not have a chance to read it and respond to it immediately. Urgent questions should be asked in person or by phone and directed either to your adviser or to other University staff members or offices.
  • Thank your adviser for responding to your e-mail or for taking the initiative to contact you.
  • Understand that your adviser can't always respond in full via e-mail. Some questions require more information and/or a face-to-face discussion. In those cases, your adviser may ask you to meet with him or her in person.
Suggestions for advisers
  • Block out time in your schedule to answer e-mail from your advisees.
  • Respond to every e-mail, preferably within two working days whenever possible.
  • Don't assume that you know who the sender is if the e-mail is not from a Penn State account. To be sure, ask the sender to resend the message using his or her Penn State e-mail address.
  • Keep “canned” messages on file to respond to routine, commonly asked questions.
  • When responding to students' requests for information, instead of just feeding the answer to them, educate and empower your advisees by referring them to offices, people, websites, and other resources that can answer the questions.
  • Rather than trying to answer a complex question via e-mail, ask the student to meet with you in person.
  • When sending an e-mail message to multiple students simultaneously, use “bcc” (blind carbon copy) rather than “cc” or “to.”
  • Use eLion to send e-mail messages to all of your advisees simultaneously or to selected groups of advisees. eLion automatically uses the bcc function.
  • Save e-mail messages (to and from students) in electronic file folders for future reference.
  • Print significant e-mail contacts and file them in the student's folder for future reference.
  • If you use eLion's Advising Notes application to record advising contacts, summarize significant e-mail conversations in the adviser comments section of the application. Do not, however, copy and paste e-mail messages into eLion.
  • If you're going to be away from the University for more than a few days, consider sending an e-mail to your advisees beforehand to let them know you won't be able to answer their e-mail messages until you return, or set an Automatic E-mail Reply Message.
  • Become familiar with the University's policies on confidentiality of student records and records management.
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