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Before Sending Emails...
Instructor:          Jeremy Jackson   |    Winter, 2018

Office:                NW 3428    |   New Westminster
Ernst Schumacher: "We fail to say the right words,because we fail to think about the right words."

Before sending an email about grades, quiz marks or assignment marks (or any other assessment in school or the workplace generally), go through the following list, then compose your message. Here goes:

1. Think about whether or not the message you are sending contains points that the person you are sending the message to already knows. Don't include things in your emails that a professor would already be expected to know. For instance:

"This course is really important to me." Every instructor assumes this, they know this already.

"I need this course to graduate." We assume you need each of the courses you are taking.

"This is a required course for the X qualification." If a course is required, the professor generally knows this already.

2. Think about whether or not what you are about to say will make any difference to the way in which the professor will grade your work. For instance:

"I have been working very hard." Although this is always a good thing, how hard you work is usually not part of the grading criteria for tests assignments and quizzes.

3. Think about whether or not you are a good judge of what you claim to be true. For instance:

"I compared my assignment with a friend in the class, and they got a much higher mark than me even though we did/said the same thing." To judge whether or not your work is the same as another person's work, you need expertise in the course material. You are a student of the course material, not an expert. That's why you are taking the course.

4. Think about whether or not what you are saying can be verified. For instance:

"I really do understand, I'm just not good at tests." Our method of judging whether or not you understand is the test. We do not assign a grade based upon the extent to which you think you understand the material.

5. Think about whether or not your individual circumstance is unique and so should justify that you be treated in a fundamentally different way to other students in the course. For instance:

"I have been struggling at home lately and so I should get special treatment." Everybody is struggling all the time with one difficulty or another. Does the syllabus say…If you are struggling, in any way, shape or form special accommodations will be made for you. If not, you can not receive special treatment.

6. Think about whether or not good planning, preparation and hard work on your part would have avoided this problem for you. For instance:

"I did not do well on quiz one and was hoping to make up for it on the group project." If you are planning and preparing properly, you should be just as focused on quiz one as the final project. Don't leave things to the end and hope to undo earlier mistakes.

7. Think about whether or not the issues you are having might have something to do with your own character or approach to your education. For instance:

"I am taking 5 courses and have a full time job, so it's hard for me." It is your decision what you put on your plate. It's a very good thing to learn in life not to put too much on your plate. You should not get special treatment because you did not judge well how able you would be to perform well in all your courses.

8. Think about what you are asking the other person to do (the work you are asking them to do) because of your circumstance. For instance:

"Can you give me a make up assignment to do." The make up assignment requires that the professor do extra work to accommodate your difficulty. You are asking other people to do extra work because of your own problem.

9. Think about whether the email you are about to send makes you look mature and professional. For instance:

"It's not fair, I'm very upset, it's too hard for me, I can't….". All of these kinds of statements reflect maturity and professionalism. If you would like to appear mature and professional, leave them out of your email.


The way to enquire about a grade is with humility, respect, maturity and professionalism. You should say things like:

    1. "I am concerned about my performance." Don't say, I'm concerned about my grade. By saying performance, you make the problem about you, not something that might be wrong with the test or assignment. That is, you make the problem about you, not somebody else (the person that wrote a bad test, for instance). This is approaching the problem with humility, not with a desire to place blame externally.
    2. "I would like to know how to improve." This is the best thing you could say in any email to anyone in which your performance is at question. We all respond well to those that want to improve.
    3. "I did not understand what was expected of us, is there something I missed".
    4. "Do you have any advice about how I can improve".
    5. Don't presume you are right and compose your email with an accusatory tone. No one responds well to that.


The idea is to take responsibility. Once you do that, people will extend you the benefit of the doubt and help you. If you then help yourself and improve, most professors will respect that and grade you well in the end. If not, you behaved properly and did what you could and so you can be proud of that in the end.




All content copyright of Dr Jeremy Jackson - 2014. Douglas College, Vancouver, BC.