Wil this assignment be a grade for the class in the fall? I still have a summer class and a full time job to manage, i don’t know if i will have time to do all these little assignments in the mean time.


I received this email exactly as you see it from a student who is enrolled in GEB 3003, the first of four “Career Professionalism” classes that we’ll begin offering in the Fall semester.  I sent an email to all students who were enrolled asking them to complete the statement, “I want to _____”, write it on a blank piece of paper, take a picture of it and email it to me.  In the email I said if the student has no idea what they want to do, feel free to put that.  It will let us know that they need extra help.  If they know what they want to do, but need a place to do it, add their email address and we’d use their picture to market them in the promotional piece we’re creating.  Finally, if they are already working, put that and give a shout-out to their employer.  I’m happy to promote that as well.  The purpose of this “little assignment” is to get pictures from students that we can use to create something that promotes the services our office offers and put a face on our student body…for employers…who want to hire them!


I want you to take a look at one particular student’s response.  This is exactly what I received.  No salutation, no closing.  Just poorly written text.  The text didn’t offer an alternative.  Nor did it seek to understand.  It was sent at 5:59 am indicating the writer sent it after either staying up all night, or getting up early on a Saturday.


GEB 3003 and the other Career Professionalism classes began as a response to feedback we received from employers and alumni (yes, the ones we want hiring our students) that our students lack “professionalism.”  There are numerous definitions of “professionalism” depending on who’s talking, but most times it boils down to exhibiting behaviors appropriate to a given environment.  Sometimes it’s easier to just point out what’s “unprofessional” as a way of defining “professionalism.”


Here’s a few of my thoughts on the topic of professionalism as it relates to email communication:


Email is just mail that travels online:

All the other rules of written communication apply.  You have to write complete sentences.  You have to use punctuation.  Sentences need subjects and verbs.  You have to capitalize and check your spelling.  You have to proof your work.  Finally, because it’s essentially a letter, you also have to use salutations, closings and a signature.  Don’t like those rules, don’t use email.


Email is not a text to one of your gym bro’s, please don’t confuse the two:

My dad is 72 years old and he is happy texting me, my brother, my son, and just about anyone else.  If he’s picked up the habit then I understand everyone else in the civilized world is probably doing the same.  Not that my dad is a Luddite, it’s just that new practices start with my son’s age group and move north.  Text messages are quick and easy.  Email to a boss, subordinate, peer, customer, client, or other person critical to your performance (um…instructor!) should be formal.  Even if you have a friendly relationship with the person, steer clear of sarcasm or joking.  What sounds funny as you type it, may be taken a different way when it’s read.


Email is not a conversation; it’s communication:

Expanding the point I started above, face to face communication is made up of not only the words you use, but the tone and body language you employ.  If you say something mean, but do it with a big smile, eyebrows raised, and eyes wide open the person you say it to will probably interpret your message to be a joke.  Or they’ll think you’re a condescending jerk and punch you in the throat.  Either way, your message is further shaped and refined beyond the words you use.  When you communicate in writing you only have the words you choose as your vehicle for creating understanding.  Choose them wisely and reference tip #1!


Email makes it easy to do dumb stuff and it’s not anonymous:

In face to face communication we weigh the pros and cons of saying something harmful, hateful, factually wrong, or just plain stupid.  Email allows the responder to quickly pop off a reply that may not be the best thing to say or best way to say it.  You can respond with anger or passion and make a bigger problem out of what already existed (not to mention the dangers of introducing booze or other substances).  You can also accidentally hit “Reply All” instead of “Reply” or “Forward.”  No need to explain how that can turn out to those who have already made that mistake.


Email is forever:

Historians pour through the collected letters of famous dead people.  People kept letters back in the day.  Well, now servers keep email.  But unlike letters, email can quickly be forwarded to thousands of people around the world.  They can take your email and post it on Facebook, Pinterest, or their office blog.  Instead of one person knowing you’re a pinhead, everyone can learn it and it’s hard to rebound if that email is your first impression.


If you’re still unclear, feel free to Google “email professionalism” and dig around.  It’s amazing what you’ll pick up!  I am going to assume that everyone in my classes understands how to write professionally, you are 14 years into your education.  If by this point you can’t compose a proper sentence, you’re either lazy (don’t want to do it) or stupid (have been taught but can’t do it).  Since you got into college, it is more likely the former rather than the latter.  Besides, if you can figure out how to make a Diet Coke fountain with Mentos by Googling it, I’m going to assume you can learn how to compose a proper email the same way.  If you can’t/won’t then just like when you go to work, I’ll simply point out when you’ve made a mistake.


Oh, and it’s really not a good idea to insult your instructor before you’ve ever been to class…