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I sent an email to my lecturer asking for clarification about something however it has been a few days and he has not replied. Sometimes he replies to emails sometimes he does not. I need a reply fast so that I can start on some important reports as I got to submit them soon.

How do I politely send a second email to remind him to reply to my previous email? I would like it to be formal too as the person i am emailing is my lecturer. I thought of just copy pasting what I wrote in the previous email in the new email and send however I don’t think that is the best way to do it. Please do give me some advice thank you so much.

Edit:

I am unable to go to college as right now i'm doing internship and my office is far from college. Also, by the time i end work (6pm) and travel to college, my lecturer would have gone home. So, there is no way to meet him face-to-face.

  • Are you committed to resolving this via email, or would some other form of communication (e.g. talking directly to him) be acceptable? – HDE 226868 Jan 26 '18 at 1:32
  • Right now i am doing my internship and he is at college. The office i'm working at and my college is far. So only communication is through email. – Susmitha Jan 26 '18 at 1:39
  • You do have a chance to see him in person, right - or are you taking a class remotely? Also, what is the cultural background here? – HDE 226868 Jan 26 '18 at 1:42
  • By the time i end work (6pm) and travel to college, my lecturer would have gone home. So, there is no way to meet him face-to-face. We are in Singapore :) – Susmitha Jan 26 '18 at 1:47
  • Does he have posted office hours? Have you tried phoning? – aparente001 Jan 26 '18 at 3:37
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After some thought about this, I've decided that my original answer, while a workable tactic, is more convoluted than it needs to be. And as others have pointed out, you cannot do it repeatedly with the same person.

Thinking about it now, a I might take a simpler approach. I might instead simply reply to the original email, leaving the text intact, and write at the top:

Professor so and so,

I'm just writing to quickly follow up on the below. Any clarification you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks very much,

Susmitha

This approach is direct, does not take upon the writer blame that does not belong to the writer, and remains polite.

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One trick that works well is to think of some sort of addendum, however small, that you could have added to the original message. You can then email back your lecturer by replying to the message that you sent, and say,

Dear Professor,

When I sent you this, I forgot to also mention that ______.

Thanks again,

Susmitha

This gives you the cover that you are adding new information, so you aren't simply emailing them to remind them of something that they have forgotten.

If that still doesn't work after another day or so, I would next try to go to the professor's office in person to avoid seeming like a nag.

  • Hi thanks for the suggestion :) I will have to think of what new information i should add as for now i do not have anything else to ask. And i am unable to go to college as right now i'm doing internship and my office is far from college. Also, by the time i end work (6pm) and travel to college, my lecturer would have gone home. – Susmitha Jan 26 '18 at 1:43
  • @Susmitha I'll admit that, when I've done this in the past, thinking of the thing to add is the hardest part. But one thing working to your advantage is that it doesn't have to be anything substantial; the smallest point will do! The teacher really has just forgotten, and is presumably smart enough to see through the ruse. But the way that the letter is framed, you make it sound like you've made a mistake instead of them, so they aren't made to feel bad for forgetting. – Ben I. Jan 26 '18 at 2:31
  • Alright i understand what you are saying, thank you so much ! :) – Susmitha Jan 26 '18 at 3:13
  • Although I've used this tactic, it doesn't always work for everyone. Depending on who the recipient is, they may develop the opinion that you are a forgetful person. I've had this method backfire on me when the recipient criticized me for not being thorough enough and questioned why I insisted on spamming them. Not saying it won't work, but it failed for me on more than one occasion. – Chris K Jan 26 '18 at 15:40
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    @ChrisK I've never had such a rude response, but I also don't think that the tactic is what caused it. Anyone who responds to a very straightforward attempt to save them from embarrassment by asking why you insist on spamming them is communicating that they don't wish to receive communications from you about this matter (or possibly about any matter) at all, and they may not even intend to follow through with the request in the first place. That would be quite a sticky problem indeed, but the problem is not the reminder. I doubt that they would respond better to any other form of "spam". – Ben I. Jan 26 '18 at 16:13
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Consider your professor's point of view. He is a single person coordinating a multitude of students. He likely teaches more than one class, and has to track dozens, if not hundreds, of documents, emails, phone calls, etc. Your follow-up email should be considerate of this and convey that you understand his duties as an educator.

  • Let him know that you understand he's busy.
  • Ask him to set aside a specific amount of time to respond to your previous email (I always use 2 minutes because who doesn't have 2 minutes to spare?).
  • Convey that you realize his time is valuable and that you appreciate his attention.
  • Thank him.

Hello Professor, you must be swamped so I'll keep it brief.

I'm following up about my last email. I'm still unclear about [insert problem] and was wondering if you could take 2 minutes to clarify it for me.

I really appreciate your help on this.

Respectfully,

Susmitha

Do not copy and paste your previous email. Doing so shows no follow-through and doesn't convey your current status on the issue. It could also be misunderstood as a duplicate email because technology is imperfect and messages sometimes get sent multiple times. This would be even more damaging to your issue if your professor had his mind set on believing that he already responded to your last email. If this were the case, he would just delete the duplicate email at first sight. How many times have we, human beings, been sure that we did something but then realized we didn't? We're imperfect too.

In any professional setting, you should always show a progression of the current problem. Be clear about conveying what "state" it is in and be direct about what resolution you expect or hope to achieve.

  • I think this approach can backfire, or worse, be downright offensive... Ask him to set aside a specific amount of time to respond to your previous email (I always use 2 minutes because who doesn't have 2 minutes to spare?) - has two pitfalls: 1) The person who doesn't have 2 min could be the person you are corresponding with, and 2) You may strongly underestimate the amount of time an answer takes. This is often a problem on StackExchange, where someone asks what they think is simple, then get upset when they get "too broad" close votes on an answer that needs a whole textbook to answer. – Bryan Krause Jan 26 '18 at 19:56
  • If the person, in this case the professor, doesn't have 2 minutes of time, then there's a deeper issue at hand and no amount of follow-up emails would elicit a response. It is reasonable to assume that the professor has many things going on and simply missed the initial email. Additionally, the 2 minutes timeline is used as an example. If it turns out that the issue takes longer to clarify then the professor could let the OP know. If he doesn't and it ends up taking him longer then that's the professor's problem, not the student's. – Chris K Jan 29 '18 at 14:15

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