Informal e-mail language irks profs, affects in-classroom relationships

Dr. Scott Gratson, professor and program director of the communications program at Temple, received the following e-mail message from a student: “hi g r u n @ 3?” “At first I didn’t realize that I

Dr. Scott Gratson, professor and program director of the communications program at Temple, received the following e-mail message from a student: “hi g r u n @ 3?”

“At first I didn’t realize that I would be ‘g’,” Gratson said. “But not only am I ‘g,’ I’m lowercase ‘g.’ Secondly, ‘run’ is how I read that, and I didn’t realize until I said it out loud that it meant ‘are you in at three?'”

In this ever-growing digital world, e-mail is playing a larger role in relationships between students and professors. Due to its widespread use, some professors have said that e-mail is actually beginning to take on the characteristics of conversation rather than a form of professional writing.

“If you’re looking at how language is used in e-mail, I think that people assume e-mail is the same as discussion, and discussion can be informal,” Gratson said. “Within the context of e-mail, there is a distinct notion that it’s pretty much like dialogue. Hence, an apostrophe, who cares, a question mark, who cares.”

In some cases, like the e-mail that Gratson received from his student, grammar is heavily abused. No matter how easy and available e-mail is, Gratson said he still believes it should be treated in a professional manner and taken seriously.

It’s not only students who are at fault for poorly written
e-mails either.

“We as professors sit here and allow students to engage in conversation with us via inappropriate, unprofessional e-mails and we’re not doing them any favors,” Gratson said. “The break away from that sloppiness must start somewhere and I think that we dilute ourselves and use the phrase I can’t stand, [which is] ‘We don’t need to worry about it because it’s just e-mail.'”

According to Gratson, e-mail shouldn’t be treated as conversation simply because it is written communication. That communication, Gratson explained, must be effective whether it’s on paper or in the body of an e-mail.

Because virtually everyone at Temple has a Temple e-mail account and access to a computer, e-mail has also made students and professors more available.

“I think that there has been an increase in the idea of ‘well, a person needs to respond to me very quickly,'” Gratson said. “I’ve gotten messages, for example, from students on Friday at 6 p.m., and then that student is wondering why they didn’t hear anything until Monday at noon, … forgetting that e-mail makes my office follow me everywhere.”

Dr. George Shore, a history professor, recognizes this by stating in his syllabus that “E-mail is always a good 24/7 means of contact.”

“My professor always e-mails me updated information in my math class,” said Quan Hoang, a first-year transfer student majoring in pre-pharmacy.

“It just saves a lot of time.”

But Hoang also stressed the importance of trying to maintain the traditional relationship between students and professors.

“E-mail is good, but you should still make appointments with your professors to meet face-to-face so that they actually recognize who you are,” Hoang said.

According to Gratson, one of the most important aspects in the relationship between students and professors is timing, and it is that timing that e-mail affects the most.

“I think that e-mail changes the way in which we view the timing of an appropriate response,” Gratson said. “So there’s almost a change in immediacy, as well as in timing.”

That doesn’t necessarily apply to the academic world though.
“I would argue that it depends on how much the professor is typically utilizing e-mail and how much it affects their communication,” Gratson said.

“I think that people growing into the digital age now are using e-mail in a much greater capacity than … someone who’s been in the academe for 20 years.”

T.C. Mazar can be reached at

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