I’m begging you to press send.
I hate sending emails. I do. I deeply, deeply hate pressing send. Every time I send an email, my best friend receives the exact same text: “god i hate sending emails.” I’ve thought about setting up a tweetbot that would tweet that same phrase every time I send an email, except I’m no CS major and I think CUIT security wouldn’t be a fan of that.
All to say: Sending emails is not fun. Sending emails is exhausting. Emails have no right to be that draining, honestly, but they are. So many questions! How do you open the email? How do you close it? How do you respond to someone who signs their emails with just their initials (I’m looking at you, NK)? Do I really, really have to send this email?
I’m here to tell you (you the incoming first-year, you the me of two days from now, you anyone, anyone else): You really do. I’m sorry, but you do need to send that email. No excuses. You need to send that email.
You might think that this reminder is not for you—that you are perfectly capable of sending an email when you need to. That you will get around to contacting that person eventually. That you will never spend twenty minutes staring at the wording to avoid pressing send. But no, you, too, need to send that email. I guarantee you have already looked at it a little too long. I, too, always think I am perfectly capable of sending an email when I need to. I am a liar.
Emails are a fact of modern life. They are not going away, and, if you are the kind of first-year I was, you will have never really needed to send emails before in your life. But you can do it. You need to do it.
So some reminders, refreshers, remonstrations:
Why do you need to send emails?
You need to send emails for absolutely everything. To ask for extensions on that paper. To sweet-talk your way off the instructor-managed waitlists. To check in with the undergraduate adviser for your major about a course requirement. To get Columbia financial aid to maybe, just maybe, answer your questions. To reach out to a cool researcher you found on LinkedIn to ask about their lab availability, or their summer research, or potential internships, or anything else. To ask for feedback on an assignment you got a bad (or good!) grade on. To, yes, check in with whomever you’ve been paired with for a group project. So many things.
How do you send these emails?
Not to get somewhat meta, but I have considered turning this post into a more comprehensive, guide-like “How to actually write emails” article. However, ultimately, I think that that perhaps invites too much thought into the email writing process. Obviously, you need to think a little when writing emails, and use proper punctuation, and go for that “air of professionalism” people talk about. Those are all important, but really, structurally, this is all you actually need for an email:
[Platitude about their wellbeing.] [If they don’t know you, who are you?]
[Why are they the person you’re reaching out to about this issue?] [What do you want from them? Is it time-sensitive?]
[The information they might need from you for them to do what you want them to do.]
[Another platitude thanking them, if you feel like it.]
(Word count max: 300)
Yes, proofread. Please. But don’t go overboard. The more you overthink, the less likely it becomes that you’ll actually send that email.
It’s been a few (business) days, and they haven’t replied. Do I really need to send a follow-up?
I wanted to follow up on [topic]. [What, if anything, has changed with your circumstances since you first sent the email.] [Is this now time-sensitive? Include that.]
[Platitude about how you’re looking forward to their response.]
(Word count max: 150)
Do I really, though?
Follow-up emails are the most important part. They really, really are. Case in point: I once cold-emailed a researcher (yes, it was awful, but yes, I sent that email) and got no response. I sent a follow-up five (business) days later, despite my desire to just let things lie, and I got a response within five minutes that led to an internship offer. Follow-up emails work. They do. And it is okay to send one! It can be necessary! Most people just need a reminder, especially academics, because their inboxes are the stuff of nightmares. Yes, you need to send that follow-up email. Really.
As long as you are covering these bases, you’re sending a good email. After all—and this is certainly what I forget—an email is about clear communication, not creating groundbreaking and revelatory prose. You just need to get your message across. There are humans at the other end, most of the time, and even if they won’t always reply (if they reply) with what you want to hear, they will understand you at a basic, linguistic level.
Please send that email. Please. Even if you think you’re bothering the person (if you are, they just won’t respond, and it’s fine). Even if it seems silly. Put it on schedule-send if you have to, make a friend read over it to assure that you sound like a person, get someone else to press the damn button. But send the email.
at what cost… via my tired, tired little brain