The trick to getting what you want? Ask for it.

As an online student, you are probably familiar with the art of writing emails (yes, the art). What you might not have as much experience with is writing emails that ask someone (who you probably have never met face-to-face) for something. Want to revisit a grade? Want a letter of recommendation? Whatever you want, you are going to have to ask for it.

Luckily, asking for things over email has its perks. You have the time to formulate a concise, coherent request and you can sound like a professional while in your pajamas. There are a few caveats and tips that apply to writing effective emails, especially when those emails contain requests.

  • Consider who you are asking: Start with figuring out who you need to ask. Are you asking for a letter of reference? Think about faculty members who you have had for several semesters, who can speak to your progress and growth. Want an extension? Ask the instructor or teaching assistant and provide an explanation – not an excuse – as to why you deserve one. Not sure who to ask? Find a person who you believe to be associated with your request, and it never hurts to add “if you are not the appropriate person to address this, please redirect me to the correct person.”
  • Keep it short and sweet: In a recent article published by Medium, entrepreneur and businessman Brian Fitzpatrick gave some fantastic advice about asking for things. He abides by one simple rule: Three bullets and a call to action. Include a maximum of three bullets explaining the issue at hand and finish with one call to action, or request. This technique will help with keeping the email short (no one wants to read a fat, lengthy block of text).

We are often inclined to give more details and editorial colour than is necessary. Keeping your email read time to less than 15 seconds will be much appreciated by busy instructors and professionals.

  • One request per email: Sticking to one request per email keeps the email centered around one issue. Having several unrelated requests gives the recipient a chance to overlook or ignore some of your appeals.
  • Formalities: Try to address the recipient by their name (I find this keeps them more accountable than a “To who it may concern” or a “Sir or Madam.”) Always end with a friendly sign off that is appropriate for the context of the email. In other words, “Sincerely,” “Best,” and “Thanks,” are all safe bets; ending with “Let me know,” and, “Looking forward to hearing back from you,” are good reminders of the call to action. Read over your email several times before hitting that send button because once you do, there is no going back.
  • Extra notes: Keep in mind that you are asking someone for something – your emails should be laden with respect, humility, and politeness.

It never hurts to ask and with the right email, you will find that those who are able to help you are usually more than willing – in my experience, that is especially true of instructors.

By Bianca Chan, BJ 2017 (Carleton)

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