How to address your Professor & Email writing

I often encounter students having problems or being insecure on how to correctly address their teachers in English, so here comes a small guide:

Meeting your Prof.  

If you meet a teacher for the first time you can address him or her with their last (family) name, for example: "Hello Professor Schwertfeger". Never just address your Prof. with his first (given) name - that is impolite. Also Prof. Sören is not proper. In case the last name is difficult to pronounce, either try to say it anyways (we appreciate your effort!) or find a proper alternative. For example, if your Prof. also has a Chinese name, use that - e.g. "Hello Shi Laoshi". Just "Professor" is also OK. Pronounciation guide: Sören Schwertfeger

Once you know your Prof. a little, maybe as his student or being a TA of his course, you can address him with his first (given) name. If in doubt call him "Professor" - he would tell you to call him by his first name soon enough.

Writing an email to your Prof.

There are several rules for writing a good email to your prof.:

  • Fill in a proper subject in the subject line, stating the main point of your email
  • Address your prof. properly - e.g.: "Dear Professor Schwertfeger" or "Dear Dr. Schwertfeger" (use the family name) - not "Hi Sören" nor "Dear Prof. Sören"
  • In the text be consice and short, but also provide all critical information.
  • Write a formal ending, followed by your name in Pinyin (If you are writing in English the receipient most likely cannot read Chinese, so put your name in Pinyin!).


Subject: Signature for IST retaking form

Dear Prof. Schwertfeger,

I am retaking the Introduction to Information Science and Technology course this semester. Since the course time conflicts with another course of mine I'd like to ask you to excuse me from attending the lectures and signing the according form. When would you be available?

Hao Chen

That being said, after the initial email, replies and responses on the same topic can be very brief without formal addresses - but they should still have a good subject line!

Further Comments

  • Give the Prof. time to respond. Profs. are usually quite busy and often delay email responses to a certain time of day. Also Prof. might hadle responses based on the urgency of a reply.
  • If your case is urgent and your Prof. doesn't reply to your emial, send him a second or even third email. If in doubt go to his office for a personal meeting.

Further reading: