There are certain emails from students that I don’t like. In fact, I actually find them rather rude. Here is one such message in its entirety: “I have misplaced my syllabus and need a new one.” There is no greeting – no “Hello Eleni” or even just a “Hi.” There is no sign off at all – no name, no clue who has sent this message to me besides the student email address at the top based on just the initials of my student’s name (so is SZC16 my student Samuel, Sebastian, Sarah, Sean, Siva, Shan or… and which of my courses is this student enrolled in?).
Above all, there is no “thanks” or any kind of acknowledgement that they are making a request of another human being. It’s an order. From someone. For one of my syllabi.
Now I don’t believe those students who write emails such as the one above are in fact inherently rude. Used to sending text messages hundreds of times a day mainly to their friends all day long, every day, they are unused to the fact that perhaps certain situations require different forms of writing, that perhaps in this case they need something to “open” and “close” an email.
While I would agree with Matthew Malady’s article that most of us have lost the art of letter writing – the post office’s losses is the economic manifestation of that – I don’t agree that the sign off is over. Coming from a strong belief in the value of rhetoric, I teach that there is a time and a place for different writing tools and approaches – or strategies as I call them in class – and writing an email to one’s instructor/professor still maintains a level of formality where the sign off is required. While I may have a more personal, more casual relationship than the school teachers in Dicken’s Hard Times, a relationship where the traditional “sincerely” or “faithfully” would be a little too much, some acknowledgement that there is indeed a human presence at the other end of a digital message (and this would be true not just in one’s final remark but throughout the message as a whole) would be polite and engaging, not a stupid anachronism or a waste of time.