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How to email your TA (from a TA)

by Jackie Brown

It's your least favourite time of year: midterm season. That means late nights in the library, reviewing lectures and textbooks, hopefully still finding time for self-care, and maybe reaching out to your TAs or course instructors for support or help.

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TAs and course instructors receive A LOT of emails every semester. Although it's our job to help you (and we really love helping), sometimes it can be difficult to reply to emails that are unclear or confusing. Follow these tips to write more effective emails to your TAs:

Is it in the syllabus?

If the answer to your question can be found in the course syllabus, a document explaining the expectations of an assignment, or in an announcement on BlackBoard, PLEASE don't email your TA about it. If you have a question about something in the syllabus/course content then ask away!

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Be as specific as possible

Emailing your TA saying, "I don't understand question #14" or "How do I get an “A” on the assignment?" is very vague. What is it about the question that you don't understand? Is there any portion of the assignment that you are having difficulty with? Being super specific helps us answer your question in a way that is most helpful for you.

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Be concise 

Email should be used to answer quick questions, concerns, or receive feedback on a grade. Your email doesn't have to be a work of art, keep it short and sweet and get to your main concern.

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Be polite

As I said, it's your TA's job to help you, but please and thank you go a long way and can help your email stand out for the right reasons.

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Always address TAs by their name

My name is not "TA.” If you're sending me an e-mail you, have my name - so call me that instead!

 

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TA's are not tutors

Asking a TA to review your assignment before handing it in or to meet one-on-one for extra help is usually inappropriate. Understand your TAs role in the course. Are they only grading assignments? Do they have office hours? Ask them for help that they can provide within reason. Check out the Student Learning Centre if you need extra help with a course.

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Make use of discussion boards

If you have a question about an assignment or a concept, it's likely that other students have the same question too. Your peers may also be able to provide you with an answer. Instead of emailing your TA, consider posting in a discussion board on BlackBoard so your peers and course instructors can discuss the question together.

 

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Assess if your question/concern is best suited to email or in-person discussion.

If you are having a lot of difficulty understanding a large concept or have many questions about an upcoming assignment, it is likely best to head to office hours and have an in-person discussion. It can be a lot easier to explain a concept and answer multiple questions in a quick meeting, or even after class, than to send and reply to long-winded emails.

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In sum, remember that your TAs and instructors are human too! Be nice and polite, understand that we can’t read your mind and know that sometimes it's best to talk in-person than over email. Best of luck with the rest of your semester and know that your TAs are here to support you!