With the semester in full swing and projects coming due, now’s the time when most people are sending a flurry of frantic emails to the professor/TA/any hapless classmate who shared their email. To increase your chance of getting a good response, format your questions like a bug report:

Problem Statement

Provide a clear (and thorough) explanation of the problem. Include any text from the homework problem that is either unclear or related to the problem you’re trying to solve. For example, if the task is:

Build a bridge out of safety pins and glue.

And your having trouble with the safety pins, your email should read:

The tasks says to build a bridge using safety pins but does not specify what type of safety pins. Are there any restrictions on the size or type of safety pin?

The reason for a proving a problem statement is two fold: it provides context to the question and it indicates you’ve carefully read the instructions.

Attempted Solution

Describe anything and everything you’ve done to solve the problem. This both indicates real effort on your part to solve the problem and hopefully prevents the person you’re emailing from just responding with a list of things you’ve already tried. Example:

My bridge keeps falling down. I’m building a suspension bridge using 2 inch safety pins and wood glue. Would you recommend any different material or bridge type?

Extra Information

Provide any extra information that would be helpful to understanding your problem. If it’s software/coding, always provide the text of the error message and any accompanying screenshots of what’s going wrong. If it’s a materials question, link to the materials in question. If you’re trying to build something, take a picture of what you’re trying to build.

These are the type of pins I’m using:

Essentially, err on the side of too much information rather than too little. The more a person knows about what you’re confused about, the better their ability to construct a response without having to send 15 emails fishing for information.

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