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Sound Writing

Subsection 10.1.3 Making Requests

Professors are amazing resources, which is why it can be so tempting to shoot off a quick email asking if they know of any good sources for your next paper or if they can send you notes for the day of class that you missed. But communicating with professors in a way that’s respectful and effective requires that you think a little bit more about what you’re asking for. One of the the best rules of thumb for interacting with professors is to do as much work ahead of time as you’re about to ask the professor to do for you. If you still need help after taking the steps you should, explain to the professor what you’ve already done, and ask for something specific. This communicates that you’ve been proactive in meeting your needs and gives them a really specific action they can take to help you.

Example 10.1.2. Contacting Your Professor After Missing Class.

For example, instead of this:
Hi professor, I was hoping you could send me your notes for the class I missed yesterday. Did we do anything important?
Try saying:
Hi professor, I met up with Shannon and got their notes from yesterday since I stayed home sick and missed class. They told me you announced our next paper and put the prompt on Canvas, but after looking over the prompt, I realized I’m not sure what it means to “reconstruct the author’s argument without summarizing.” This seems like a really subtle distinction to me; do you mean I should use the same evidence as the author to make the same claim? How is it possible to reconstruct an argument without just saying what the article says? I know you don’t have office hours tomorrow, but I’d like to get started as soon as possible since, as you know, I’ll be away for soccer this weekend. I was hoping I could come by your office for 15 minutes tomorrow to get a clearer picture of what you’re looking for. I’m free before 11 am and from 2–3:30 pm.

Warning 10.1.3. Check Your Bias.

Most students feel more comfortable asking for extensions, favors, or help from some faculty members that they wouldn’t ask for from other professors. One thing that might not cross your mind but should is why that is. It might be that you have great rapport with a professor you know well and you’re sure that it’ll be fine. But it’s also possible that your professor’s identity plays a role in what you think a professor will do for you because implicit bias affects all of our decisions if we’re not careful. Academia operates within broader societal structures (not to mention the ones it creates in addition), and as such most of us are less likely to challenge the policy of professors who are male, white, older, or have been teaching a long time. These aren’t the only identity factors that play a role in how you might see a professor, but they’re worth considering. Think twice about how your professors’ identities influence how you see their responsibility to you, and you can help dismantle the identity-based power structures in academia!
It’s impossible to write a guide on “how to ask any professor for anything in any context,” so rather than even attempting that, we’d like to leave off this section and preface the next section with a few tips that are true in any scenario.
List 10.1.4. Strategies for Making Requests
  • Treat professors like people who deserve respect.
  • Read the syllabus to know the professor’s policy on your request.
    Are you asking for something that they offer to anyone? Are you asking for something that’s not on the syllabus? Are you asking for something that it says they specifically don’t allow? Knowing a professor’s policy is doubly useful because it (1) helps you decide how to frame your request, and (2) shows the professor that you know what you’re doing and informed yourself about their rules.
  • Show the professor how you’ve taken responsibility for your situation and what you’ve already tried to do.
    Show the professor why they’re the right person for you to go to next, and don’t ask one professor for something that you wouldn’t ask another professor for just because you think they’re a pushover.