Don't write mass emails (2): how (not) to ask for help

Shows some typical student emails asking for help out of the blue

Every week, I receive many emails from students who seem to think I run a free essay writing service. It is bad enough if you write to completely unknown academics expecting them to do your assignments for you. However, it never ceases to amaze me how truly awful some of these emails are. I guess that’s one of the reasons why these students ask for help, they are just not smart enough to complete their own assignments. This is one of my favourites.

Cute girl email

From: cute girl []

hello  MR .Anne-Wil Harzing

my name is amna I am from Oman I doing reserch about HR in japan Ineed your help. I read some article that you write it so intersting but that not answer my question which are prepare a report outlining the key HR practices in japan country.

The relevant HR areas include recruitment & selection, training & development, compensation and labor relations.

my best regard

What's going wrong here?

  1. The sender’s name is “cute girl”
  2. The email is sent from a hotmail address, not a university address
  3. It doesn’t have a subject line
  4. The greeting “hello” is far too informal
  5. The sender assumes every academic must be a Mr.
  6. Capitalisation, spelling, interpunction, and grammar are all atrocious
  7. The message is extremely generic “I read some article that you write”
  8. The message mixes three different fonts (unfortunately not visible in this blog)
  9. The message doesn’t actually include a specific request apart from “Ineed your help”
  10. The message does not include a name at the end

The only sentence in the email that makes any sense is the one reproducing the assignment, no doubt copied from the course manual. :-)

PhD students are not much better

Incidentally, this is by no means limited to what we must presume is an UG/masters student. This is an email I recently received from a PhD student. I feel sorry for their supervisor!

Hello Madam 

This Al-mattari a Ph.D Student , As matter of fact i am lacking in caring my research out as i am a fresh candidate in such filed . To day out of blue , i got your email Id.

I am writing to you in order to give me a  hand ,please . whereas i am doing my dissertation in your interest area : international management ..

My Ph.D topic is much similar to yours,  it is about "  Global Human resource :- current Trends " ,,   " international Human resource Management  "

I would be thankful if You show some interest to my request ..Thank in Advance

A good example! 15 June 2022 update

Fortunately, there are some good examples too. Here is a great email from one of our Middlesex University PhD students: Emanuela Bove. It is perfect: respectful, considerate, specific, flawless in terms of composition, and in good English with an interesting Italian twist. Note that the use of my first name is absolutely fine in the UK (see How to address your lecturer?).

Dear Anne-Wil,

My name is Emanuela Bove, and I'm PhD candidate in Semiotics/Food studies.

I attended - and greatly enjoyed - your seminars about Literature Review a few months ago, at the beginning of my academic journey.

I'm contacting you now because I have a perplexity pertinent to the literature review, and I wonder if you could help me with it.

Before giving you any additional information, though, I'd like to ask you your permission to move one with my question. Furthermore, if you are fine with that, I'd like to know which contact modality you prefer (for me, ideally, it would be a short but effective video call, although I'd be grateful for any other way).

I look forward to your reply.
Thank you, Emanuela

Emanuela is also smart enough to remind me where exactly I met her before. Even though I still remembered her from the lecture as she was a very engaged student, this is always a good thing to do with busy academics. I am sure Emanuela will go far in her PhD and (academic) career.

Emanuela and I ended up having a nice email exchange. I was able to help her with her questions about her literature review and the exchange ended with my request to feature her email in this blogpost and Emanuela saying:

Through your remarks, you turned my request for help into an insightful window into your world, indirectly answering many other questions, inspiring me to rely more on my own abilities, and - granted that re-watching training videos is a possibility - building my self-confidence. I believe this is serendipity in academia.

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