Please be polite and considerate

About the importance of appreciating academic volunteers

Many academics engage in some sort of voluntary academic services. They might be maintaining mailing lists, doing committee work for professional organisations, or providing academic resources on their personal website like I do. If you have problems with any of these services, please remember that these academics are providing you a service, often in their spare time. So if you do write them, please try to be polite and considerate.

Publish or Perish technical support

Every week I receive many emails about Publish or Perish, which is a free software programme that I have spent much of my spare time on in the last 15 years. It is used by well over a million academics and students world-wide. Very rarely (maybe once a year), the email is a kind thank-you, expressing gratitude and encouragement and nothing more.

A bit more frequently the email starts out with a brief thank-you before launching into a request for help. 95% of the questions asked are covered in the PoP FAQs or PoP manual; 99.9% of the questions are covered in the PoP Book and/or PoP tutorial. So usually my responses are fairly brief and contain a simple referral to the relevant sections of these sources. But I do always respond.

How not to interact with academic volunteers?

Unfortunately, some of the emails I receive are of one of the following types:

  • Completely cryptic emails: "It doesn’t work" or "I have problems with Harzing" [I even have to guess they are referring to Publish or Perish], "your program has serious bugs" [usually meaning that the user hasn’t bothered to use any of the help resources and is searching incorrectly]
  • Angry emails: "We are all going on strike tomorrow because CNRS applies the Harzing index" [I presume they meant Hirsch’s h-index :-)]
  • Direct orders along the lines of "Here’s my CV, enter my publications in the Harzing database now! You are damaging my career because my publications are not in your system." A variant is blaming me for incorrect data without realising PoP simply draws on data from Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic, CrossRef or other sources. [I am sometimes tempted to reply: If you are foolish enough to think that I sit up there at night entering millions of academic publications in a database you really shouldn’t be an academic.]
  • Fairly offensive emails suggesting that I intentionally exclude publications from certain countries or languages because I discriminate against them. [The simple reason that even comprehensive data sources such as Google Scholar don’t cover every single publication is that not all publications are available online. And even if they are sometimes the publisher has not structured their website in a standard way, so Google Scholar cannot parse it.]
  • Stroppy email exchanges where the recipient [invariably male] keeps implying they know better how Google Scholar and Publish or Perish works than I do, even though they seem to have been using it for 10 minutes and I have been using it every day for nearly 15 years :-). [Sometimes I cannot help wondering: would they react the same way if my website picture had shown a guy in a suit?]

A little courtesy goes a long way

So if you want my assistance with a question to which you cannot find the answer in the PoP manual, the PoP FAQ, the PoP Book or the PoP tutorial, by all means feel free to send me an email. You will find that I am always willing to help, even if the answer can be found in these sources. But please, have the courtesy to be polite and realise that I am providing a free service to you in my spare time. And please apply the same level of consideration to other academics who engage in voluntary service to the academic community.

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