As a student, there will eventually be times when you have problems with the material you're trying to learn. It's inevitable; if it doesn't happen, the courses are too easy.
When this happens, you'll probably want to ask somebody for help. Experience tells me that many people really have no idea how to ask for help in a useful way, so they actually get a useful answer.
- Before you ask a question, look for the answer elsewhere. often, many students have the same questions and they have been answered on the course web site, email list, in lecture, or in other course materials. Not many people have a patience to answer a question that they've already given you the answer to.
- Make sure you're asking the right person. In large courses, the instructor can't handle all of the queries from students and will ask you to ask the TAs when you have problems with the course material.
- When asking a question by email, write grammatical, clear sentences. We aren't your instant messaging buddies and don't want to wade through half sentences and exclamation points.
- Give specific information about the problem. Remember, that you're hoping that the person you're asking can actually come up with the answer. There's no way for somebody to give a useful response to "I can't get my assignment to work, how can I fix it?"
- Tell us what you've already tried. This will help us figure out exactly the problem you're having and save time by avoiding suggestions that you've already tried. It also lets us know that you've put some effort into the problem before asking for help. This is important: we don't want to help you step-by-step through the work, but are there to help when you can't continue.
- When writing programs, copy-and-paste or print any relevant error messages or sections of code. This will let us more accurately diagnose what's going on. Getting "there was some error… something to do with the array" doesn't help much, but happens all the time.
- Don't panic. Questions asked in a frenzy often give the impression that you expect us to drop everything and answer your question right now! This doesn't create any good will on our part.