How To Ask Questions

Asking questions effectively is very important as a student but also after you graduate throughout your careers. The reason is that it will make it easier to answer the question for the person you posed it to, thus making it more likely that you will receive help. On this page we list several steps that you can follow for guidance. Here they are:

  1. Actually ask questions. It is not uncommon that students are not willing to ask questions, for varying reasons. Sometimes it is just shyness, other times it is the (incorrect) assumption that they are already supposed to know all the answers after a lecture, and then there are other reasons as well. However, to receive help it is your responsibility to ask questions otherwise your professor will not know that you have them until it usually is too late (e.g., when grading midterms or finals). Also note that we can quite enjoy answering questions, and it is our job to help you.
  2. Make sure to ask the question to the right person. Of course, asking your professor is always fine. If you ask other students in the same course, that usually works out as well. But be careful asking outsiders, as they are not taking the course and may not be fully aware of all the relevant details. For example, we use MySQL in the database course and if you ask and outsider that knows a different database, the answer may not be very useful (sometimes detrimental) because of the differences between databases.
  3. Include some background information on what the question pertains to. This may seem obvious, but a little bit of context about the course, which module, what assignment, etc. makes it much easier for the professor (who may be pressed for time) to answer the question.
  4. Ask the question. Explain what you do not understand, what does not work, what is different than you expected, etc., and be as precise as possible. If the question is unclear we cannot help (or have to guess).
  5. List what you have already tried to answer the question. This is important for two reasons: (1) it shows that you already put in effort to solve it on your own, and (2) it will prevent suggestions that you have already tried and thus are not useful.
  6. If possible, include any relevant materials such as screenshots, source code files, Excel files, etc. Screenshots can be a very effective way to communicate a question because it is easy to do and quite often the solution is obvious from seeing the problem. When encountering a programming bug you must include the relevant source code file(s) or at least a snippet, otherwise it is almost impossible to debug. Sometimes other files can be relevant as well, such as an Excel file in which a formula is not working properly.

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