I found this question, but it does not exactly match what I would like to ask. In my case, it's almost surely appropriate to send the e-mail (since my adviser suggested it), I'm just wandering as to what is the best way to formulate such an e-mail.

The situation

The situation is that there is this bigshot researcher in my field, who designed an experimental framework that is very widely used (which I want to use now). In the paper describing the framework (not so recent, ~2005), he compares 5 (then) state-of-the-art methods, and those 5 are still used as comparison references. The problem is that, even though implementations for the reference methods are provided, I can not find the parameters used to initialize the method.

It is stated in the paper that the parameters suggested by original authors of the methods are used, but, after weeks of digging through the framework paper, papers introducing the method for the first time, and even trying to guess the parameters so they match the ones used, I still can not get the ones used. Since I want to test the method with slight modifications and not just use it as reference, I can not re-use the implementation provided but instead need to run my implementation with parameters I can not find, and introduce modifications to that.

In short

So, to summarize and generalize: After a few weeks of looking for it, I can not find some parameters used in a (seminal framework) work published in 2005. These parameters are not needed to reproduce the work, but are important in extending it. My adviser suggested e-mailing the author of the paper (who is a well known in the community), but since he is so well know and I'm a lowly PhD student I feel kind of uncomfortable sending this e-mail.

The question

I do understand that this is probably the best (and possibly only) approach to getting the information I need, even if it is not very probable that it will work. With that (and my fear of bigshot academics) in mind, my questions are:

  • How to best write such an email? Besides the basics (be polite and concise) I don't know where to even start.
  • Do you have any advice on how to increase the chances of getting a reply? Maybe including my adviser in the CC of the e-mail would be a good idea, indicating my relation to a more established academic?
  • 1
    Related (duplicate?) academia.stackexchange.com/q/356/102
    – user102
    Oct 30, 2013 at 10:55
  • 1
    @CharlesMorisset Uh, sorry, I didn't see that one. It is surely related. But the only answer, and especially the question, don't seem to focus on how to as one, specific question (asking for info) but rather on how to initiate a discussion on a research problem. Or so it seems to me, at least.
    – penelope
    Oct 30, 2013 at 11:00
  • 1
    Be polite, add your adviser in the CC and explain (succinctly) what you want to do and why you need the parameters. He will find some subordinate to send the parameters and get one more citation.
    – Trylks
    Oct 30, 2013 at 11:01
  • Could the downvoter please explain where the problem is with the question? I always try to follow suggestions and make my questions/answers as good as possible. If this is about the duplicate, please just vote to close/merge the questions. They don't feel like duplicates to me, but I'm good with whatever the community decides.
    – penelope
    Oct 30, 2013 at 14:18
  • An alternative way to approach the task (if not the question) would be to ask on Stackoverflow. It may be possible to obtain the parameters from the executable by debugging or reverse engineering.
    – George
    Oct 30, 2013 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


Your chances of a reply will correlate quite strongly with two factors:

  1. How interesting your problem is.
  2. How long it will take the professor to respond.

Thus, you should:

  • Make everything as brief as possible, yet still include all necessary information.
  • Ask yes, no, or short-answer questions that the professor will know off the top of his/her head. Ask for references to a paper, or for whole pieces of code: not the embedded details.
  • Briefly mention that you're a PhD student at Fake University, supervised by Professor Jones (if the prof you're contacting likes your supervisor's work, that's a good start).
  • Hey, thanks for your answer. But, for the 1. point you mentioned: my whole research is vast and complex and potentially interesting (to him). But, what I need is a small piece of data, a parameter used in testing (similar would be e.g. environment temperature for chemistry) - not very interesting. And, a "whole piece" is already provided -- there's an executable file (with all the parameters hardcoded) which allows me to reproduce the experiment. However, there's no actual program code (to dig through) or references to parameter values (which would allow me to modify the experiment).
    – penelope
    Oct 30, 2013 at 13:05
  • Right, but there must be some source code then if it's a compiled piece of software. I was not aware there was some published software, rather than just a described algorithm (the prof may be unwilling to share the whole source code). What I mean is to make an open-ended question which lets him/her do things however its easiest for them - i.e. do you still have the parameters handy, or a log file where I can find them?
    – Moriarty
    Oct 30, 2013 at 20:36

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