I am really in trouble. I am doing my MA thesis on wireless sensor networks, and I have a source code with more than 16 files and each one more than 5000 lines. It's very complex and has no documentation and that source code is all I have to do my thesis.

I am totally dependent on the author's help. I have been working on his code for almost three months now but because of the lack of documentation, my progress is very very slow. Also, my supervisor has no knowledge of the concept or the source code, and I have no time to change the supervisor, concept or source code.

So, how I can tell the author of the code please help me? How can I make him willing to help? What should I tell him in the emails?

By the way, he answered my questions in the past. I asked three questions and he answered them. I've previously asked about the etiquette of repeated emails to him in this question.

But I need his help like semi-supervisor. By the way he is a kind person as far as I know.

  • 24
    "I asked three questions and he answered them. But I need his help like semi-supervisor." I really think you are asking for / expecting too much.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 12:05
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    This question is presumably related to your previous question, "What is the etiquette for repeatedly emailing questions to an author whose work I'm building on?" Did you follow the advice given in an answer you've already accepted there?
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 16:46
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    I can't talk for others, but in order to make me willing to help you to the level that I suspect you want the paper's author to help you, you would have to pay me a substantial amount of money.
    – emory
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 0:35
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    If you are doing something non-trivial on top of the original paper, you can suggest a collaboration, with the goal of eventually writing a paper together. But that would only work if you are bringing enough to the table. Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 2:34
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    If you are indeed "totally dependent upon the author's help", you are doing the wrong project.
    – keshlam
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 5:02

1 Answer 1


No one can really 'make' anyone willing to help you. However, some things to consider that may convince the author to help. In your email communications:

  • demonstrate your understanding of the source code.

  • Be specific in what you ask - don't do the "I don't get any of this" type of message. Use your understanding, research and testing to help focus your questions.

Make sure you have your understandings and questions ready before you email, do not send multiple emails before they have a chance to reply and try and put most, if not all of your questions in a single email. Be patient when waiting for a reply and be courteous and thankful for information provided.

Have your supervisor/advisor look over your questions before sending it (if you're unsure).

Remember, most of all, the author is under no obligation to even reply, and definitely not under any obligation to do your work for you. Bear in mind that they will have time-taking obligations and duties that take priority.

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    I am not a computer scientist but, as for the first point, there are probably ways to efficiently analyze a 16 part source code. For example, I would focus first on the organization of the source code: it is more likely to be divided into a lot of small functions. How are they connected? Which functions call which one? Which are the main functions and which one do only routine operations? With that chart, you may have a clearer picture of the project. There may be softwares to automatically do this task.
    – Taladris
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:32
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    "How to make somebody do something" - is already the wrong way to put it. The external author has no responsibility or obligation to you. On work one wereinterested oneself to see being used externally, one probably would be ready to do 3-4 exchanges of email and then perhaps one exchange per month on average or so. But a semi-supervision is not something one can expect undertake, unless: the project interests one so strongly because one wants to create further publications/projects out of it; if your work is very strong, that's an offer you may extend. But, be ready to be rebuffed. Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 12:43

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