I am working at my thesis and I have some doubts about the application of a method explained in one of the books I read to learn about the topic.

Shall I write an email to the author (which is a university professor in another country) to ask for clarifications?

I already talked about my doubts to my advisor but he could not help me because he never work on this kind of topics.

  • 6
    You can give it a try. Many researchers are nice and will answer to questions that only take a few minutes to answer. But please avoid the word "doubt". That sounds like as if you are questioning the correctness or usefulness of the method, which you do not intend to do, and can easily perceived to be very rude. Just call it a "question". See english.stackexchange.com/questions/2429/… for an explanation, especially regarding what "doubt" means to people in the UK or the US.
    – DCTLib
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 15:38
  • @DCTLib I think anyone who works with many students from India will be familiar with this common Indian English-ism and would not take offense
    – ff524
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 15:45
  • 6
    @ff525 Very true. Not all universities have a lot of Indian students, though, and the OP simply stated "another country". So in any case, it is safer to write "question".
    – DCTLib
    Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 15:51
  • Yes you should. Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 21:46
  • By the way, he answered :)
    – Rhei
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


Yes, you can certainly ask. But here are some suggestions to increase your chances of getting a useful answer.

  • Before contacting the author, make a diligent effort to resolve the question for yourself. Check other books or resources that you think might have the answer. If there is someone else at your institution who is an expert in this area, consider asking them. If there is an active StackExchange site for your field, consider asking there!

  • Put some effort into writing a question that clearly and concisely expresses what you are asking, and that can be easily understood and answered with a minimum of effort. If the author can't understand what you are asking, or it is extremely long or complicated, she might not be willing to invest a lot of time trying to figure it out. If you are unsure whether it is clear enough, or whether the English is understandable, consider asking someone (such as your advisor) to proofread it. (You might read through Raymond and Moen's essay "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way".)

  • If you are asking about something that you think may be an error in the author's work, it is safer to express it as "I don't understand this" instead of "I think you are wrong". It will be less embarrassing if they turn out to have been right.

  • Write in a way that makes it clear that you aren't asking a homework question or anything like that.

  • In general, your chances of getting a useful response are better if you are asking about a more specialized work that has relatively few readers. If it's a lower-level, introductory, or extremely popular text, consider looking for help elsewhere.

  • Be patient. Professors are usually very busy, and responding to questions about their books is usually among their lowest priorities. I would give them at least 3-4 weeks; if no response by then, you could send one followup email. If you don't get a response to that, then it's likely they are too busy to respond or not interested: stop emailing them, and look elsewhere for help.

  • Absolutely. Be aware that you are asking for a favor, that they are under no obligation to respond at all, that they'll be annoyed if you waste their time with anything you should have been able to find or figure out yourself, and that the easier you make it for them to understand and answer your question, the more likely they'll respond. Just as here on Stack Exchange, ask smart questions and help them help you.
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 6:06

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