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I am a final year student in India and have been selected to do my final year project abroad in a German university. The professor sent me a programming assignment to do 3 weeks ago; the assignment was to be on JSF (Java Server Faces). Instead, I misread it as JSP (Java Server Pages) and have been working on that ever since.

So recently I re-read the initial email detailing the assignment and I realized my blunder. I have to submit the code with JSF but I will need an extension from my professor. I want to write a professional apology letter but I am unable to find the right words.

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    Don't worry about a "professional apology letter." Just write an email (or meet in person) and say what you've said here. – Roger Fan Dec 21 '15 at 21:44
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    The only thing that should be in the e-mail but is not in the question is what you intend to do to avoid similar mistakes in the future. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 21 '15 at 21:46
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    While it doesn't mean all is lost, be aware (and consider while writing your e-mail) that the assignment may be just as much about your capabilities to adhere to stated requirements as it may be about the actual programming skills. As such, you may want to approach the apology (no matter in which form in comes) with a stance of "I did a part of the assignment wrong." rather than with a stance like "I did the whole assignment correctly, I just used another framework." – O. R. Mapper Dec 21 '15 at 23:17
  • @O.R.Mapper If the requirements were really written as acronyms, with only a small difference in one letter between the two, I would consider that a pretty harsh assignment. – Jessica B Dec 22 '15 at 8:08
  • @JessicaB: I cannot agree with that; acronyms/names for distinct technologies are often very similar. Likewise, I wouldn't say that accidentally using C++ is a less severe mistake than accidentally using Java when C# was requested, just because "C++" is lexicographically closer to "C#" than "Java" (in fact, the Java code will probably be much closer to what was expected than the C++ code). In a non-CS example, I wouldn't say getting erroneously flown to LAH when you wanted to go to LAX is a lesser mistake than getting erroneously flown to CGK, even though "LAH" and "LAX" are much more similar. – O. R. Mapper Dec 22 '15 at 9:49
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The first key question that I think you need to consider is the reason why the professor has asked you to do this assignment. Is it for your educational benefit, or is it so that the professor can evaluate your capabilities as a programmer? Often, when dealing with students, especially foreign students, a professor will pose assignments as a way of gaining more insight into the students actual as opposed to "on paper" knowledge and skills. You are also in a situation where even if you have been working hard for the past few weeks, the professor has no way of observing that, and may gain an impression of you as a person who slacks off and makes excuses.

Given these two statements, my recommendation would be to send a short email containing the following three items:

  1. A short statement of your mistake, just as you gave here.
  2. A short polite request for an extension, including an estimate of how many days you will need to finish the assignment correctly.
  3. An attachment of all of the work that you have produced thus far (or link to it, if is is more an ~1MB in size, to avoid possible email bounce problems)

Attaching the work that you have done will allow the professor to make use of it in deciding how to interpret your mistake and request for extension. Assuming you've been doing solid work, they will be more likely to a) not evaluate you as a slacker and b) actually grant the extension. Moreover, if the specifics of the assignment was less important than the quality of the work you produce, the professor might even change the assignment to match what you have done.

  • For 3), I'd say the link is better in all cases, and say something to the effect of "In case you wanted to see the (virtually finished) work that I have done, it's located at [url]." That way it's included, but it's less pushy then going ahead and sending it directly. – user0721090601 Dec 21 '15 at 23:07
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    @guifa I would much rather receive a 100K attachment that I can ignore if I choose than have to redirect through some random third-party website that I may not trust and that might require me to do a bunch of stupid login crap just to download a file. If you can avoid the third-party site, though, a link is likely OK. – jakebeal Dec 21 '15 at 23:11
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    @jakebeal Personally, if possible I'd always prefer a link to github or something over an attachment. – Roger Fan Dec 21 '15 at 23:33
  • I'd suggest that instead of asking for a number of days of extension, provide a concrete date and time. It's one step fewer for the professor to figure out if your extension is earlier/later than the grade due. – Penguin_Knight Dec 22 '15 at 13:38
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Lieber Herr Professor G,

ach, meine Güte, after working intensely for the last three weeks on the interesting assignment you gave me, I just realized I misread JSF (Java Server Faces) in your instructions and thought it said JSP (Java Server Pages). If you would like to take a look at what I did in JSP, here is a link: [link].

I apologize for my mistake. Would you like me to re-do the assignment in Java Server Faces, as I believe you originally intended? I estimate it would take me about two weeks. May I send it to you on [date]?

Sincerely,
Student

(Don't wait to hear back before you get started. Prof. G will most likely say it's fine, go ahead. Or Prof. G might say Don't bother, I like what you did. But I can tell that you'll want to re-do it anyway, for your own satisfaction -- so go for it.)

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    Is this answer serious? – Jessica B Dec 22 '15 at 8:11
  • @JessicaB - What don't you like about this sample email? Would you mind starting fresh and posting a sample email yourself, to show a better approach? – aparente001 Dec 22 '15 at 13:04
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    @aparente001 you lost me at "oh my goodness" – Phil Dec 22 '15 at 13:32
  • I feel that not knowing how well OP and the professor know each other, the suggested tone in the letter may risk to be too informal. – Penguin_Knight Dec 22 '15 at 13:40
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    Ach, jetzt verstehe ich! – cag51 Apr 3 at 2:29

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