I am currently studying a published article as part of an undergraduate research project I am doing. I am having difficulty understanding specific parts as the article is quite dense and makes some leaps in logic that I am having trouble following. The article is of a mathematical/computer science nature and suppresses many details.

I would like to email the article's author to ask a question or two, and I am wondering, is this appropriate? If I were a post-doc or something I would not hesitate. My concern is that as an undergraduate, perhaps my questions will be silly and/or a waste of time for the author. Or worse yet, I am concerned that it is inappropriate for an undergraduate to email at all. Can anyone offer some comments on this?

Some relevant info:
- I have studied the problem and am unable to answer the questions thus far.
- My supervisor does not know the answer either and would have to study the paper (my job) to determine the answer.

As noted, this is nearly identical to a question asked by a Masters student, but I feel it justifies its own responses. My concern here is that I may be asking questions that would be obvious to a Master's student.

  • 1
    While you are an undergraduate student and the author of the marked duplicate is a masters student, I believe the answers there directly apply to your situation as well.
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 18:40
  • The difference between an advanced undergraduate student and a new masters student is, I'm afraid, vanishingly small :) (It is not at all unusual for my undergraduate research students to be "better" than some of my masters students.) Also, if your supervisor does not know the answer to your questions, they are not likely to be "silly and/or a waste of time".
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 18:55
  • @ff524 OK, thanks for the info! Do you agree with mikeazo, to leave out that I am an undergraduate in my correspondence? Also, should I be letting my supervisor know of my intention to email the author before doing so?
    – 1west
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 18:59
  • 1
    I think it's nice etiquette to just introduce yourself professionally when contacting someone, e.g. "Hello, I am 1west and I am an undergraduate research assistant working with Professor 2east at the University of North South." etc. And of course since you're name-dropping your advisor's name, you should let them know. (As it says in the answers to this question).
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


It is definitely appropriate. Further, I wouldn't even tell the author that you are an undergraduate. Just tell them you read their paper as part of a research project and had a few questions. Should be as simple as that.

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