It is that crunch time of the semester. You are finishing your final papers and preparing for the final exams. You aren’t entirely sure that you understand the material or what you are supposed to do.
It is very important that you ask the right questions, especially if you are taking online courses. When I teach in person, I often rely on students’ expressions to let me know if they are confused. Not everyone is brave enough to ask a question to help clarify an assignment or lecture point. Online, though, it is hard to gauge what students have questions about if they don’t ask.
No question is stupid. If you are confused and have a question, chances are that someone else does, too. So ask it. Take a deep breath and raise your hand, visit the professor during office hours or send a clearly worded email. If one person asks me a question privately, I will usually share the answer with the class (without saying who the student was, of course) because I assume that they will benefit from the answer.
Before asking the question, review your materials and refer to them in your question. Re-read the syllabus and assignment sheets. Look over your notes. Then, when you formulate your question, be very precise. Refer back to the assignment sheet and ask about a particular point. Or name a text that confuses you and state where you become lost. If you are meeting with the professor, bring your class texts, assignment sheets and a printed draft of your paper.
I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received that say things like, “I don’t get it” or “What do you want me to do?” In those cases, I don’t know what the student is referring to or where to begin to help him or her. I have to write back, ask for more clarity and then the student has to wait for my second response. The student could return to working on the paper more quickly if the original question was more specific.
I am happy to help students work through tangles in their papers. I can be most helpful when the students send me copies of the entire paper as well as the paragraph or point that baffles them. For example, instead of sending an email with a general question about MLA citations, why not send the line you are citing and your Works Cited page? This information allows me to more helpful.
Your professors are a resource for you, just like the library, internet and your classmates. Take advantage of every opportunity to grow as a writer.