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I want to pose some questions to a professor who doesn't know me at all. It's important for me to ask my questions politely. The problem is that I even don't know how to start. This is what I want to say :

Hello Mr X. I am Mr Y from Z-university. I have some questions about big data analysis. Can I ask them of you?

Note : I know that it may be ridiculous for English people to ask it this way. But please, correct my text with reasons. For example if it's not polite to call him Mr X, why? And what is the right way to do that?

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, Nathan Tuggy, Hellion, ColleenV, Em. Jul 7 '16 at 19:52

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    As a start I would use title. Not "Mr." but e.g. "Professor X", i.e. "Dear Professor X," – but as a non English speaker etc. I do not dare to post an answer ;-P – user129107 Jul 7 '16 at 17:23
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    A minor correction: you want to ask questions to the professor, or of the professor, but not "from" the professor. – stangdon Jul 7 '16 at 17:23
  • Isn't putting some question to the professor equal to asking him those questions in order to get his answers to them? – Lamplighter Jul 7 '16 at 17:48
  • @stangdon: I think you can only pose or put questions to someone, not ask (which as you rightly say works with of). – FumbleFingers Jul 7 '16 at 17:57
  • @Arman Malekzade: Can you confirm that you're asking about how to approach this situation in a spoken context? Current answers assume you're asking about a written form - where you'd either have to waste both yours and the professor's time waiting for him to send a reply saying Yes, you can ask me questions, or risk seeming presumptive / rude if you carry on and present your questions in the first letter / email without waiting for "permission". – FumbleFingers Jul 7 '16 at 18:03
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I would recommend something a little more formal. For instance,

Dear Professor X,

I am [First and Last Name] from Z University. I have a few questions about big data analysis that I believe you are especially qualified to answer. I know you have limited time, but I would greatly appreciate any assistance or advice you could offer me.

Here are my questions:

Etc.

Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,

[First and Last Name]

This format is more respectful and acknowledges your awareness that Professor X has lots of other work, and that helping you would be a valuable courtesy.

  • "Thank you...for your consideration" sounds like you're applying for a position. Could you change that to e.g. "Thank you very much for your time"? I think that would flow better. – Pierce Darragh Jul 7 '16 at 18:03
  • @PierceDarragh - Point well taken. I intended it to mean, "Thank you very much for your consideration [of my request for assistance with my questions]," but I prefer your wording and will edit my answer. Thank you. – Mark Hubbard Jul 7 '16 at 18:09
  • I figured that's what you meant, but it seemed a little odd on its own. Thanks for the edit! Have an upvote! :) – Pierce Darragh Jul 7 '16 at 18:09
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Having written to professors before, there is indeed a specific way of going about it. Some of this is just general advice on politeness, so maybe this is better moved to another community?

Mark Hubbard also has a very good letter, so I suggest you look over both of ours to understand how to be polite in this context.

In general, I would write the letter like so:

Dear Dr. X,

I am Mr. Y from the Q department of Z-University. I am working on a P-subject project that requires big data analysis. If possible, I would like to ask you some questions regarding big data analysis.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this email. I await your reply.

Sincerely,

Mr. Y

Firstly, does the person you're writing to have a Ph.D? If so, they should be addressed as Dr. X, rather than Mr. This is because having a doctorate is considered prestigious and important to not ignore. If they don't have a doctorate, then I would default to calling them Professor X, because professorship is also prestigious.

Secondly, you should indicate your department and the subject of the project you're working on. This way the professor knows what sort of questions you'll be asking.

Since you're being formal, instead of asking whether you can ask a question, you should frame your request using a word like would or could.

If possible, I would like to ask you some questions.

If possible, could I ask you some questions?

These are conditionals and indicate that you are uncertain that you will be allowed to ask questions. This is polite because you are not assuming Dr. X will answer the questions, but are hoping he can.

Thirdly, you should thank them for reading the email and indicate that you wish to hear from them (politely). This shows you respect them, but also that you would like to hear from them regarding whether you can ask questions.

Fourthly, you should close off you letter with Sincerely. Literally, sincerely means in "in a sincere or genuine way", but in English it's used as a formal way of closing letters.

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