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How to Email a Stranger

How to Email a Stranger
How to Email a Stranger

    Way back in July of this year, I suggested that one way to add kick to a research paper was to consult an expert. A lot of people disagree with this, imagining, I think, a flood of sloppy emails from students begging the experts to do their homework for them.

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    That was never my intention, of course — I’ve received far too many of those sorts of emails myself! Emailing an expert — or anyone you don’t know personally — to ask for assistance or input requires some finesse, and done well it’s far from the easy way out. You are, after all, asking someone to take on a task that they don’t need to take on; unless you give them a compelling reason to be interested in you and your project, they have nothing to gain by helping you.

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    So your first order of business is to give them something to gain, a reason to put themselves out for you. And you need to gain their confidence that their input is not going to be wasted or misrepresented. In short, you have to sell yourself and your project.

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    Here’s how:

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    • Do your homework. Only contact someone if you’re very clear about who they are and how they can help you. Read their bio, learn about their work, and find out as much as you can about what they’re doing now — it does no good to email, say, a physicist about research she did 30 years ago and has since recanted. This means know your topic, too — don’t email someone with basic questions that could be easily looked up on Wikipedia.
    • Offer something of value. You’re asking for something — be sure to offer something in return. Your insight into their work, an interesting observation on the relationship between what they do and what you’re doing (or what someone else has done), a description of what you’re doing that will excite them, whatever, so long as it makes helping you valuable.
    • Be clear about what you want. Don’t make them guess what you’re asking of them — say it loud, say it proud! Even if you’re only writing to open a channel of communication, say it.
    • Offer your skills. Again, make the transaction valuable to the person you’re writing to by offering your future assistance. Perhaps you can help them with a thorny problem, provide some piece of information, even volunteer your labor on a project.
    • Introduce yourself. Don’t forget to say who you are and what you’re doing! Not just “I’m a student” or “I’m a designer” or whatever you are — say something useful about yourself that gives a sense of your personality. Don’t ramble on and on, just say enough to personalize your email.
    • Explain where you got their email address. Getting email from strangers can be disconcerting, so let your contact know how you found them: a university directory, met them at a conference, used their corporate website, looked their homepage up online, or whatever.
    • Don’t insult or threaten. I’m always surprised at how many people ask for help by challenging, insulting, or even threatening the person they expect to help them out. Needless to say, don’t do this. You’re asking a favor from someone with no obligation to grant it; abusive language will only get your email deleted.
    • Don’t beg either. Be confident. If you make sure to write a compelling and sensible email that offers something valuable to its reader (even if that’s just the prospect of an interesting correspondence), you’re not imposing. There’s no reason to apologize or put yourself down. Even if the person you’re writing holds a position quite a bit above your own, approach them as an equal, a colleague — and expect the same in return. That is, don’t work to maintain a relationship with someone who is incapable of treating you as respectfully as you treat them.

    Be ready to accept a negative response, or even no response at all. People are busy and can’t always drop everything to take on a new project, no matter how small or how interesting. And there are still some people who fret over their perceived status and distinction, and will be affronted by your presumption to relate to them as an equal.

    When that happens, accept refusal gracefully and move on. Time will deal with them — we live in an increasingly networked world, and the rules are changing. Distinctions of prestige and expertise are mattering less and less unless backed by the willingness to share and connect.

    Most people recognize this, though, and if you approach them with respect and willingness to share, they will respond in kind. While this advice could apply just as easily to writing a letter (does anyone still do that?) in today’s age, email is king — it’s quicker, easier to respond to, and immediately available. So go ahead and take a chance — if you follow these tips, you have nothing to lose but a few minutes of your time..

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

    12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

    Formal education is something everyone has to go through to a certain degree, and the knowledge it offers isn’t always that practical in real life. Life long learning is how you improve as a person, bit by bit and day by day.

    Life long learners recognize the importance and joy of growth so they never settle for what they currently know and always seek for improvement.

    Here are 12 habits of people who value lifelong learning have in common – see how many of them you recognize in yourself.

    1. They Read on a Daily Basis

    Whatever problem or dilemma you currently face, there’s definitely at least one decent book that discusses it and presents a variety of solutions.

    Reading is a great way to open up new horizons, train your brain and revolutionize your life. I can’t even count how many times books completely transformed the way I view the world, and it’s always a change for the better. Through reading, you can connect with successful people and learn from the lessons they share.

    Life long learners love to get lost in books and do it regularly. Bill Gates knows that reading matters a lot; on his personal blog, he reviews plenty of game-changing books.

    Due to technology, you can access a bookshelf of the wealthiest entrepreneur on this planet.

    2. They Attend Various Courses

    Whether it’s online or offline, there are countless courses you can participate in without spending a dime on it. These are great opportunities to connect with clever and like-minded people and learn from them.

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    Because of the advanced technology, you can now gain knowledge from online programs, starting from coding through self-improvement to programs from top universities.

    There are literally endless ways to thrive. What life long learners have in common is squeezing as much as possible out of these opportunities.

    3. They Actively Seek Opportunities to Grow

    Instead of spending your free time laying on the couch and watching TV, you prefer doing something creative and practical. You know every wasted minute is gone forever.

    That’s why you’d rather practice your language skills with a native-speaker you’ve met, engage in local meet up or attend a class that teaches something you always wanted to learn.

    Life long learners stay up-to-date with growth opportunities in their areas and participate in them frequently.

    4. They Take Care of Their Bodies

    “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” — John F. Kennedy

    A clever mind combined with a body in a great condition is the best asset you can have. Our bodies were designed to run, walk, jump, swim, lift and much more. Leading a sedentary lifestyle harms both your physical and mental sphere.

    Life long learners know the body is your temple. In order to make it flourish for as long as possible, they train regularly, move a lot and eat healthy.

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    5. They Have Diverse Passions

    Among Steve Jobs’ wise quotes, there’s one I like especially. It’s about connecting the dots:

    “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

    Each dot is some event or skill in your life, and it’s only when you go through these elements that you know how to combine them into something great.

    Having a variety of passions indicates that you love to progress. By practicing different skills, you give yourself an advantage over the rest of the people. During hard times, you are more likely to to act intelligently and solve your problems with less effort.

    6. They Love Making Progress

    If behind the efforts, there is passion and a deep desire to grow, your chances of success are way higher, compared to when you are forced to learn.

    Life long learners love to experience the constant growth and improvement. The breakthrough moments help them to notice the impressive change that took place because of the learning process. Any milestone serves as a driving force for further headway.

    7. They Challenge Themselves with Specific Goals

    In order to keep growing, you clearly define your goals. Smart goal setting is one of the tools to ensure constant growth.

    Since you love challenges, a difficult goal doesn’t scare you. Quite the opposite, it keeps you motivated and engaged.

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    Research showed that precise and ambitious goals increase the performance of an individual. As we already agreed, life long learners are people who care about their performance, hence they never stop improving.

    8. They Embrace Change

    A complete change can lead to incredible results. This is especially visible on the example of successful companies.

    Oftentimes, it’s that transformation which created space for their so-called overnight success. Twitter was originally created as an internal service to serve Odeo employees. Currently, it has over 300 million monthly active users and is considered the second biggest social network.

    As a life long learner, you know a change can lead to extraordinary results so you welcome it and stay open minded about making a shift.

    9. They Believe It’s Never Too Late to Start Something

    Some people tend to think after a certain age, they are no longer allowed to start something and become successful. The truth is, it’s just a lame excuse not to leave the comfort zone.

    Opposite to common misconceptions, there’s no wrong age to begin something. Henry Ford was 45 when he invented the Ford Model T car, which is considered as the first affordable automobile.

    Sure, for some domains like becoming a professional athlete, starting early is required. However, to learn and improve for its own sake, you are never too old.

    10. Their Attitude to Getting Better Is Contagious

    “We now accept the fact that learning is a life long process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” — Peter Drucker

    There’s nothing better than to see your surroundings getting involved in what you actively participate in. Oftentimes, the best way to achieve that is to inspire them and be the example. As Gandhi would say, you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

    As a life long learner, you are extremely passionate about the constant growth and people around you can sense that positive attitude. As a result, they start acting similarly.

    11. They Leave Their Comfort Zone

    Is it really better to step out of your comfort zone? The answer is always yes.

    You always embrace discomfort as you know the path to success leads through hardship and countless obstacles. Instead of being afraid of facing them, you challenge yourself to overcome more and more difficult handicaps.

    Every time you get out of your comfort zone, regardless whether you win or fail, you learn something new. That’s the part you love the most!

    12. They Never Settle Down

    “Knowledge is exploding, so you need to commit yourself to a plan for life long learning.” — Don Tapscott

    A sense of being clever enough is something you don’t experience. Without a doubt, you appreciate what you already know, but that’s never a reason to stop. You just know once you stop learning, you lose the amazing privilege humans have, namely an ability to a never-ending intellectual development.

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    Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

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