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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 September 17, 2018

    7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

    7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

    Relationships are complicated and when you’re unhappy, it can be difficult to tell what’s causing it and what needs to change.

    Sometimes it’s as easy as opening up to your partner about your problems, while other times it may be necessary to switch partners or roll solo to get your mind straight.

    When you’re in the thick of things, it can be difficult to tell if you’re unhappy in your relationship or just unhappy in general (in which case, a relationship may be just the cure you need).

    Here’re signs of an unhappy relationship that is possibly making you feel stuck:

    1. You’re depressed about your home life.

    No matter what you do in life, you’re going to have good and bad days. Your relationship is no different.

    However, no matter what you’re going through at home, you have to feel comfortable in your own home.

    If you constantly dread going home because your significant other is there, there’s a problem. Maybe it’s something you already know about, everyone has an argument or just needs some alone time.

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    When that yearning to be alone becomes an insatiable obsession over the course of months and years, it’s time to realize you’re not the exception to the rule.

    You’re unhappy in your relationship, and you need to take a look in the mirror and do whatever it takes to make yourself smile.

    2. You aren’t comfortable being yourself.

    Remember all those things you discovered about yourself when you first got together? The way your partner made you feel when you met that made you fall in love with him or her in the first place.

    If they don’t make you feel that way anymore, it’s not the end of the world. If your partner makes you uncomfortable about being you, then her or she is only dragging you down. It’s up to you to decide how to handle that.

    You need to be comfortable with who you are. This means being comfortable in your skin and with the way you walk, talk, look, breath, move, and all the other things that make you uniquely you.

    If the person who supposedly loves you doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, know that you can do better. They’re not even one in a billion.

    3. You can’t stop snooping.

    Mutual trust is necessary in any relationship. The only way to get that trust is with respect.

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    I can find you anywhere online, no matter how private and secure you think you are. The odds of you having a password I can’t crack are slim. If we’ve met in person, I could install a remote key logger on your device without even touching it.

    Finding your information online hardly takes a clandestine organization. Any idiot with a Wi-Fi-enabled device can cyberstalk you. I’m just the only idiot in the village admitting it.

    So now that we know everyone snoops, it’s time to address your personal habits. Governments snoop because they don’t trust us. If you’re snooping on your partner, it’s because you don’t trust them.

    It’s ok to have doubts, and it’s perfectly normal to look into anything that looks weird, but keep in mind that data collection is only half of an investigation.

    If you find yourself constantly snooping and questioning everything, clearly there’s a trust issue and the relationship likely needs to end.

    4. You’re afraid of commitment.

    If you’ve been dating longer than a year and you aren’t engaged, it’s never going to happen.

    Commitment is important. People will come up with a million ways to describe why they can’t be committed.

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    No matter who you are if you like it, you need to put a ring on it. Find an engagement ring, stick a gemstone in it and marry the person. If you’re not legally able to get married or you don’t believe in it for one reason or another, have a child (or adopt one, however you’re able to) or treat your partner’s family like your own. It’s a huge financial and mental commitment.

    If you’re not ready for one or the other after some time, don’t waste anymore of your precious life on the relationship.

    Your relationship should be something that propels you forward. If it’s not going anywhere, make it an open relationship and call it what it is—dating multiple people.

    5. You imagine a happier life without your partner.

    If all you’re doing is imagining a happier life without your partner, it’s a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship. You’re unhappy and you need to get out.

    Your partner should be included in your dreams. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a future with someone.

    Try to remember what you dreamed of before you got your heart broken by the realities of life, love and the pursuit of human success.

    Remember when you would crush on that cute kid in class? You would secretly imagine marrying him or her and going on an adventure—that’s the way life should be.

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    If you’re not at least imagining adventures together, then why are you in that relationship?

    6. You resent, rather than love your partner.

    When a relationship starts to crumble, you begin to resent your partner for all the things you once loved about him or her.

    When you’ve reached this point, your partner has reached at least No. 2 on this list. From your partner’s perspective, your unhappiness with them is picked up as bashing them for being who they are.

    If you’re both unhappy in the relationship, it’s better if it ends as quickly and painlessly as possible.

    7. You chase past feelings.

    It’s okay to reminisce about the past, but if all you do is wish things were like they used to be, it’s a sign you’re not on the right path.

    You’re unhappy and, at the very least, you need to have an open dialogue about it. This isn’t necessarily a sign that the relationship should end, but it definitely needs a spark.

    When you talk to your partner candidly about what it is you’re looking for, you never know how they’ll react. The risk alone is worth it, good or bad.

    Final thoughts

    If you’re feeling stuck in your current relationship, it’s time to reflect about it with your partner. Don’t ignore these signs of an unhappy relationship as they will slowly go worse and harm both you and your partner in long-term.

    Featured photo credit: josh peterson via unsplash.com

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