Last weekend, I received an e-mail from a high school student asking for help with a research project on a topic clearly in my field. For those of you taking notes on how to contact complete strangers to ask for their help, here’s how you do it:
Dear Dr. Historiann:
I am a Local High School Student doing a research project on Famous First Lady, and wondered if you might be able to meet with me this week to provide me with a few quotes relative to her ideals, influence during the time period, and overall influence on history/the modern world. It would also be a great help to me if you wouldn’t mind reading the essay, too (either beforehand or during the meeting). A copy of it is attatched to this message, should this be agreeable to you. If either this week or the meeting itself don’t work out with your schedule, I completely understand. Thank you for your time!
(If you recall, we’ve already covered how not to ask strangers for help, high school edition here and grad school edition here and here.)
And indeed, Sally appended a 10-page research paper to the e-mail, including a very respectable bibliography (and she used endnotes correctly!) So, convinced that this was not just another “will you complete my homework assignment for me?” e-mail like we all receive on a regular basis, I said that I had some time Friday afternoon too meet with her. Sally came by to interview me yesterday–although I’m not an expert in the Famous First Lady of course, I learned more about the requirements for this research project and answered her as best I could from my perspective as an early American women’s historian. And then she and her mother presented me with a lovely flower arrangement!
Now, the flowers are very nice but truly unnecessary. I was happy to encourage interest in my field in a serious high school student, and pleased to return her courtesy. But the courteous initial contact and showing me the research she had already done were key. Good luck, Sally!