How Not to Ask for Help

This is a pretty funny exchange between a debater trying to find author quals and an author pretty reasonably responding to their rudeness.


It reminded me of this classic when a debater emailed a think tank leader to ask if they had published a good card just to affect the outcome of a debate tournament. The responses from Friedman are pretty hilarious, and imo pretty dead on.


Main topic authors are often bombarded with emails from debaters/coaches. Most often they are emailed questions that could be answered with 5 seconds of googling, and often the emails are in the form of a demand, not a polite request. I have emailed many authors and so I offer some general tips for what you should do


1. Be polite.

2. Don’t say you are a debater- they don’t care. Also if you say you are a debater and then be a moron you are tainting the rep of every debater who follows you.

3. Write an intelligent email. Emailing someone and saying “you give realism cites plz? kthanxbai” is not likely to get a good response because who wants to respond to a moron. Use proper English/spelling/punctuation (in other words do as I say not as I do)

4. Explain why you are emailing them specifically-i.e. “I am emailing you after reading your article about platypus extinction in the International Journal of Platypai…”

5. Their time is valuable. If you can form questions that have short, direct, easy answers to give they are more likely to respond. If you ask an IR prof  to teach their class to you through email, they are less likely to respond.


8 thoughts on “How Not to Ask for Help

  1. maximiliantiger

    I was considering writing a post about how to ask for cards, so I have some ideas to throw in.

    On 2: I never say I am a debater either. I say I am a student from Western Kentucky University doing research on [x]. Which is true, and I think saying you're a debater makes you sound like you have 0 interest in their answer or the subject, and just want cards.

    On 3: I emailed atleast a dozen people on last year's topic and found some EXCELLENT, really hyper-specific cards. Some things I recommend:
    #1 Reference that person's work. They will take you more seriously, because 1) people like being cited 2) it proves you aren't going to them as opposed to googling for the answer. I also think this helps justify emailing someone much more: I feel alot more of an obligation to explain *something I wrote* than some random topic in my field. This ties into
    #2 Ask specific questions. Following up on your #4, I like to tie in what they've said in an article to the question I'm asking. Par example, I referenced a general statement made: "focus on reforming small parts of the justice system ensures maintenance of the broader system as a whole" and that it "…obscures the abuses that occur against all imprisoned people" and asked how that tied into the specific reform of ending solitary confinement. That way, our link story was made much more clear (unfortunately, we never got to read this card). That allowed the response to be valuable as a card, and also saved time like Scott said.

    #3 If you are at a university, email a professor there–they're probably more likely to talk to someone at their institution than a random kid. This past year one really annoying argument was the mass noun T on 'chronically mentally ill'–the thesis of the argument was that it was a mass noun, roughly meaning that it couldn't be broken down into groups, thus affs not effecting all chronically mentally ill were not topical. I emailed the linguistics professor at WKU who gave me a really detailed explanation of mass nouns, and explained why 'CMI' was a mass noun syntactically, but that semantically this didn't make any sense. This ended up being an incredible card for T debates that I loved reading

    Finally, note that in the early editions of Speaker and Gavel (shortly after they were combined, so like… mid sixties I want to say) there is an article justifying using this way of gathering information in debate.

    edited: moved a sentence from 3 to 2 for continuity

    edit2: Debaters at Cross-X totally don't get it

      1. maximiliantiger

        In my form of debate (NFA-LD) its officially OK-ed by the rules, so its never been a big concern for me

      2. Antonucci23

        That exchange is about emailing for evidence. This post is about emailing for qualifications.

        1. WhitWhitmore

          The original post was about qualifications, but maximiliantiger's comment, which I was responding to, was about emailing for evidence.

  2. karate_chop1

    On the subject of email as evidence:
    There was a podcast on this a while back. You guys said that email transcripts aren't subsitutes for good evidence, and one of your main complaints was the lack of published access. I saw the northwestern debate blogspot which has published a slew of emails sent by the debaters. Now, although I don't know exactly how northwestern goes about using these in round, is "publishing" your email transcript that way a little easier to swallow for judges?

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