Cognitive Daily

Every so often on Cognitive Daily, someone will post a comment asking for help on a paper they’re writing for school. It’s pretty clear where these people come from: they’ve done a Google search on video games or whatever it is that interests them, and our post is the first thing they’ve found that seems like it might be remotely relevant to the topic. Often, I’m not especially happy to answer the question they’ve asked, because usually it’s not a very good question.

Examples of bad questions are:

  • Questions that are readily answered by simply reading the post where the commenter has posted the question
  • Restatements of the student’s homework assignment
  • Questions that simply express the student’s thesis statement in the form of a question
  • Questions prefaced with “I have to” instead of “I’d like to know” or “I’m curious about”
  • Questions that ask if we know where the student can find more information about Topic X, nearly always something which we’ve posted on numerous times.

Now, we’re all in favor of helping students with their homework, and we’re even willing to actually follow through with real help, provided that a few things are clear:

  1. It’s your homework, not our homework
  2. Therefore, you need to take responsibility to make sure it gets done
  3. Because we are busy people, with, you know, jobs.

Once you take a look at it from this perspective, a lot of things become clearer. First of all, if we’ve already answered your question and a reasonable amount of effort on your part would uncover that answer, we’re not going to feel obligated to answer it again. Second, if we can see that you’ve gone through some efforts to locate the answer, we’ll be more interested in helping you. Third, we’re not going to do your homework for you — we’ve already finished school. Finally, even if you’ve asked a good question, you might find that it’s actually quicker to find the answer yourself than wait around for us to answer.

But let’s suppose you’ve taken all these steps and you still feel you need to consult with the bloggers themselves (I think most often this happens in cases where teachers require students to conduct an “interview” as a research source). What actions on your part are most likely going to lead to the desired result — scoring the interview and acing the assignment? Here’s a list of tips:

  • Act interested. Even if you’re not. After all, we’re interested — we write a blog on this stuff, for Pete’s sake. If you don’t seem interested in the topic, we probably aren’t going to seem interested in helping.
  • Do a little research before you start asking questions. If you don’t have the slightest bit of knowledge about a topic, that tells us that (a) you’re probably not interested, and (b) you’re taking advantage of us by trying to get us to do your work for you. Neither of these things is likely to inspire us to help.
  • If you think your question will require more than two minutes of our time to answer, e-mail it. If all you do is post a comment on the blog, we have no idea whether you’ll even return to read our answer, which means we probably won’t answer it unless we can do it quickly and/or we think other readers would benefit from seeing the answer.
  • Use your words. IMspeak might give you street cred in certain forums, but it’s probably not going to be helpful in any homework-oriented situation.
  • Address us the way we want to be addressed. Did you notice that I sign my posts “Dave Munger”? That’s the way you should address me. Don’t try to impress me by calling me “Doctor Munger” or “Professor Munger,” because that will just demonstrate that you don’t know what you’re talking about. A quick glance at my bio shows that I’m neither a professor nor a doctor.
  • On the other hand, you don’t need to write a novel to get us to answer your question. If we can see that you’ve read our post carefully and have an honest question, we’ll probably answer it. We might just send you a link to another post that gives more information, but hey, that’s what you’re after anyway, right?

And you know what would be really cool? Sending us a thank you note after you turned in the assignment and got the “A”. I know that’s unlikely, but that’s the sort of thing that really makes a blogger’s day.


  1. #1 Todd
    May 15, 2006


  2. #2 Dave Munger
    May 15, 2006

    Good one, Todd. Maybe we should start compiling a list of our “favorite” student questions!

  3. #3 Marjut
    May 15, 2006

    Since I’ve been getting similar requests myself, I’m willing to add one more thing on the list: if you want an answer from me, tell me who you are and what you do. It’s really odd when a total stranger approaches you assuming that since you write a blog, you are somehow “everyone’s property”, an automatic answering machine. Being nice does not hurt either.

    On the other hand, maybe I should just be flattered that somebody thinks I might have the answer he’s looking for. I mean, I’m not a professor of any kind! 🙂

  4. #4 Dave Munger
    May 15, 2006

    “maybe I should just be flattered that somebody thinks I might have the answer he’s looking for”

    I think that’s the assumption that a lot of students have when they ask questions. In some ways, that’s true — there’s nothing more depressing than a blog with no comments. But on the other hand, a blog populated with a bunch of idiotic questions isn’t very inspiring either….

  5. #5 zandperl
    May 15, 2006

    I had a student asking questions once where it sounded like she wanted me to do all her work for her, the standard drill. I replied to her with a few webpages where she could start her research, and an admonition that I wasn’t going to do her work for her. Her response to that was shocked, apparently she just didn’t think that her words could be construed that I wanted her to do the work for her. Or else she was trying (unsuccessfully) to pull one over on me.

    I suspect that sometimes these students do know more than their unsophisticated language shows – I often have students in my science classes like that, where if you talk with them they can explain concepts very well, but are unable to write it coherently.

  6. #6 Shoney
    July 1, 2006

    Hello my name is Shoney. I am just enrolled in school this semester and I am majoring in Nursing to be a Nurse Anesthesis. I need some help with my Psychology 100. There are quit a few questions that I need help with answering. Is there anyone out there that can help me? One of the questions is: Discuss and explain the definition of psychology as the science of behavior and mental processes. Can you please help me out with this?
    Thank You

  7. #7 Shoney
    July 1, 2006

    Hi, this is Shoney again. I forgot to leave my email address. My email address is if there is anyone that will help me. Thank You

  8. #8 Dave Munger
    July 1, 2006


    Did you read the post above? It seems to me that you’ve ignored these bits of advice:

    Second, if we can see that you’ve gone through some efforts to locate the answer, we’ll be more interested in helping you. Third, we’re not going to do your homework for you — we’ve already finished school.

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