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How to ask for help with your homework/assignments on EE

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evilrix
An expert in cross-platform ANSI C/C++ development, specialising in meta-template programming and low latency scalable architecture design.

Yes, we can help you

There is a lot of misunderstanding about asking for help with your homework/assignments (from here on I'll just refer to it as an assignment) on Experts Exchange so I am hoping this article will help dispell some of the myths and folklore that have built up over the years. First and foremost, regardless of what some Experts might say (normally, new folks who are not yet familiar with the site rules), you absolutely can ask for help with your assignment. EE Experts are here and we want to help you!
 

Disclaimer

Before we proceed any further you should be aware that some schools may not allow the use of "help" sites or online resources, such as EE. Any such help may be considered "cheating" and may be grounds of disciplinary action, which might even include expulsion. Before using EE or any other online resource please make sure you have checked the policy of your school. Remember, it is up to you, not EE experts, to be aware of and follow the rules of your academic institute.
 

Know the rules

That said, there are restrictions and the help documentation labeled "Can I get help with my homework question?" provides clear and practical advice on how to get help on your assignment without violating any of the site rules. This article is not going to repeat what is already stated quite clearly in that document. This article is written from the point of view of an Expert and is designed to explain to you, the person needing assistance, how you can help us to help you to get the most out of EE. A lot of this information applies to all questions, but this article is specifically focused towards those needing help with assignments.
 

Experts have to ask

Don't be offended, but if it's not clear that your question is an assignment, the Experts will ask for clarification. They are not being rude or awkward. They have a duty of care, to you, to be sure to provide you the right level of help. They are also bound by the rules of EE to ask if it is not clear. Please remember that all the Experts who volunteer on EE do so out of a desire to help others. If we ask you such a question, it is only because we want to help you the best we can, but to do so we need you to help us by providing us with all the information we need.


Be clear, be honest

Be clear, and be honest. Tell us this is an assignment. We need to know for a couple of reasons. Firstly, assigments nearly always come with restrictions and so we'll need to know what they are so as to give you the best possible help. Secondly, the type of help we'll give you will be different from helping someone who is stuck with a problem at work. The whole point of an assigment is that you learn something. If we just give you the answer what do you learn? If we just gave you the answer we'd be cheating you and helping you to cheat yourself!

If an Expert just gives you the answer, ask that they explain the answer. Make sure you understand the explanation, and if you don't, do not close the question. Ask again, or click "Request Attention" to ask the Moderators to get you more assistance. Having an answer is one thing, understanding it is something else! If an Expert just gives you the solution and moves on, they are not doing you justice (and they are also violating the site rules). Either way, you deserve better!

Does this mean we won't give you information or even partial solutions? No! What we'll try to do is point you in the right direction. The idea is that you should learn by figuring it out for yourself but with our guidance. That means we may give you some links to reading material that will assist you. In the case of programming problems, we might provide you a partial solution to a specific problem you are stuck on -- just enough to give you a starting point to figure out the rest. What I like to do is to provide solutions to similar but much simplified problems that you might extrapolate to solve your more complicated problem.
 

Identify Restrictions

It's important to state any restrictions that go with your assignment. Often, these restrictions are put in place to make sure that you don't run before you can walk. If we don't know what these restrictions are we may help you solve the problem in a way that, while technically correct, may not be what is expected of you and so you may actually lose marks. Always be clear and consise on any restrictions, and if you are not sure what they are you should check with your teacher.
 

We need the details

Provide us with a summary of the assignment requirements. We don't need to see the complete and whole description, but we do need to know the saliant points of what you're expected to do. Be brief, be concise, but be clear. Be sure that what you are telling us is a true reflection of what you are trying to achieve. The reason for not posting the completely assignment is that they are often copyright protected, but even if they are not, a lot of education authorities are, quite rightly, not too pleased to see their assignments be plastered all other the Internet -- especially if they come with solutions.
 

We are not rent-a-coder

Don't just post your assignment details and expect us to solve it for you. It doesn't work like that. EE is not "rent-a-coder", we are a team of Experts who volunteer our time, freely, to try and assist those who need help. When you post your assignment question we will expect to see what you've attempted so far. If it's a programming exercise we want to see your code. We want to see that you've at least tried so far. Tell us exactly what it is you're stuck on so we can work with you to get over that hurdle. Be sure the help you are asking of us is clearly defined. Posting code and saying, "it doesn't work - help" is unlikely to garner much assistance. You need to be more specific. What doesn't work? What do you expect it to do? Why?
 

Keep focused

Remember that while the Experts on EE are here to help you and we enjoy what we do, we do also enjoy having our answers accepted once we've resolved the problem. Try to keep your question focused on one thing. Work on one problem at a time, and once it's solved close the question and reward those Experts who helped. If you then run into a new/different problem, post a new question. Don't just keep a question open for days (or even weeks!) and keep posting more and new questions about the assignment.  

Keeping a thread going after the prolem is solved simply isn't how EE is supposed to work. Not only would that thread likely become less useful to anyone else who might be having a similar problem to you, it always means experts are likely to lose motivation/interest in your assignment problems and move on. By asking one question, getting the answer and closing the question you keep the PAQ (Previously Answered Questions) database nice, clean and efficient for others, and you also keep experts motiviate, both of which are good for you!

Don't post long winded questions that don't seem to really go anywhere. Besure to keep you questions clear, consise and on-point. If you post a long-winded question that is more of a mixture of random thoughts then not only are Experts likely to just skip it, even if they try to help the chances are they'll have a hard time because your question will have no cohesion. Try to focus your question on what it is that isn't working for you. If you have a number of issues, break them down into different questions. You are allowed to ask multiple questions at a time, just make sure you are not asking the same question twice.
 

Stay responsive

Always respond to the experts in a timely fashion. If they ask for more information, do your best to accomodate. Again, if they are asking it's because they are trying to help and not because they are trying to make life hard for you. Also, remember that just because you believe you've provided everything needed to assist you doesn't mean that you have. You may have overlooked something. We get it, it happens. You didn't do it on purpose but that doesn't change the fact we still need more information from you.
 

Tell us about deadlines

All the experts on here are volunteers.  Most of us have full times jobs we have to attend to, families that demand our time, and (occasionally) we need to sleep. We are a mixture of people from different parts of the world and the Expert who is trying to help you may not be in the same timezone as you. That being the case, it certainly won't hurt to mention if you have a deadline you need to meet. Be clear what that deadline is and what time zone you are in. In that way, you are more likely to get the help from those experts who can sync their time with yours to avoid missing the all important deadline!
 

Don't assume

If you've hit a problem and have errors, it's important that you tell us what those errors are. it's also important that the information you give us is accurate. Write down the exact error, including any error codes. Write down what steps you took to generate that error. Don't just say, "I got some message saying it didn't work when I tried running it." That provides us precisely zero units of information with which we can work.

You need to say something like, "I started the application, pushed button 'foo' followed by selecting option 'bar' and then an error dialog poped up that said, 'Error 99: don't select that option again!'". That's the sort of detail we can work with. Of course, we don't need a novel, just be clear and consise and do not skip what you consider are irrelevant details. That small bit of information you decide to leave out might just be the critical key to solving the problem.
 

We're here for you!

Finally, try not to get frustrated if things don't seem to work. Remember, each and every expert on this site has been in your shoes. None of us were born knowing what we do today. It's taken us many years of pain, blood, sweat, and tears to be in the position that we can now help you. In fact, for most of us EE didn't even exist when we learned our craft, so take solice in the fact that we're here, we're willing to help you and, together, we can and will get you through that assignment!

Good luck, and...

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Author:evilrix
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LVL 14

Expert Comment

by:ThomasMcA2
This article should be adjusted to have an introductory paragraph mentioning that the student's school may not allow the use of "help" sites such as EE.

I am an expert on EE and an adjunct professor at a local college. My school does not allow students to get help from any online resource. Any such help is considered cheating, and is grounds for expulsion from the school.

Please adjust the article accordingly.
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by:evilrix
Hi Thomas, I've added a disclaimer as the 2nd paragraph. Does that cover your concerns?
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LVL 14

Expert Comment

by:ThomasMcA2
Excellent, thank you.
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