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College Now & the SMSU Library: How to Email for Help

Email Best Practices

Librarians are happy to help you with your research and questions you have about the research process. Here are some best practices to keep in mind when emailing a librarian so he/she has as much information as possible to assist you.

  1. Always begin with a greeting (Hi or Hello are good options) and end with a signature (such as Thank you, your name). This is a good rule of thumb when you are emailing anyone, such as your teacher, professor, librarian, boss, etc.
  2. Provide as much information about your research as possible, such as:
    • Teacher/professor and the class name
    • Assignment information
    • What types of resources you need (articles, books, websites, videos, etc.)
    • Where you have already looked (what databases, websites, books, etc. you have already used)
    • What search terms you have tried
    • Any other information you think is relevant
  3. Spelling and grammar are important!!!
  4. After you receive an answer, reply so librarians know you've gotten the information and can follow up with you if you have additional questions.

What to do

Here is an example of a well written research help request:


I am in Mrs. Gladis’ College Now class in Marshall, MN, and I am doing research for an opposing viewpoints paper where we have to discuss multiple points of view on our research topic. My topic is the positive and negative effects of social media. I have tried using SMSU’s OneSearch tool, and Academic Search Premier, but I am not finding the types of articles I am looking for. I’ve tried searching negative effects of social media, positive effects of social media, social media, and social media pros and cons. Do you have any suggestions of other databases I could use or other words I could try searching with?

Thank you,


Why this works:

1) It is clear what the assignment is, what class it is for, and what the research topic is. This helps the librarians determine what types of resources might be useful for your research.

2) Knowing what databases you have already tried helps librarians know what else they could suggest because they are more familiar with the work you have already done.

3) Knowing what words you have tried searching for helps them understand what search terms and techniques might be useful.

4) It is better to ask for guidance and help figuring out what databases or search terms might be most useful instead of simply asking for the librarian to do the work for you. The librarian's job is to help guide you, but it is YOUR job to do the research.

What not to do

Here are some examples of poor research help requests:

Hello, I am looking for everything you have on the Afghanistan War. 



Why this doesn’t work – It’s important that you be more specific with your request because a) you do not actually need all of the information ever written on a topic, b) this does not indicate where you have already searched, what you’ve already found, or if you are just starting your research, and c) this request infers that you want the librarian to do the research for you. Librarians are happy to help with your research, but their job is to provide suggestions of resources to use or search strategies to try, NOT to find all of the information for you.

I am writing a critical viewpoints paper about head trauma in professional football players, and I’m hoping you could help me find some helpful articles.

Why this doesn’t work – 1. When sending an email, it’s important to begin with a greeting and end with a signature (see example email and best practices). 2. This does not indicate what work you have already done or if you are starting your research from scratch. The librarian’s response will depend on your previous experience with your research. A good rule of thumb is to provide as much information as possible in your first email so that we have more information to go off of when providing you with help. Include information such as what class and assignment this is for, what databases you’ve used, what resources you’ve already found, some search terms you’ve tried, what types of resources you need help finding, etc.


I have been researching potato farming. I’ve been unable to find any books on the topic, but maybe I’m not typing in the right search terms. I was wondering if you had any books on this topic off the top of your head.

Thanks for your help,


Why this works - It’s great when you are able to identify what your search problem is on your own – in this case, not using the right search terms.

Why this doesn’t work – While it’s flattering that people think librarians are smart enough to come up with suggestions off the tops of their heads, this is often unrealistic. They often have to do some work on their end and try some searches to see what books the library has on your topic. They can then help you find different search terms and implement some search strategies that you didn’t know about, but again, they won’t do the work for you.