How, When, and Why to Contact an Instructor

Sometimes, it’s easy to see that it makes sense to email an instructor, like when you
don’t understand the assignment. But a lot of writers don’t realize that there
are plenty of other times to utilize your instructor.

It can be very helpful for both the student and teacher, especially on a “big”
writing assignment, to talk about the writing at all stages. For example, it
could be helpful if after you brainstorm to drop in on your teacher during
office hours.1 This way, you and the instructor can talk about where you think
the paper is going and give some good feedback. After this pre-writing meeting,
it is important to bring your first draft to the instructor after you finish it.
Talk it over, and ask how you can improve in specific areas of your writing. Use
your instructor’s feedback to develop as a writer, and hopefully, to help you
earn the grade you want.

Most instructors give written comments on papers they return to you, the
student. Take some time and read over them. Then using the method of your
choice, talk to the instructor about what they see in your writing.

Another good time to talk to an instructor is if you are not getting the grades
you want, or something you are learning in class is just not making sense. Your
instructor is always going to have an answer to your question and be willing to
work with you one on one. It is also helpful to email or meet with your
instructor if you are missing a class, not understanding an assignment or have
specific questions about your grade or writing, but remember: there is no
substitute for going to class and nothing beats one-on-one conversation with an
instructor. It’s a great way to learn.

Now comes the big question, How is the best way to get a hold of your instructor?
There is an endless number of options, but pitfalls that accompany each one.


This is often a god-send to the on-the-run student. It is quick, easily
accessed, and will not bother an instructor even if sent out in the middle of the night .

The downfall of this method is how easily it is to become overly personal or
“unprofessional.” In the age of “text speak” and “friending” your instructors on
Facebook, it is a fine line to walk between sounding stuffy and using an
inappropriate email message in hopes of getting your questions answered.

Office (or Writing Center) Hours

This can often be the best bet. It gives you one on one time with the
instructor, gives you an opportunity to ask any questions that may come up as
you muddle through the assignments and shows your teacher you are serious about
the assignment.

That said, the time it takes to set up a meeting with the instructor can be time
that is taken away from doing the assignment. These meetings are not always
available without prior planning and if a particular instructor makes you
nervous, such focused time can be stressful.

Staying after class.

Staying after class is fast, simple, and usually a safe option. It is helpful because while the
questions are still fresh you can get them answered immediately, and it doesn’t
take any extra time out of anyone’s schedule.

This method has only one drawback: it is limiting. After class there is the
possibility that you or the instructor is on the run to another class, work or
even a meeting. Use this wisely.2

Don’t forget there are always other ways to get in touch with your instructor,
never hesitate to ask questions of them and never give up. Push for your
questions to get answered! It is the best way to learn!

  1. Office hours are a time that your instructor sets aside to be available
    to students. It is the time they take out of their schedule to wait for you to
    come and ask questions. So go in and ask! 

  2. Editor’s note: As an instructor, I feel like it’s worth emphasizing this
    point. I often have students presenting me with significant
    questions–questions well worth a good and serious discussion–when I’ve got 10
    minutes to get to another class across campus. We love to talk to you about
    your writing, but that’s what our office hours are for. We’ll do the best we
    can to talk to you between classes, but it’s probably best to use this as a last

Last Updated: 3/9/2015 3:57 PM