Asking for help at university: how?

When you arrive at Exeter, you’ll be given an email account. It’s worth getting into the habit of checking your email regularly, since it’s the default mode of communication at Exeter. This means, of course, that you’ll likely end up sending your fair share of emails during your time at university.


In this post, I’ll be focusing on contacting academics (see my other piece for this website on the broader types of support available).

There’s no single ‘right way’ to email a tutor, and — putting my serious hat on for a minute — no-one is going to tell you off, take marks off you, or otherwise get annoyed at you if your emails don’t follow a specific format. That said, writing an email can be an intimidating task, and you may appreciate a little bit of guidance. With that in mind, think of what follows as a sort of ‘beginner’s guide’ to sending emails at university model format, and as something that you can adapt and modify, rather than as a set of rules to which you must always adhere.

Practical tips

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that our hypothetical student (whom I’ve named Kermit T. Frog) is struggling with a piece of reading that they’re planning to use for a seminar, and would like to meet with their seminar tutor to ask for advice.

Meeting next week [HIH1000]?

Dear Dr. Honeydew,

I hope you’re well. I’m emailing to ask whether I’d be able to meet with you during your office hours tomorrow to discuss the assignment for HIH1000, due in a couple of weeks’ time. I’ve been struggling with a particular piece of reading (specifically, the R. Rat piece) and would like to make sure that I’m approaching it in the right way.

Thank you,

Kermit T. Frog.

Questions to think about

There are a few things to note here. The most obvious is what me might call ‘forms of address’: most tutors at Exeter will be more than happy for you to call them by their first name, and indeed, they may well say so in your first seminar together. If you’re uncertain, though, ‘Dr. Surname’ is a good formulation to go by, as most of the people who are teaching you will have a PhD (or will be in the process of getting one!). It’s also worth being specific in terms of the kind of support that you’re asking for: you’ll notice that our hypothetical student (who is definitely not a Muppet) has been quite clear about what precisely they’re struggling with, noting the module code that they’re taking and the specific piece of reading that they’d like to discuss. This can be very helpful to tutors, who may well be working with several hundred students, and for whom a little bit of clarity can go a long way.

Speaking of clarity, I hope that this sample email provides a little of it for you, as you look to navigate the challenges of finding the support that you need.

About the author

Edward Mills completed his PhD at the University of Exeter in 2022, and now works across two academic departments here – History, and Modern Languages and Cultures.Edward Mills, Lecturer