You will most definitely need to ask for advice or help from your tutor at some point and you need to use English conventions of politeness. Your request also has to be reasonable: you can only ask for something that is fair, practical and sensible. An unreasonable request is still unreasonable regardless of how polite it sounds. So, to avoid having unrealistic expectations of your tutors, make sure you are very familiar with your module handbook, assignment briefs, assessment processes and other rules and regulations.
The next thing to consider is showing that you have done your work and encountered a problem you are trying to solve. Notice the differences between the following scenarios:
Could you help me with my research report?
I’ve had a look at the assignment brief, the research report. I understand it’s like a research article. So, I could use the IMRAD structure. But, should I have an abstract too?
Could you give me more feedback?
I made all the changes you suggested. Is the link between these two chapters clearer now?
As you can see, the first requests are too general and they do not provide a context or any information about the work you have done. This might even give the impression that you want to be told exactly what to, which disagrees with the academic philosophy of UK universities. On the other hand, the second requests are specific and clearly show that you have put in some effort and are involved in the process of writing.
Now, let’s look at some useful phrases you can use when asking for advice or help.
Phrases adapted from Huang (2010 p.18)
When requesting something, we ask the hearer whether he or she is willing or able to do something.
We often use the modal verbs will/would (willingness) and can/could (ability), but would and could are more tactful (polite) than will and can (Leech and Svartvik 2013 p.175-176).
In addition, since you are requesting help/advice, you can also use should. However, make sure you use it with the first person (I), not the second person (you):
You should help me improve my assignment.
Should I discuss Smith’s work in a different paragraph?
What do you think I should do?
So, let’s practise using modal verbs and useful vocabulary for requesting advice or help.
Task: Drag and drop the words to complete the requests for advice/help.
Now, we will turn to some language we use to give advice. This will help you identify when your tutor is advising you. Note that sometimes advice might come in the form of suggestions and other times it might be a little too direct; that depends on the context.
Task: Listen to the following extract from a student’s conversation with their tutor and note down your answers.
Audio adapted from Villegas (2021)
Student: So, in this section I have explored the four pillars of Flipped Learning. Is there anything else that I should do?
= The student is asking whether the section needs more content. It might have been clearer to ask “Is there anything else I should add/discuss?“
Tutor: Yes. Although this is a strong section, you may wish to look up Strayer (2007) because it is considered to be the first dissertation exploring flipped learning. Emm, you may also wish to refer to Abeysekara and Dawson from 2005 because they wrote an insightful study on the complexity of defining flipped learning.
= The tutor comments on the section and advises the student by offering suggestions for further reading. The tutor presents the advice as an option, but she does think the recommended texts are very important to read. Phrases such as you may wish to or you might want to are commonly used when giving advice.
To sum up, when asking for help/advice you need to make sure your requests are specific and polite. In other words,