how to effectively ask for statistics help

help me help you

getting help

December 20, 2023

You’re probably here because you reached out with a stats question and I pointed you to this post. Thank you so much for your question! Chances are that I’d love to answer it, but I need some things from you before I try to help1.

In order to give you good advice, I need to understand your problem in a fair amount of detail before we meet. That way, when we meet, we can have a productive discussion that uses both of our time effectively.

I would anticipate spending 30 minutes to 3 hours on prep work before our meeting, depending on how organized your data is. I know that’s not thrilling, but I promise it is worthwhile.

Please take a moment to answer the following questions in writing. It’s really helpful to have answers in writing so that I can refer back to them if I forget anything or get confused about the details of your project. If any of these questions are irrelevant to you, just skip them!

Next I’m going to need a detailed explanation of your data. Jeff Leek has an extensive guide on How to share data with statistician, which you should read and follow.

In brief: I need to know how the raw data were collected, and any data cleaning or processing steps that you took. You should send me both your raw data and your cleaned data, plus a description of the data cleaning process. It’s important to know about data cleaning and prep because those processes can greatly influence what kinds of analysis are appropriate. For both the raw data and the cleaned data, please create a data dictionary that describes what each row of data represents and a description of each column. Ideally the cleaned data is in tidy format (see here for instructions on how to tidy data in R). Jeff Leek’s guide has extensive details about how to write a data dictionary.


My most frequent request for consulting clients is for a detailed data dictionary.

Once you have: (1) written answers to all the above and (2) data and a data dictionary (if applicable), send me everything and schedule a meeting.

I’m probably going to spend most of the meeting asking followup questions to test my understanding of your problem. Once I feel that I understand your problem, I can start to propose solutions. I might be able to solve your problem on the spot; it also might take me a couple days.

While you wait for our meeting, there are some other useful things you can do to prepare:

Thanks for taking the time to read through this! I look forward to hearing from you.


  1. This post is based on Caitlin Hudon’s fantastic data intake form, which focuses on data science in industry. I have blatantly stolen some of her intake questions. In this post I focus more on statistical consulting.↩︎