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How to Ask for an Extension on Your Paper

You may think that SparkNotes is run by a bunch of quasi-sentient robots living inside your computer, but the truth is that the SparkNotes editors are regular people just like you and me. This is why, sometimes, it becomes necessary to appeal to their better natures—like, say, if you agreed to write an article called “How to Ask for an Extension on a Paper” and forgot about it for two weeks, at which point you found yourself ironically asking for an extension.

I got my extension, and you can, too. Here’s how:

Step 1: Come to terms with the fact that it’s not getting done on time.
Realize and accept that you dropped the ball, and that there’s no way that you’ll be able to get all your projects turned in by the deadline. You can’t change the facts, so focus on what you can do.

You can either a) turn everything in late, b) turn in poorly done work, or c) choose an item on your to-do list to push back. Perhaps this assignment isn’t as urgent as the others, or perhaps a potential low grade in this class won’t be as detrimental to your GPA, or perhaps the teacher likes you and will likely empathize. Whatever the reason, this is the project for which you’ll be needing an extension.

The earlier you make this decision, the better, because asking for an extension on the actual due date just makes it look like you procrastinated or forgot about the assignment altogether (which may be true, but you don’t want them to know that).

Step 2: Write it out.
The ideal way to ask for an extension is in person, but writing out your explanation ahead of time can help make your request sound more reasonable and mature. Sometimes—like when your editors live hundreds of miles away—a written request is the only way to go.

Step 3: Explain, but don’t give too many excuses.
Your life has been crazy stressful lately, and you want your teacher or boss to know every detail. Maybe you’re even tempted to exaggerate your circumstances a little bit for sympathy. Your assignment is late because you overextended yourself, sure, but maybe you should just say your aunt died. Better yet—say FIVE of your aunts died, on the same day. That sounds plausible.

Remember, however, that the person you’re asking doesn’t want to read a ten-paragraph e-mail filled with flimsy excuses or listen to you apologize for an hour, so explain your situation briefly. Keep in mind that the point is to highlight what you’re doing differently so that you won’t be late again.

Step 4: Set (or negotiate) a new due date.
Let your teacher or boss know when you can have the project ready. Make it clear that you have a plan for getting the assignment done in that time. If they think you’re asking for an unreasonable amount of time, be willing to accept a shorter extension. Also be willing to do extra work of some sort to make up for the lateness.

For instance, here’s the e-mail I sent to my lovely editors:

I agreed to take the pitch “How to Ask for an Extension” several weeks ago. I overextended myself due to poor planning on my part, and so when unforeseen circumstances arose, I found myself unable to deliver my post on time.

I would greatly appreciate an extra week to hone this post and make it worthy of SparkNotes. If granted the extension, I guarantee I will have the post to you by next Monday.

I understand that SparkNotes counts on its writers to deliver funny and insightful content in a timely manner, and that the amazing editors have a tougher job when we don’t meet our deadlines. In the future, I will manage my commitments better so that I won’t have to ask for an extension again. In the meantime, please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make up for the lateness.


I received a response granting my request (it was this picture of a hamster giving a thumbs-up, but still). Best of luck to all of you as finals loom ever nearer, and make sure to do a better job than I do of staying on top of your commitments!