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  1. Feelin' Groovy
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    How To Answer Questions in a Helpful Way


    It's my impression that many answers to questions as of late have sounded a bit... well... rancorous. While there might be a few folks out there genuinely in need of a good roasting, most people just want some help. This may be their first experience with Java; there's no need to make it more painful than it already may be.

    Here are some excellent suggestions from ESR's oft-quoted essay, How To Ask Questions The Smart Way:

    How To Answer Questions in a Helpful Way

    Be gentle. Problem-related stress can make people seem rude or stupid even when they're not.

    Reply to a first offender off-line. There is no need of public humiliation for someone who may have made an honest mistake. A real newbie may not know how to search archives or where the FAQ is stored or posted.

    If you don't know for sure, say so! A wrong but authoritative-sounding answer is worse than none at all. Don't point anyone down a wrong path simply because it's fun to sound like an expert. Be humble and honest; set a good example for both the querent and your peers.

    If you can't help, don't hinder. Don't make jokes about procedures that could trash the user's setup the poor sap might interpret these as instructions.

    Ask probing questions to elicit more details. If you're good at this, the querent will learn something and so might you. Try to turn the bad question into a good one; remember we were all newbies once.

    While just muttering RTFM is sometimes justified when replying to someone who is just a lazy slob, a pointer to documentation (even if it's just a suggestion to google for a key phrase) is better.

    If you're going to answer the question at all, give good value. Don't suggest kludgy workarounds when somebody is using the wrong tool or approach. Suggest good tools. Reframe the question.

    Help your community learn from the question. When you field a good question, ask yourself How would the relevant documentation or FAQ have to change so that nobody has to answer this again? Then send a patch to the document maintainer.

    If you did research to answer the question, demonstrate your skills rather than writing as though you pulled the answer out of your butt. Answering one good question is like feeding a hungry person one meal, but teaching them research skills by example is teaching them to grow food for a lifetime.

    Thanks!

    ~

    Comments on this post

    • pabloj agrees : Excellent
    • crownjewel82 agrees
    • jabba_29 agrees
    • stdunbar agrees : I don't like the Sun forums because they'd never read this post!
    • gimp agrees : Sticky.
    • ingenuity agrees
    • Schol-R-LEA agrees
    • wsa1971 agrees
    • Annie79 agrees
    • Frank20 agrees
    • Wetmelon agrees
    • Waloower agrees : prima !!!
    • hexman agrees
    Yawmark
    class Sig{public static void main(String...args){\u0066or(int
    \u0020$:"v\"ʲ\"vΤ\"".to\u0043h\u0061rArray()
    )System./*goto/*$/%\u0126//^\u002A\u002Fout.print((char)(($>>
    +(~'"'&'#'))+('<'>>('\\'/'.')/\u002Array.const(~1)\*\u002F)));}}
  2. #2
  3. AYBABTU
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    Mea Culpa.

    I could start a rant about freeloaders and the increasing amount of "do my homework" questions, but I won't.

    I will take it down a bit.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
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  4. #3
  5. Feelin' Groovy
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    I could start a rant about freeloaders and the increasing amount of "do my homework" questions, but I won't.
    And I'm certainly not denying those characters exist (in droves, it may seem at times). It just seems to me like the atmospheric balance is tipping in one direction, if you know what I mean. My original post isn't directed at any one person; I just hope it serves to remind us all (myself included) that "freeloaders" - academic and otherwise - may be frustrating, but we can still deal with them in a polite manner.

    Cheers!

    ~
    Yawmark
    class Sig{public static void main(String...args){\u0066or(int
    \u0020$:"v\"ʲ\"vΤ\"".to\u0043h\u0061rArray()
    )System./*goto/*$/%\u0126//^\u002A\u002Fout.print((char)(($>>
    +(~'"'&'#'))+('<'>>('\\'/'.')/\u002Array.const(~1)\*\u002F)));}}
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    rebel with a cause
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    Mea Culpa.
    I'll take some of that too.
    Maybe I'll go back to the friendly error messages.

    Although it does feel we're at a high point on the bad posting intake curve.
    Dear God. What is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring.
  8. #5
  9. AYBABTU
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    Didn't take it personally, but recognized that I can be somewhat rude sometimes.
    Anyway I think you're right. I'll be a bit more polite.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
    Douglas Adams
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  11. Feelin' Groovy
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    Although it does feel we're at a high point on the bad posting intake curve.
    Of course. It's the end of the semester, and time for high panic!
    Yawmark
    class Sig{public static void main(String...args){\u0066or(int
    \u0020$:"v\"ʲ\"vΤ\"".to\u0043h\u0061rArray()
    )System./*goto/*$/%\u0126//^\u002A\u002Fout.print((char)(($>>
    +(~'"'&'#'))+('<'>>('\\'/'.')/\u002Array.const(~1)\*\u002F)));}}
  12. #7
  13. <?PHP user_title("gimp"); ?>
    Devshed Supreme Being (6500+ posts)

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    Sticky!

    My $.02: I don't mind people asking for homework questions (as you can see in another recent thread), I just can't take people completely ignoring my suggestions (as shown in another recent thread) and just saying "it won't work" when I know it will, and I think it idiotic [usually] to ask "Why does this give an error saying that method() is not found? What do I do?"
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    Use XXX in a comment to flag something that is bogus but works. Use FIXME to flag something that is bogus and broken. Use TODO to leave yourself reminders. Calling a program finished before all these points are checked off is lazy.
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  14. #8
  15. i don't do negative rep
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    Originally Posted by gimp
    Sticky!

    My $.02: I don't mind people asking for homework questions (as you can see in another recent thread), I just can't take people completely ignoring my suggestions (as shown in another recent thread) and just saying "it won't work" when I know it will, and I think it idiotic [usually] to ask "Why does this give an error saying that method() is not found? What do I do?"
    some friendly advice from someone who knows his place is firmly at the bottom of the ladder : it may be that people don't follow your advice because we haven't picked up the lingo to understand what may seem to you like a perfectly lucid explanation

    i'm saying this in perfectly good humour, knowing perfectly well how easy communication failures happen, even in everyday life

    don't give up giving advice - the vast majority of us minions will ultimately benefit from it !

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