Asking Effective Questions The guidelines here are not rules, but methods that will help you get an effective answer for your questions on the internet. These mainly apply to forums, but should be followed for mailing lists as well.
1. Find the right place
The first thing you need to do when you get to a forum or mailing list is make sure that you are asking the right question in the right place. This is as easy as reading the forum name, description and the stickies in the forum. A question in the wrong place is seen as an annoyance and makes you look lazy before they even read your actual problem.
2. Provide all relevant information
If you have a coding question, post the error and all relevant code (please use the [code] tags!), the error message and the steps you have taken to debug it. If you have an idea what might be wrong, don’t be afraid to mention it. Also, tell us what you are trying to accomplish, sometimes errors come up because a programmer is using the wrong tool for the job. If you do not get an answer quickly, make sure a complete outsider will know everything he needs to, bumps are seen more favorably when they include more information opposed to saying “no one?”
3. You did not find a bug
Software workers work very hard to provide a good app, it is found extremely rude to have a newbie to the piece come in and say “This didn’t work for me, can you fix this bug?” Unless you are looking at the source in question (the code that they wrote, not you), you understand the code and you have a working fix, don’t say you found a bug. If you are using a common library, chances are that whatever you are doing has been done successfully before unless it is a currently recorded bug. This means that all odds lay on you being the one who screwed up.
4. Don’t provide too much information
If you have a 100 line script, please post only the relevant portion; don’t expect us to find line xx and see what’s wrong. If you have reason to believe that other parts of the script are to blame, post what you know is relevant and then the entire script. Please do also include the code of the failing line so we can find it in the big script.
5. Be specific
Don’t post a large portion of code and say “please audit this for [insert test here]”. Find your methods that could present a problem and ask if you are doing them right, provide us all relevant information to your method. Please do not come in and say “why doesn’t this work [insert code here]” and expect an answer. Give us what you are trying to achieve and error you are getting.
6. Put a quick synopsis in your titles
Titles like “PHP Problem” or “please help” do neither of us any good. If you are posting a thread in a PHP help forum, you clearly need help with PHP. Instead of spending the thread title on repetitive information, explain your problem. If you are having trouble loading a file in PHP, a title like “I am having issues reading a file from my server” would be much more useful. But you could still get more in than that, a title like “I can only read half a file using fopen” provides a potential helper with enough information to know if he can be of assistance. Questions that do not include any relevant information are often ignored (moreso on mailing lists than forums).
Titles are also the first thing search engines look at, a good title will help other people when they are in your position.
7. Do your part
We like helping people, if we did not we wouldn’t be here. But when we help you we like to help someone in a way that we are actually needed for. Most beginner questions have already been answered somewhere and are readily available in the archives or on google. It can be annoying when a user comes on and asks us a very simple question that we quickly google and give you. This is spoon feeding you, not helping. I have stopped giving google answers and started giving www.lmgtfy.com links, this site just simulates someone googling a term.
If you have read tutorials on something but still don’t get it, post something like “[concept] still does not make sense.” Continue to explain exactly what does not make sense in it. This shows that you did not come here as an alternative to searching on google, but as a last resort. We will be much more inclined to type up a paragraph for you then.
8. Don’t get emotional on us
Everyone who helps here is a volunteer; we do not get paid or compensated for what we do. Understand that we do not owe you anything, so do not get mad if we take a long time to reply. If we take a long time it is generally because we are busy or there is not enough information to answer the question. This also goes for us telling you something that you don’t find favorable. We are experienced in our field and have made common beginner mistakes, don’t get mad at us for trying to save you from one.
The other end of this is groveling; please do not use this as a substitute for doing your homework. Calling yourself an extreme newbie will never be seen as an alternative to google.
9. We won’t help you break the law
Do not come in and ask us to do anything illegal. It is status quo that if you want to break the law, you have to do it on your own. This goes for hacking sites or pirating software. Asking about pirating software really irks people (myself being one of them) because we work hard to do what we do and wouldn’t want anyone doing that to us. You will get attention, often in the form of multiple insults before a mod comes and punishes you for asking (it is a 1 point infraction here at TF). There are some forums (mostly anarchist based) that will help you break the law, find them yourself and ask there. But even they don’t like ignorant questions and will leave no misconceptions about it, so make sure you ask well.
And don’t even try to lie to us to make a moral excuse for bad requests. We have heard anything that you have prepared to cleverly fool us.
10. Learn and move on
If someone has pointed you to a google link, or otherwise told you to do your own homework, learn form it and move on. We are not trying to be rude; we are trying to help you be self sufficient so you don’t have to wait for us next time. No reputations will be damaged by this, many will in fact regard as more mature since you were able to just move on instead of having to be right the first time. If you see someone else make a mistake, get a grain of wisdom from what happened to them too.
These are common terms given to people who have messed up: RTFM : Read The ****ing Manual. This is normally applicable commercial products, the person who says this will often be looking at a fix in the manual when saying this. STFW: Search The ****ing Web. This means that your question probably took the person less time to google than it took you to write the post here. GIYF: Google Is Your Friend. The nicer version of STFW, some forums ban the use of RTFM and STFW, so GIYF is used in stead. Search the Archives: Almost every forum and mailing list has a search feature. Anything in this search is considered archived content. If you are told this, you have asked a very common question and probably could resort to looking at the first page of topics. Stickies are also a quick source for beginner questions.