Just something I wanted to throw in here.
I know it's a bit outdated, but anyone who's asking questions on the 'net in a technical forum should still read How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.
Specifically of consequence to this discussion:
Before You Ask
Before asking a technical question by
e-mail, or in a newsgroup, or on a
website chat board, do the following:
- Try to find an answer by searching the archives of the forum you plan to post to.
- Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
- Try to find an answer by reading the manual.
- Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.
- Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
- Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.
- If you're a programmer, try to find an answer by reading the source code.
When you ask your question, display
the fact that you have done these
things first; this will help establish
that you're not being a lazy sponge
and wasting people's time. Better yet,
display what you have learned from
doing these things. We like answering
questions for people who have
demonstrated they can learn from the
Use tactics like doing a Google search
on the text of whatever error message
you get (searching Google groups as
well as Web pages). This might well
take you straight to fix documentation
or a mailing list thread answering
your question. Even if it doesn't,
saying “I googled on the following
phrase but didn't get anything that
looked promising” is a good thing to
do in e-mail or news postings
requesting help, if only because it
records what searches won't help. It
will also help to direct other people
with similar problems to your thread
by linking the search terms to what
will hopefully be your problem and
Take your time. Do not expect to be
able to solve a complicated problem
with a few seconds of Googling. Read
and understand the FAQs, sit back,
relax and give the problem some
thought before approaching experts.
Trust us, they will be able to tell
from your questions how much reading
and thinking you did, and will be more
willing to help if you come prepared.
Don't instantly fire your whole
arsenal of questions just because your
first search turned up no answers (or
Prepare your question. Think it
through. Hasty-sounding questions get
hasty answers, or none at all. The
more you do to demonstrate that having
put thought and effort into solving
your problem before seeking help, the
more likely you are to actually get
Beware of asking the wrong question.
If you ask one that is based on faulty
assumptions, J. Random Hacker is quite
likely to reply with a uselessly
literal answer while thinking “Stupid
question...”, and hoping the
experience of getting what you asked
for rather than what you needed will
teach you a lesson.
Never assume you are entitled to an
answer. You are not; you aren't, after
all, paying for the service. You will
earn an answer, if you earn it, by
asking a substantial, interesting, and
thought-provoking question — one that
implicitly contributes to the
experience of the community rather
than merely passively demanding
knowledge from others.
On the other hand, making it clear
that you are able and willing to help
in the process of developing the
solution is a very good start. “Would
someone provide a pointer?”, “What is
my example missing?”, and “What site
should I have checked?” are more
likely to get answered than “Please
post the exact procedure I should
use.” because you're making it clear
that you're truly willing to complete
the process if someone can just point
you in the right direction.
How To Interpret Answers
RTFM and STFW: How To Tell You've Seriously Screwed Up
There is an ancient and hallowed tradition: if you get a reply that reads “RTFM”, the
person who sent it thinks you should have Read The F***ing Manual. He or she is almost
certainly right. Go read it.
RTFM has a younger relative. If you get a reply that reads “STFW”, the person who sent
it thinks you should have Searched The F***ing Web. He or she is almost certainly right.
Go search it. (The milder version of this is when you are told “Google is your friend!”)
In Web forums, you may also be told to search the forum archives. In fact, someone may
even be so kind as to provide a pointer to the previous thread where this problem was
solved. But do not rely on this consideration; do your archive-searching before asking.
Often, the person telling you to do a search has the manual or the web page with the
information you need open, and is looking at it as he or she types. These replies mean
that he thinks (a) the information you need is easy to find, and (b) you will learn more
if you seek out the information than if you have it spoon-fed to you.
You shouldn't be offended by this; by hacker standards, your respondent is showing you a
rough kind of respect simply by not ignoring you. You should instead be thankful for
this grandmotherly kindness.
If you don't understand...
If you don't understand the answer, do not immediately bounce back a demand for
clarification. Use the same tools that you used to try and answer your original question
(manuals, FAQs, the Web, skilled friends) to understand the answer. Then, if you still
need to ask for clarification, exhibit what you have learned.
For example, suppose I tell you: “It sounds like you've got a stuck zentry; you'll need
to clear it.” Then: here's a bad followup question: “What's a zentry?” Here's a good
followup question: “OK, I read the man page and zentries are only mentioned under the -z
and -p switches. Neither of them says anything about clearing zentries. Is it one of
these or am I missing something here?”