How to Ask Smart Questions

Kal – one active GameProducer.net reader sent me a link to article: How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

Generally speaking it looked like a good guide, but as you might remember: I recommend questioning the authority. One specific point got my eye:

If You Can’t Get An Answer

If you can’t get an answer, please don’t take it personally that we don’t feel we can help you. Sometimes the members of the asked group may simply not know the answer. No response is not the same as being ignored, though admittedly it’s hard to spot the difference from outside.

In general, simply re-posting your question is a bad idea. This will be seen as pointlessly annoying. Have patience: the person with your answer may currently be asleep, in a different time-zone.

There are other sources of help you can go to, often sources better adapted to a novice’s needs.

There are many online and local user groups who are enthusiasts about the software, even though they may never have written any software themselves. These groups often form so that people can help each other and help new users.

There are also plenty of commercial companies you can contract with for help, both large and small (Red Hat and SpikeSource are two of the best known; there are many others). Don’t be dismayed at the idea of having to pay for a bit of help! After all, if your car engine blows a head gasket, chances are you would take it to a repair shop and pay to get it fixed. Even if the software didn’t cost you anything, you can’t expect that support to always come for free.

For popular software like Linux, there are at least 10,000 users per developer. It’s just not possible for one person to handle the support calls from over 10,000 users. Remember that even if you have to pay for support, you are still paying much less than if you had to buy the software as well (and support for closed-source software is usually more expensive and less competent than support for open-source software).

While I agree that simply re-posting the question – or your email – might not be the most efficient move, I really think people should follow up. In some cases your email might simply got piled under a big amount of other emails. I don’t recommend posting several times per hour, but depending on your issue you might want to follow-up in the nearly future.

I like the “Before you ask” part:

Before You Ask

Before asking a technical question by e-mail, or in a newsgroup, or on a website chat board, do the following:

1. Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
2. Try to find an answer by reading the manual.
3. Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.
4. Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
5. Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.
6. If you’re a programmer, try to find an answer by reading the source code.

Especially the 1st hint is a very good one: search the web.

Juuso Hietalahti

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