How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

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How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby keithpeter » 2014-08-12 12:46

Hello All

viewtopic.php?f=30&t=116681&start=15

The thread went off into a discussion about stickies, how people don't read them and how to encourage people to ask for help effectively.

EDIT: Thanks for feedback from Mardybear, edbarx, Dasein, AdamFirst and replies from many others. Below is my third edit, mainly formatting. I'll leave it here for a bit then post it in the HowTo section and see what happens.

How to get help with a technical problem

This page shows you how to make it easier for experienced forum users to help you
There are four stages to asking for help
  • Before you post: Read Debian help, try Web searches
  • When you post: Provide information
  • After posting: Be ready to run commands and post back findings
  • Success: Mark the thread as SOLVED
There is more information on each stage below

Before you post

Debian has a lot of documentation already available.
People often make Web pages about problems they have solved.

When you post
Use clear language
  • Keep your sentences short and descriptive
  • Don't use slang, leet or text message language
  • Don't use a support thread to give opinions about Debian or say what you think 'Debian' ought to do
Use a detailed subject line
Good: "Wifi does not resume after suspend on Debian Wheezy using KDE"
Bad: "Help no wifi!"

In the main part of the post you need to give information about the computer, the problem and to list the things you have already done.

About your computer and Debian version:
Good: "Dell Latitude 5420 laptop i5 processor with Broadcom WiFi card"
Bad: "My old laptop"
Good: "Debian Wheezy KDE installed from DVD1 issue 7.5 and updated today"
Bad: "My Debian"

See Debian Wiki HowToIdentifyADevice
Try: cat /etc/debian_release or cat /etc/apt/sources.list

About the problem

Describe what you did and what you saw, including error messages
Good: "Connected to local WPA2 wifi and load Web pages in Firefox. Susupended the laptop by closing the lid. Opened the lid to resume. Waited for wifi to reconnect. Clicked on Wifi icon, says 'connecting...' and never connects"
Bad: "wifi doesn't work after suspending"

About what you have done already
  • List the Debian wiki pages and some of the Web sites you found before posting
  • Say briefly why they didn't help
  • Describe anything you tried and what happened as a result
  • Doing this helps the people reading your post to understand what is unusual about your problem

After posting
Be patient
It might take several days for someone to answer your post.
Don't stop trying to solve the problem yourself.

Supply more information when asked
You might be asked for more information, e.g. to post a link to the .iso file you used to install Debian or to post the contents of your /etc/apt/sources.list file.

If you don't know how to supply the information, try finding out for yourself using Debian Wiki or a Web search before posting a reply to ask

Success!

  • Remember to edit your first post in your topic and to add [SOLVED] to the subject line
  • If you solved the problem yourself, post a summary of the steps back to the forum so someone else can find it.

Summary
Search before you post, be descriptive, reply with extra information, and mark posts as solved.
Sticking to this formula will increase your chances of getting the help you need to enjoy Debian, and will increase the value of the contribution you are making.
Last edited by keithpeter on 2014-08-18 20:44, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby mor » 2014-08-12 15:13

Let me just say it: how is what you have written any different from any other such attempt done in any forum, blog, chat or whatever for any argument or topic or area of interest?
I mean, who do you think is gonna read it?

I read it, probably dasein and wizard and DNL and a few other will, but what about Mr I-can't-waste-time-reading-you-fix-my-problem-got-to-go-to-the-mall?
Because he is the type this guide is for.

I don't want to say that it is unlikely that a few users with a good attitude will benefit from a few good tips they can find there, but my point is exactly that if one has the right attitude to read that guide, he is probably gonna learn that stuff "naturally" on his own (because they read, they search, they are inquisitive on their own).

Do you know why on many different products they put disclaimers such as "do not drink" on bleach bottle?
It is not because they think that by writing it they will teach people and save the life on the dude who's gonna chug it down without the disclaimer, it is just so that when the family of the dude sues the company, they can say that they told the dude he wasn't supposed to drink it.

What I'm saying is that signs, warnings, disclaimers etc., are generally useless because the person that needs to be told not to stick his fingers in the electric outlet, is gonna do it anyway and the only way to prevent that, is to make it physically impossible for him to do (like making holes small, yet they still find ways to get electrocuted).

Was I supposed to reply on the other thread?

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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby mardybear » 2014-08-12 19:18

keithpeter: excellent !

...but i agree with Mor, unfortunately :(

How long does society need to be educated about the dangers of drinking and driving, the health risks of smoking or that children and pets should not be left unattended in a hot car. Interesting side note: law enforcement has been trying to educate citizens about drinking and driving since at least the 1950s! Users that post a properly written question don't really need to read the how to in the first place and the people that should read it can't be bothered. Some say i have a negative slant...i prefer to call it reality.

Realize this doesn't add much to the discussion...just my thoughts. It would be great if the forum search feature returned better results, however. Me thinks that would alleviate many of these annoyances. Sad that adding site: to a google search provides a better search result that using the forum's own built-in search feature.

Figured it was okay to post here since the 'how to' has not yet been posted in the 'how to' section.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby keithpeter » 2014-08-12 19:24

Thanks chaps

Now anyone got any feedback on actual language/content?

Any views from non-native speakers of English?

@mardybear: forum searches generally tend to be a bit poor in my experience because of the 'cost' (in the sense of processor load/disk searches) of a free text search on the database tables and the need to eliminate 'stop' words.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby mardybear » 2014-08-12 19:35

@mardybear: forum searches generally tend to be a bit poor in my experience because of the 'cost' (in the sense of processor load/disk searches) of a free text search on the database tables and the need to eliminate 'stop' words.

Thanks for the education...didn't know that. Still think this how to wouldn't be necessary if the forum search could return better results.

When you post
==============

Use short sentences and clear language
--------------------------------------

Not everyone speaks English at home.
Keep your sentences short and descriptive.
Don't use slang, leet or text message language.

Duplication of short sentences. Can just say 'use short sentences, descriptive and clear language'.

Remember to edit the Subject line and put SOLVED

I've read that the subject line of the initial post/question should be edited but not sure if this is true?
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby keithpeter » 2014-08-12 19:48

@mardybear

Good catch on the duplication

I'll copy/paste what the forum sticky says about marking posts as solved, thanks

Keep 'em coming all
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby mor » 2014-08-12 20:59

Ok, you know where I stand and I don't mean to keep going on and on, but the consideration about the effectiveness of search engines made me think about one further problem.

Searching is not just a matter of knowing how to.
Technically and semantically, the right strings and words.

Searching is mostly about relentlessness.
You don't find what you are looking for in the first result you go on to the second, the third, the twentieth.
Then you gather what you have learned from those hits and you do a new search and you start again.
Repeat.

Even if all the powers of Google, Duckduckgo and Startpage combined where directed on this board, most people would just do a search like "Linux Broadcom" (instead of, like suggested by Keith, "Debian Wheezy Broadcom Wifi Wake from suspend"), then skim through a couple of results' titles and then post their question claiming (truly believing it) that they did search.

Can you picture the scenario I depicted as plausible or do you think I'm not even close?

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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby harrycaul » 2014-08-12 21:38

mor wrote:Searching is mostly about relentlessness.


It is indeed.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby mardybear » 2014-08-12 21:48

Can you picture the scenario I depicted as plausible or do you think I'm not even close?

Very true indeed.
Perseverance leads to most of life's successes.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby edbarx » 2014-08-12 22:55

I think psychology is a determining factor as to why beginners fail to read 'how to ask a question'. The fact that asking a question is usually a skill acquired during the first seven years of life, many may find the howto's title naive and unnecessary, therefore they react by refusing to cooperate.

Maybe: Guidelines for posting questions in a technical forum.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby dasein » 2014-08-12 23:05

I'm trying to mostly stay out of this for now, as I intermittently work on a parallel contribution, BUT...
wizard10000 wrote:I don't want to be someone's first resource; I'd rather be their last resource and if they've done their best then I'm happy to help

This. Find a way to infuse this spirit, and the need for RTFM/STFW simply vanishes, save for the help vampires. Linux demands greater engagement than other OSes, and Debian demands more than many distros. But I'm pretty sure that such engagement is the price of freedom. Someone who wants their computer to be nothing more than a glorified appliance is going to be happier in the OS X world than in LinuxLand (or at the very least is better off with a heavily-preconfigured "starter" distro). Communicating that message is hard, but it doesn't make it any less true.

(Personally, I really like the idea of a well-crated "condensed" version of HTAQTSW. The original is a classic and a great read, but it is far too long to be read by folks whose attention span is largely a function of their interactions with a game controller.)

Oh, yeah...
mardybear wrote:I've read that the subject line of the initial post/question should be edited but not sure if this is true?

Sure. Subject line of top post = Thread title in list
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby Loomx » 2014-08-13 08:34

I would say use a short version of keithpeter's list from post #1, and have it be the first thing you see when you click the "Post Topic" button to start a new thread.

That (might) get people's attention at a relevant time.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby keithpeter » 2014-08-13 08:34

mor wrote:[1]Searching is mostly about relentlessness.
[2]You don't find what you are looking for in the first result you go on to the second, the third, the twentieth.
[3]Then you gather what you have learned from those hits and you do a new search and you start again.
[4 Goto 1]Repeat.

Yup, its all about iteration.

Step [3] is the crucial bit. How to modify your search term based on the results of previous searches (widen? narrow? replace specific key words for alternatives?). Tricky, especially in a language that is not your own where you don't have the context (quick: what is French for download? What is Welsh for binary?)

dasein wrote:(Personally, I really like the idea of a well-crated "condensed" version of HTAQTSW.

Now has anyone got any feedback on the actual words? I need to drive the iteration cycle on this, and editing your own stuff is really hard.
dasein wrote:The original is a classic and a great read, but it is far too long to be read by folks whose attention span is largely a function of their interactions with a game controller.

HTAQTSW is a (very good) literary work that employs rhetoric and 'plays to the gallery' in a knowing kind of way. I think that the literary bits need to come out to make it more useful generally and shorter. I will of course link to the original (from which translations can be accessed) for the thoughtful ones.

@mor, wizard10000, edbarx thanks for replies and thinking about the issue.

I'm situated close to zero latitude so off out into the morning sun now.
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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby mor » 2014-08-13 09:00

keithpeter wrote:Step [3] is the crucial bit. How to modify your search term based on the results of previous searches (widen? narrow? replace specific key words for alternatives?). Tricky, especially in a language that is not your own where you don't have the context (quick: what is French for download? What is Welsh for binary?)

No.

The crucial bit is not how to make the guide efficient, is how to make people to read it and more importantly follow it, and that is what I think is not possible.

In this light:
keithpeter wrote:Now has anyone got any feedback on the actual words?

I don't think it is worth the effort.
I think it is a waste of time and resources to try and refine it.

You haven't answered my question about how you think this guide is any different from any other guide about asking questions in any forum in the entire internet.
I mean, if they all fail, how is yours not gonna fail as well?

Loomx wrote:I would say use a short version of keithpeter's list from post #1, and have it be the first thing you see when you click the "Post Topic" button to start a new thread.

That (might) get people's attention at a relevant time.

How is what you are proposing not exactly the state of things right now?

Sometimes I just don't get how people can expect the same action to have a different outcome.

Are we waiting to be "the exception"? :?

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Re: How to ask a question (summary for beginners)

Postby Randicus » 2014-08-13 09:18

mor wrote:
Loomx wrote:I would say use a short version of keithpeter's list from post #1, and have it be the first thing you see when you click the "Post Topic" button to start a new thread.

That (might) get people's attention at a relevant time.

How is what you are proposing not exactly the state of things right now?

Sometimes I just don't get how people can expect the same action to have a different outcome.
I do not believe he is referring to a sticky post. I think he means a short message in prominent script (bold-face, colours, etc.) above the "start new topic" button.

keithpeter wrote:Now has anyone got any feedback on the actual words? I need to drive the iteration cycle on this, and editing your own stuff is really hard.

In order to have any chance of being useful, it would need to be greatly condensed. One sentence for each tip in point-form. That way it could be printed at the top of a sub-forum, instead of being a sticky. Although it would still probably be ignored. Your desire to do something helpful is laudable, but I believe you are wasting the effort. I suggest expending your benevolent effort in a different direction. If I get any ideas what those directions might be, you will be the first to know.
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