[Tutor] help ;-) [How to Ask Good Questions]

Blake Winton blakew@sonainnovations.com
Wed, 17 Oct 2001 13:05:57 -0400

Danny Yoo wrote:
> I must apologize as well for being preachy in the last message.

I didn't think you were particularly preachy...
You did bring up a lot of good points, though.

> I'd be happy to add a link here to ESR's essay, but I should wait for a
> consensus from the other tutor-admins before making the change to the
> welcome text.

I'm not an admin, but I think a link would be okay, as long as it was
explicitly mentioned that it's insulting to the sort of people who will
probably be reading it. (Or maybe the people who won't be reading it... ;)

> Also, I'm a bit hypersensitive about language and the
> connotations of words, so perhaps I'm worrying about nothing.

It did seem to be written for people who already follow its advice,
or at least for hackers.

> About rejecting headers with the word "help" in them... er, I don't know
> about that one.  What do other people think about this?

I would say that if people don't want to answer them, they can filter the
"help" messages out themselves.  There are several levels of helper on the
tutor list, with varying amounts of free time, and perhaps some of them
will help the people no-one else does.  Admittedly, I don't read most of
the "help" messages, but they do pop up for a couple of seconds in my
preview pane, so if it's something I am interested in, I'll get it out
of my Deleted Items folder, and reply.

> In the terms of Lawrence Lessig's book "Code", I'd personally prefer that
> making good message headers (and making good questions) be something
> encouraged by community norms and not enforced by code.  Just my thoughts
> on that.

I would agree here, but for the fact that this can't be a community norm,
since it only really applies to people who haven't read the list before.

Sure, we could reply to everyone who posts a "help" message, and ask for
more information, and hopefully they won't post a second, but I don't think
I've seen more than four questions from anyone on the list, and I'm
pretty sure I haven't seem more than one "help" question from any given
person.  (I'm hoping someone will dig through the archives to prove me
wrong.  ;)

Perhaps just a link in the initial message saying something along the lines
of "If your message had a subject line consisting only of the word 'help',
you might not get a response.  Please feel free to repost your question, but
try to follow the guidelines in
http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/bugs.html or