How not to ask a question

Well, I’m back to the blog after a long hiatus. Much like Tom Kyte, I seem to be getting much grouchier lately. No, it isn’t age, the weather, or the fact that <insert name of sports team here> didn’t win the <insert name of major sporting event here>, it’s the fact that quality of the questions over on the JDeveloper Forum seem to be going downhill lately. Yes, there are some people who still take their time to post well thought-out questions that include versions, a description of what they are trying to do, what they have tried, what they found when googling, etc.; however, there seems to be a growing number who:

  • Obviously haven’t or are too lazy to click the “search” button or use Google to find the solution.
  • Clearly think their time is too valuable to waste over posting more than one sentence plus the obligatory “PLZZZ its URGENT.”
  • Post to the wrong forum. The OA Framework people seem to be pretty notorious for this.
  • Don’t want to try to solve the problem themselves. Sometimes, I’ll drop a hint for such questioners, but it’s usually firmly ignored.
  • (had to come back and update this post about this one) Post their question as a reply to another question from 3 years ago asking the original poster (who often hasn’t posted anything in the intervening 3 years) “did you solve this?”

Now, I know we all don’t have scads of free time, but it seems to me just common courtesy to invest at least some time in researching and debugging on your own before posting a question and similarly investing some time in phrasing a proper question with details, use case, etc? The people who are answering questions on the forum are usually doing so on their own time and really do want to help, but I am finding that I’m less and less motivated to answer questions when I see more and more people commiting blunders like this. I’m guessing that I’m starting to sound like an old f*rt on the forums now. Sure, it’s fun posting sarcastic replies (depending upon my mood at the time), but I really do start to notice my blood pressure going up nowadays.

Is it just me?

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9 Responses to How not to ask a question

  1. No it is not just you :). What amazes me is the fact that they don’t seem to realize that a bad question is not going to get them any answers or no good answers anyway. The ability to ask a smart and well formulated question is paramount in this industry. Is it the failure of the school system? How can you go through 16 or more years of school and in the end not being able to ask an intelligible question?

  2. Tyler Muth says:

    I’ve reached my limit on this too:

    http://forums.oracle.com/forums/thread.jspa?messageID=2485609&#2485609

    The APEX forum has it’s share of repetitive niche questions as well that can all be answered by Reading The Fine Manual ;)

  3. John Flack says:

    I agree in general about your complaints. I hope and believe that I am not an offender. However, I HAVE knowingly added to old posts to ask if anyone has an answer for that particular old issue.

    What will happen is that I will do a search of the forum – trying to be a good citizen and not offend – and the only message I will find may be someone else asking the same question. What shall I do? I know that if the message is old, then probably no-one has looked at it for a while, including the expert who may have an answer now, several years later. I have two choices – either I can start a new thread, asking my version of the same question, or I can add a post to the existing question. By adding a new post to an old thread, I bring the thread back to the top of the queue, where people can take a new look at this old question. And if the original question was posed well enough, it saves me a little time. If the old question wasn’t asked well, then I will generally start a new thread – though I may reference the old one.

  4. Chris Muir says:

    Yep, definitely you’re an old f@rt now John ;)

    It’s the forum 1 liners that get me, with no decription of context, what their attempting to achieve, what technologies they’re using, such as:

    “JDeveloper fails to turn the lights on”

    Duh, wat?

    What’s hard about the 1 liners is you often get the idea that the poster’s first language isn’t English, so getting out that 1 line was as hard for them as for you trying to work out what the questions about. I appreciate this, obviously we have the advantage on an English forum of speaking English. But it’s the 2 words that they miss, which I think should be the first 2 words you learn in any language, that makes me grumpy when they’re missing:

    Please.

    ..and..

    Thanks.

    Manners gets people everywhere in my opinion.

    Actually I think it’s important that someone polices the forums. I remember a few years back there was a general “JDev is cr@p” crowd coming in from the Java world, and after a lot of positive posts from people such as yourself, the overall forum quality lifted. I guess this stuff goes in waves, and is probably tied to new releases attracting new posters with a % that don’t play well with forums in general.

    Oh well, come the revolution, they’ll be the first against the wall, followed by us, then the guys who wrote the forum software, then anyone associated with the internet, and so on.

    CM.

  5. Same story everywhere…

    I regularly read and post on Database/PL-SQL forums and there is everything like PLZZZ URGENT posts, RTFM questions and all…

    Forums are mirror image of society, perhaps. Just as in society, not everyone is decent and humble, same goes for forums too ;)

  6. Simon Haslam says:

    John – I agree entirely, especially where almost identical problems have already been answered in which case the poster is just creating noise on the forum and thereby lowering its quality for everyone. The curious thing is that the initial RTFM and troubleshooting you refer to is actually what I think is one of the most satisfying parts of systems development – most of the time you can fix things most quickly yourself anyway (and so learn by the process). As to the “urgent – please answer now” questions, I think they’ve often students working on assignments, or junior developers who haven’t worked out how (or been trusted by management) to multi-task…

  7. Dan Surkan says:

    Nope it isn’t just you. I just read a post where you link to this page. You specifically asked the user to look in another forum, and ask what they found they told you the version number…..wierd how thta worked.

    I find this all over support forums as well. Some new poster, searches and finds a post from years back, asks, solved yet? tell me how…. and what do ya know, no one responds because no one checks that thread because people usually signup to post 1 question and are never heard from again.

    I thank you for any questions you may have helped me with, or may help me with in the future. You are doing an amazing job

    Once again thanks :)

  8. In my view, there are two sides in story.

    One is that many people with poor knowledge of the technology and even poorer English, try to ask questions that even they do not understand. Please realize that the technology behind ADF and JSF is difficult to understand for people with a “classical” background and additionally most of us have to learn from material written in a language other than our own. I agree that the PLZZZ approach is annoying, sly and stupid at the same time, but if you do not feel like answering you can simply ignore them.

    The other side is that many times your mind just won’t work or you just hit a rock. You don’t know it and cannot explain either. In such cases you drop a question at the JDeveloper forum and hope that somebody “will steer you to the right direction”. As for the problem of multiple and unanswered questions, as many have already said, it happens to all the support forums so I guess we ‘ll have to live with it.

    Whichever way things are, I also think that you are doing a very good job at the JDeveloper forum so grumble or no grumble, I owe you a big thanks from here (and … enough drinks to blast you away if I ever get the chance to do that in Greece :-)

    Thanassis Bakalidis

  9. Matt says:

    Welcome to how I happened to find you.

    I was searching for answers to something that common searches seem to have a hideously vague group of responses, and that you were the only person who actually gave a response that was not in the categories you mentioned above. Of course the question however, was just as vague.

    I actually would feel bad even asking what I have to ask now, even though I have searched google and the OTN forums.

    I will say that due to the old “internet f-wad theory” (google it without my filtering), it happens a lot. Also, feedback tends to be just as bad sometimes too. People won’t even put effort into making things remotely legible/understandable.

    could you point me in the right direction for problems with running dualview/extended monitor setups with oracle? I don’t want to make you do the work here obviously, if able. However, searching for dual display, or extended monitor obviously isn’t pulling up search results very well.

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