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Re: On Answering Questions

by Abigail-II (Bishop)
on Feb 09, 2003 at 03:50 UTC ( #233828=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to On Answering Questions

I don't know why you posted this. What are you trying to say?

I usually don't try to second guess questions. It works counter productive. For two reasons. First, in forums like perlmonks, where there are a lot of not-so-knowledgeable answerers, there's a lot of noise of people trying to second guess answers; spawning threads that have not much to do with the original question. Today I read a question on comp.lang.perl.misc; someone had a problem parsing command line arguments. It didn't work as he expected in certain cases, and he wanted to know why. There were five or six replies, all pointing to one of more of the Getopt:: modules. All were second guessing the question. The questions appeared to be helpful, but were they? The question wasn't answered, and the poster didn't learn much. The problem was an off-by-one error, using $i < $#ARGV instead of $i <= $#ARGV or $i < @ARGV.

The other reason is that it makes people sloppy. Why would I formulate a question well instead of ambiguous if people try to second guess my question anyway? Someone might get it right, and it's not my time wasted of the five who guessed wrong, and answered a question I don't care about. A clear example of that are questions that look like:

How do I extract 23 from fubble wabble 23 upupup.

One person will write a regex to extract the third word, another to extract the digits from the text, and a third uses substr to extract the 15th and 16th character from the string. Now, it's likely the original poster is pleased, and got his answer. But at least two people have wasted their time, writing an answer to a question that was neither asked, nor intended to be asked.

If answerers wouldn't second guess questions, questioners would be forced to well formulate their questions. Then answerers can focus on the right questions, instead of questions the questioner isn't interested in. And well formulated questions have another benefit, which I will illustrate by a story.

For a long time, outside the office of the sysadmins at MIT, next to the door, there was a table. On the table was a teddy bear. On the door was a note, saying that before entering the door with a question, you better first explained your problem to the teddy bear. Many people didn't need the help of the sysadmins after telling the teddy bear.
Many people can solve their own problems, if they stop for a moment and actually think and formulate the problem. A well formulated problem is often more than half solved.

Abigail


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Re: Re: On Answering Questions
by blackstarr (Pilgrim) on Feb 09, 2003 at 14:18 UTC
    Abigail,
    Thank you for formulating what I could not.

    This is a debate that is as old as Usenet (at least), and will never leave us as long as society (especially our online virtual one) is made up of various levels of skill.

    We all differ, some of us are highly skilled, in Perl, in the ability to articulate (a question or an answer), and in understanding our fellow human beings. Most of us, however, fall short on AT LEAST one of these, and it is this that makes life both interesting and frustrating.

    How much "interaction" would there be if we were all Larry Wall clones? Very bright bunch, no doubt, but not much to say to each other ... BECAUSE we all shared the same skill levels in Perl, in Communication ability, and in Understanding.

    No matter what we say, we all come here from common motivations, to learn on the neophyte's part, to share on the "expert's", for whatever reason. That being the case, how long would PerlMonks (or any other Virtual community) survive if only the Senior Monks (? Abbot+ ?) could ask questions? Sure, they would be very interesting questions ... to other senior monks, but the rest of us poor mortals would say "Gee Wiz, aren't they clever!" and wonder off somewhere else to learn the basics of Perl.

    So, what's my point? ... We seem to have two fundamental differences of approach to how to handle neophytes who do not yet know how to ask questions. The first is to treat them like the "Open Sesame" doors of fairyland. If you ask the question right, you will get all the riches of the land, as well as the princess. If you don't formulate your question correctly, well, tough, hope you've got an umbrella.

    I agree that people should learn how to formulate questions.
    I agree that people should first figure out what they can.
    I agree that people shouldn't be spoon-fed.

    I also think that those of us who are advocates for Perl, and those of you who actually know how to use it, should be gentle on those who still have certain skills to develop. We should be evangelising the use of Perl, not protecting our turf. (I am NOT implying that anyone here did that). Very often we frighten away someone who may, over time, have become a useful member of the community.

    If, when someone asks a question in a vague or obviously poorly thought out way, instead of lambasting them (however gently), we said something to the effect of:
    "I'm sorry, I don't understand exactly what you want. Could you please repost your question and provide us with some background (context) and a fuller explanation of what you do want to achieve, then maybe we'd be able to point you in the right direction."
    ... a bit syrupy, I agree, but the idea is, let's be helpful, not hurtful ...

    I'd better stop, I'm sounding like a kindergarten teacher!

    So Long
    blackstarr

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