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Re (tilly) 2: Writing answers for newbie questions

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Jun 27, 2001 at 13:35 UTC ( #91870=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to Re: Writing answers for newbie questions
in thread Writing answers for newbie questions

This is a request.

If you see a question whose form and/or content indicates an extreme lack of clue, then either do not answer or else take the time to explain what you are using. Saying politely that the documentation is helpful is useful but insufficient. For the truly clueless it is useful to give an explanation of how to navigate documentation.

Here is an example of what I mean by an explanation of how to navigate documentation.

Also note that just inspiring someone to learn more does not mean that they know how to do that. For instance you offer an example of a substitution which most Perl programmers should be able to understand. But if someone does not, then they problably do not know about perldoc, do not know what a regular expression is, and will have no way to find perlre. So while I would answer a question with that answer, if I got a follow-up question I would be willing to respond with some combination of an explanation, a mention of perlre, a recommendation for the Owl book, and a recommendation for japhy's YAPE::Regex::Explain.

Furthermore if you can find ways to subtly phrase things in a manner that indicates that you are actively trying to be helpful and impart knowledge, that is always good. For instance rather than just say that someone should have done a search, point to the search engine, say that the search engine is really helpful, and link to the result of a basic search. That passes on the same information but leaves the questioner happier and more likely to follow your advice. I find the small additional energy expenditure more than made up for by the energy savings from less conflict.

Again, if this sounds like too much work for you, then don't answer that question. Move on to a question that looks like it comes from a more sophisticated user. If the question is basic, it is a safe assumption that someone else will answer it. If there is some subtle mistake that you think people are likely to make, then it is typically most useful for all involved for you to wait for someone to misanswer the question, and then politely correct the bad answer. More than anything you can say, this flags the point as something people can easily get wrong. Plus at least one vocal person is now going to pay attention to your answer and is likely to answer the question correctly the next time.

  • Comment on Re (tilly) 2: Writing answers for newbie questions

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Re: Writing answers for newbie questions
by Abigail (Deacon) on Jun 27, 2001 at 22:11 UTC
    For instance you offer an example of a substitution which most Perl programmers should be able to understand. But if someone does not, then they problably do not know about perldoc, do not know what a regular expression is, and will have no way to find perlre

    Neato. So, I guess we should now cut and paste documentation of everything you use in answering a question? After all, of anything you use to answer a question, the person asking might not know about. And since there's no way to tell, (because I don't think anyone here would suggest the person asking needs to do anything more than the minimum, so just telling what said person knows or does not know is out of the question), all you can do is assume the person asking has zero knowledge.

    Is it ok to cut and paste the entire OED in each posting? A person might not know a certain word you use, and it might entirely be possible the person asking doesn't own a dictionary. Hmmm, perhaps the OED isn't enough, and we should also translate the OED to all possible languages - just in the off change the person asking isn't a native English speaker. Oh, and of course we should include pictures as well, perhaps the person can't read either!

    -- Abigail, thinking questions about consulting documentation should be seen as separate questions - which, once answered, could be linked to from for instance the front page.

      You gave an example of an answer, after which people should know what to look up.

      I pointed out legitimate reasons why a beginner would find that answer not helpful, and then proceeded to say that the answer is one I would give, but I would handle possible confusion by being ready with a list of useful references if the follow-up indicated confusion.

      How did you get from that to the insane conclusion that I thought all posts should include the documentation for everything you used in answering the question?

      People with unexpectedly poor backgrounds are like possible tangents in a conversation. They come up every so often, and you handle them with a lazy algorithm. If the person apparently has less background than your first response assumed, you deal with it by politely pointing out appropriate existing answers and tools.

Re: Re (tilly) 2: Writing answers for newbie questions
by John M. Dlugosz (Monsignor) on Jun 27, 2001 at 19:59 UTC
    Hmm, sounds like some macros would be helpful. On the server side, something like [rtfm://super search] could expand into an entire paragraph.

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