And thus the advise link in my sig.
Reading through this leaves me with some muses. Much of what is covered here gets re-hashed quite a bit. It is useful to revisit these themes, however, since it is too easy for basic principles to lose relevance. Turning over the whole mud-heap occasionally is how we find out if we are still on-track.
FWIW: Here is my take:
The importance of the title
- as well as the attitude
suggested by the title, there is another issue. Community.
A question well answered will serve a great many questioners - which is why we recommend searching the forum for past answers. However, a poor title tends to put the thread well down the hit list. So, the work done producing a good reply will be largely wasted... it is better to expend effort helping many than just helping one.
It would be nice if it were easier for the OP to edit the title...
These days it is not so much of an issue since LQ now has more functionality. Experienced users know not only to use a good title, but to summarise the details in the first few lines so they show up in the mouse-over.
I don't really mind someone indicating the solution is time-critical in the title. That way, if I don't think I can provide timely assistance I can move on and no harm done. If the rest of the post is well written, then it is very forgivable.
However, if poor posts marked urgent do not get ragged, then every post will become "urgent" just because nobody wants to wait for a reply. Hence the observation: "every post is urgent".
The psychology of poor posting:
The usual first response is to ask for more information. When you are a poster, it is a sign of intellegence to try to anticipate that request. Yet we keep getting "Firefox is acting funny, can anyone help with this?" style requests.
What the poster is doing, is usual for face-to-face social interactions. It's how you approach the office guru. The approach opens a negotiation - "Please take charge," it says, "tell me what to say next". It also gives the guru a chance to change tracks.
If the person addressed retorts: "That's pretty vague, just get to the point" then there will be justified upset. "I thought you were here to help?"
Similarly, if you approach with an immediate run-down of your situation, that would be rude.
In short, the bad posts are motivated by wanting, usually subconsciously, to be polite. The rules of "polite" in a tech forum are the inverse of those in social situations. Therefore: it will take a while to learn that.
The importance of the reply:
I'll weigh in with those who point out that a poor post should only be ragged the once. Supporting comment is needed if OP cannot believe the ragging is justified - though I prefer to discommode a moderator to do this as a "reality check": "am I being unreasonable?"
Similarly, while it is good that you can contribute to a thread, it is better to make sure it is a genuine contribution. Does your reply add to what has already been said? If not, then your time is probably better spent elsewhere.
What is interesting about zero-charge tech support, however, is that you get to give the client the advise they need rather than the advise they are looking for. A luxury you don't usually have when you are being paid. Which is why, when someone wants to install spyware or unsecure their servers, we can tell them not to do that and why not.
The ethical answer:
(Approaching the original topic ...)
Since we are not being paid, and we have a community to nurture, it is useful to consider the ethics specific to this situation.
Our replies do need to be honest and generous. We may suspect something smells but should keep our cool and act as though the poster is merely confused. Establish motivation - sure - but ask neutrally phrased questions before voicing suspicions.
I have even seen very suspicious, evasive questions being in fact due to the user not realizing that their "pirate" copy of GNU/Linux is actually legal. Then I get to give them the good news
We need not restrict answers to the question asked. In fact, we have a duty to address the meta-questions implied in the post. When someone wants to enable restricted media playback, we can tell them how - usually direct to a post explaining this - but also point out the implications of this, and that they do not need these codecs for most uses.
This should be fair even if you are not a free-software activist, since the question usually means that OP has misunderstood something about media formats. You are answering the meta-question: "how do these formats fit in with GNU/Linux?"
This also benefits others who search to the thread later. They may not have the same priorities as the OP.
This is why the most useful questions tell of instructions followed and still the desired result is elusive. We get to examine the meta-problem of why the first instructions didn't work for this user, educate the user about how to read the documentation, and also learn how to improve our own answering styles.
Adressing the meta-questions con be highly rewarding.
... this is something I have ambivalence about. Most of the issues have been hashed out previous - however, since there are quite a few academics reading this, I'd like to weigh in with the other side to the issue: how to set homework.
One should be setting homework in the context of the resources available to the student. This can eliminate cheating entirely.
Consider - Eng-Lit: Shakespear (a class I got to teach for a very short time) It is very common to set an essay question as a homework assignment. A great deal of effort is spent to try to detect when students are copying an essay from another source - like the internet. But I wanted to use this resource. I set the essay as follows: find at least two essays on <standard topic> from any source which hold different points of view. Explain the points of view, compare them in the context of the class notes, and draw your own conclusions.
Now - "cheating" is part of the assignment. The analysis will give me a good idea who has understood the course (and how the course is understood - providing an assessment of the course itself) much better than the usual half-rushed essay, and they are more interesting to mark.
This approach can be modified to account for using the assignment over many years.
Simple exercizes, like "create a file with 1000 lines" are not appropriate as assessed homework questions at all. They are more useful as tutorial exercizes, in a controlled environment. They tell you, as the educator, where the student is up to in the coursework.
As academics, we are supposed to be smart!
or: Be there. Be brief. Be gone.
I disagree that one should just ignore the homework requests. Each should be evaluated on their merits - but beyond that, there is a meta-question to be addressed. OP is telling us that they do not understand the academic process in some important way. Also, that they do not understand what we do here. A caring community will provide such a person with the opportunity to come more on-side. If they do not agree with the communities ethics, they will leave anyway. At least, this way, they will know why they are leaving.
Someone must mention the GNU. They are brown and have horns.
Saying GNU/Linux instead of just Linux is not just credit or accuracy. It tells people you that you care about the "freedom" side of FOSS as well, so us Free Software folk can identify each other. It also prompts a question "what does that GNU mean" from those people who are ready for the Message. Then you get to explain. It doesn't cost much, though there is great potential gain, and it is totally un-un-your-face and non-preachy.