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Rating: 7 votes, 3.86 average.

How to answer questions without wasting too much time

Posted 11-30-2008 at 10:29 PM by ErV
Updated 02-21-2009 at 09:51 AM by ErV

Okay, I've just got through another flamewar, so I decided to write a some info about answering questions without wasting too much time in the process. The content is based on personal experience, my own point of view, and isn't supposed to be absolute truth or something. I also don't expect someone to agree with me. Recommendations are written in random order, and are supposed to prevent wasting too much time typing replies, or breaking your keyboard too quickly.
Beware! Some people probably might find this thing offensive.

The recommendations are based on following assumptions:
1) You want to help other people to solve their problem.
2) You don't want to spend many hours per day doing that.
3) You want to get satisfaction from giving out info - i.e. people should be grateful, or discussion should be interesting.
4) You do not want to live on the forum, just post answers to some threads.
5) You don't want to have a bad mood after helping someone.

Ok, here are recommendations:

0) Always remember that you can ignore other people instead of trying to reason with them. By "ignoring" I mean ignore list, which is located at [url][/url] very handy feature.
1) Never participate in threads about religion. There were many of those, and when there is a clash between believers and atheists (or simply followers of different religions), no matter which side you take, you'll never prove to "them" that you are right. Also, your opponents will never prove you that you are wrong. The thread will eventually degrade into pillow-fight, and someone will close it.
2) Never post in "Linux vs Windows" threads. Yes, this is tempting, but should be avoided. Such threads either never ends or many of them eventually degrade into flamewar. Which side "wins" in case of flamewar depends on forum, but in most cases, moderators win. Providing non-biased info in such threads is difficult, and sometimes leads to disappointment - especially when you discover that someone asked the question you already answered in details one year ago in the same thread.
3) If are feeling too emotional while typing a reply, do not type a reply. If you were offended, report incident to moderators. If you are angry, go outside and take a walk. If you don't like someone, ignore him or her (by adding into ignore list). Being furious or simply emotional causes too much typing. And too much typing means too much time wasted.
4) When someone posts something that doesn't fit into your system of beliefs, and it enrages you, do not try to explain something to that guy/girl, ignore him/her. If he posted something gross, then report it to moderators. To my experience, trying to explain something to someone who don't want to listen is #1 cause of wasting time on the internet. This applies to the choice of distribution, operating system, religion, some questions about women, and so on. Same principle applies to trolls or any person that pisses your off.
5) Do not reply in the threads started by spammers. They don't read it.
6) When replying to "newbie" section, try to keep your replies extremely short, but informational. It is tempting to overwhelm newbie with the amount of things you know, but this guy might not need it. He might be simply interested how to watch DVD, and not in the mood for linux history lesson or detailed comparison of all available dvd-players.
7) When you realize that you started to type extremely long, detailed instructions about "how to do something in linux", stop, put keyboard away, take a deep breath, relax, and then try to find howto on the subject you were writing about. There is high chance that someone already wrote what you were going to write right now, so you'll be reinventing wheel. If there is a howto on the subject, post a link to it or quote it (but still provide link). This will make howto more widespread and will save time for other people.
8) When you found a good howto or manual, and want to put a link to them in reply, consider quoting them. Websites sometimes disappear, and seeing dead link 3 years later (and answering same thing again) isn't much fun. If the source of article doesn't look "stable" enough, quote good portion of it (but still provide link). If website is unlikely to disappear, then link should be enough.
9) If you really pissed someone off, and was unable to pacify that person within small amount of replies (1..3), consider ignoring that person. This is because when someone thinks that you are "evil person that hates all people" (no matter what were your intentions, what did you post, how friendly you were, people might think that about you), you can waste considerable amount of time reasoning with that person and explaining your position. If you started such "clarification conversation", observe person's reaction, and if person is unlikely to change attitude quickly, don't waste your time. Some people can be reasoned with, some can't.
10) When you see newbie poster (which has 1 message on the forum) with a short question (literally short - one statement with poor punctuation, small amount of info, etc), and you want to write really long answer, stop, and think about it again. Poster might be "fly by homework question author" - i.e. he will ask question, and then mysteriously disappear, while other people will waste their time explaining things to him and writing huge replies for few weeks. Not all newbies magically disappear, but you should consider that possibility.
11) Don't do other people's homework, they normally won't truly appreciate it, and this will spoil your mood and take your time. I.e. if the guy asked how to make some script, do not engage in 3 hours of googling, researching and testing just to make that script for him, because in the end his "thanks" might not satisfy you. To my experience, answers that were written with little effort (link to howto, article) generate more positive emotional feedback (for you - i.e. you'll feel more happy) when people say "thanks" than answers where you spend hours to find solution. Making other people's homework makes sense only if the problem is extremely interesting for you and you really like to solve complicated problems. Notice, that even if you solved problem you still can choose not to provide info to the OP, if you think he is too lazy or didn't do his homework.
12) Do not live on the forums. If you are checking forums for new messages every 3 minutes and looking for _any_ discussion to participate in, and occasionally attempt to derail existing threads, then you should probably turn off computer and go jogging, watch the movie, take dog for a walk, or do anything that is fun, takes at least hour and doesn't involve computers. Helping people is fine, forums are good, but, unfortunately, for some people participating in such discussion is a bit addictive. And when you start spending too much time on the forums, quality of your answers decreases.

Now this is it. I hope this information will be useful for someone.
Posted in Uncategorized
Views 9826 Comments 10
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Total Comments 10


  1. Old Comment
    Nice Post.
    Posted 12-01-2008 at 12:09 AM by rokytnji rokytnji is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Appreciated. Ask LQ to add to the Read-Me-First doc
    Posted 12-01-2008 at 06:37 AM by bonegang bonegang is offline
  3. Old Comment
    I wish I'd read this a few years ago. It would have spared me a great deal of embarrassment.
    Posted 12-10-2008 at 09:40 AM by FlGator81 FlGator81 is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Wow, very nice post. I'm impressed I will bookmark and save this page, because I do tend to fall for many of these and the outcome is usually negative in these cases.
    Posted 12-16-2008 at 03:40 PM by H_TeXMeX_H H_TeXMeX_H is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Nice tips, but not really a how-to ;D. It all makes sense, but I think many people could avoid mentioned problems just by thinking before posting. I enjoined reading it.
    Posted 12-17-2008 at 03:58 PM by TITiAN TITiAN is offline
  6. Old Comment

    Nicely point them in correct direction, thank others for their posts, Mark answered

    ErV sure hit the nail on the head. IMHO: Thought 12 should be 1st & last!

    Don't forget some newbs (& teens) may use English as 2nd language, be patient.

    When reading a GOOD applicative reply, Mark it as answered or solved.
    Posted 12-28-2008 at 01:55 AM by digital8doug digital8doug is offline
  7. Old Comment
    Impressive. Thank you.
    Posted 12-29-2008 at 07:48 AM by bhupendra bhupendra is offline
  8. Old Comment
    If itís not too late to reply then here's my 2 cents: I have one rule about forums. When I post itís purely for my own enjoyment. Helping is nice and I have been helped many times but if I donít enjoy it then itĎs a waste of time. I know itís selfish but it works for me. YMMV

    PS: I like your signature. It could apply to me too.
    Posted 01-06-2009 at 08:27 PM by win_to_lin_migrant win_to_lin_migrant is offline
  9. Old Comment
    ErV is a people hater who makes me cry! One thing you've grossly overlooked is the fact that OP-proper isn't the focus of an individual thread; there's a reason LQ is public. Additionally, individual help for the sole benefit of the requester falls into the category of consultation (as it was described in FAQs for a newsgroup I was a part of many, many years ago.) You can be helpful to the masses even if the individual initiating the discussion is rude, inconsiderate, lazy, ungrateful, etc. Other than that, very useful information, and also a useful reminder. And there's no need to self-alienate; sooner or later you'll get tired of it and just realize that you might be perceived as an asshole just by being yourself, which is generally irrelevant once you get used to it.

    PS Fix your spelling and grammar!
    Posted 01-11-2009 at 09:01 PM by ta0kira ta0kira is offline
  10. Old Comment

    oops i need to go outside and take a walk
    Posted 01-31-2009 at 04:34 PM by guest guest is offline


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