How to Ask Questions

The below is largely taken from a similar document used at work, which itself is adapted from How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

Don’t ask to ask

Rather than asking if anyone is available to help with a problem or if anyone is knowledgeable in a certain area, state your question. Someone may not volunteer as an expert in a certain area but may still be able to help you once they see your question.

Be specific

Describe your issue in detail. Rather than “foo doesn’t work”, describe how it doesn’t work. Think of this as a bug report:

  • The steps you took
  • The expected result
  • The actual result

This will give the person helping you a starting point to and avoid going down rabbit holes you’ve already explored.

Be precise

Try to use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Discussing technical matters is hard, don’t make it harder by making someone work to parse your language. Take your time making sure that your point is clear. A message that takes a couple minutes to write, but is clear, is more valuable than an immediate message that is ambiguous.

Describe the goal

What are you trying to do? It will be easier for someone to understand your specific issue in the larger context. Additionally, this makes it possible for someone to recommend an alternative approach that achieves the same goal if your issue can’t be solved. In other words, it once again helps avoid 🐰🕳.

Try it and see

Remember that you’re working through a problem with someone. You’re not a passive recipient of tech support. The person helping you doesn’t have all the answers. So it’s your responsibility to participate by experimenting and trying things in order to move forward. By experimenting, you gather information that can help solve your problem.

Show your work

If you solve your issue, make sure to post your solution.
xkcd: Wisdom of the Ancients

The person helping you wants to learn from your problem, as do people following along. In the future, someone experiencing the same issue can search and find your solution.

And with that, thanks for reading.