I’ve been providing support online for a few years, mainly for my projects. Someone asks a nice challenging question, you dig in a little, possibly find a bug and fix it, give the user his answer get a nice little thank you and you’re on your way to the next question. Sadly, that ideal is far from being the reality for most questions. Most of the time questions repeat themselves, lack any challenge, lack too much information or asked in an irritating manner. Inspired by the effective bug reporting and smart questions guides, I decided to write my own version. Initially, I wanted to go with the ten commandments, but I didn’t quite see how I could fit “honor your father and mother” in. So, without further ado, I hereby present the seven deadly sins of questioning.
Moms are smart, that’s a known fact. However, they’re not always right. Especially on so called facts that contain the notorious pair of words “most important”. Breakfast is not the most important meal of day as it’s usually aimed at herbivores and you are not the most important person in the world. Nothing you ask is urgent unless other lives are at stake. There’s nothing to get passionate about. Nothing will happen if you don’t get your answer right away. Armageddon will continue lingering and your mom will still be there for you with her “most important” slogans. So chill. “Urgent” questions and vivid descriptions of how amazing your question is will not get you an answer faster.
Ideally, when stumbling upon an issue, you look around a bit before asking a question. You seek the solution, try to find out what’s wrong, collect as many details as you can until two or more click and you find the solution. Nothing clicks? Time to ask someone else? Don’t skimp on the details, add as many as you can. Gathering them all and then keeping them to yourself doesn’t help anybody and most certainly doesn’t help you. At the very least, describe a method of reproduction of the issue. Even the most talented support champion can’t help you with an issue that can’t be seen or described in words. Even Don Quixote had his windmills to fight.
Knowledge is power, everybody knows that. It’s only reasonable to keep it to yourself, to keep your prestigious stand. So, if after asking a question, you find the answer yourself, why bother sharing? In fact, why not ask a lot of questions and then come back later to say you solved them all on your own? Instant self-proclaimed hotshot. Power overwhelming. Guru.
So why ask in the first place? Why be a burden? If you’re going to frustrate people by answering yourself before they get a chance or even while they’re trying to politely answer your question, at least share your findings. Even if all it took was that little search you were too lazy to do, share it so your question will rise up from its cyberspace waste status. You may even get a better solution from a true guru, or the average curious John Doe who simply knows better on your specific issue. If you don’t share, why would anyone want to share with you? P2P networks has a lot to teach us in this case.
Time is money. Asking for something that can be easily obtained, like questions from a FAQ or searchable questions wastes your time while waiting for the answer and the other side’s time while searching for you. Search engines have been invented for a reason, FAQ pages were not written in vein and documentation files may rot, but shouldn’t be abandoned.
Even if the search comes out empty, there are other ways. Show a bit of self competence, try solving the problem on your own. Isolate the problem, test on different platforms, observe differences that cause the problem to appear, broaden your search and guess a little. You can’t expect the other side to do all the work for you. At the very least, your tests will help the other side finding the solution faster. Lazy questions inspire lazy answers.
The most annoying type of sloth is the ever so lazy request of “do it for me”. Some ask it right out, occasionally attaching a job half done, a very lacking description of things that don’t work, usually with a very descriptive “not working” text. Some simply refuse to understand the solution until it comes in the form of a full fledged example. Then, seeing as their laziness has paid off, they’ll move on to the next issue and once again stumble upon a great obstacle they can’t possibly overcome without yet another example.
Raging and screaming won’t help you get your answer faster. It’ll only get the other side angry and unwilling while wasting your time on being calmed down. Frustrated? Upset? Furious? Leave the computer. Go meditate or something… Come back after you’ve found nirvana and everything will look better. You might even find the problem on your own, now that you have more blood running into your brain instead of your fists.
Been waiting a while? Someone got an answer before you? Forget about the green monster. Go get some tea, sit back and relax. Posting your question in more places where “others got an answer” will only get others annoyed and confused. Which post is the newest? Where do I want to answer? Do I even want to answer and encourage this guy to post his question a zillion times and litter my beautiful piece of heaven? You should spend your time on trying to get more details for your problem instead of getting upset and confusing others.
Until proven otherwise, you don’t know best. If the computer, application or programmer’s fault is in your axiom list, you’re doomed. You’ll never find your answer by assuming it’s not your fault. Even if the problem you’re seeing is caused by a bug, you’ve triggered this bug somehow. Assuming the fault lies solely outside your reach will only get you frustrated and get you farther from redemption.
Have a little modesty, just as you’d except the other side to have. Pride is an epidemic. It rapidly infects all parties and consumes all hope of a solution, sending your time right down the drain. Declaring you know best before any details, or unequivocally proclaiming what’s a right and what’s wrong, will force the other side into a defense position from which you’ll have a hard time getting your answer.
Still think you know it all? Found the bug that no one else found? Do you really think such a huge bug would go unnoticed by so many people? If you are so certain, you must have a lot of information to back your claim. Post that information or face the immanent failure of finding a solution.