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It's not that people are stingy with their time, or unwilling to help. It's that they naturally and sensibly worry about their ability to assist people who are so badly out of touch with basic social cues.

As Russell Brand's character in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" so blithely put it, "I thought about helping you, but then I carried on with my life instead."

Main points are in BOLD.

In order to find the answer you're looking for, you have to ask the right question. No, I didn't just pull that out of a fortune cookie. Asking good questions is an essential skill that takes mindfulness, strategy and practice. The bottom line is: few people will help a person who doesn't help themselves.

. . .

In short, only good questions got answers.

So next time you're formulating a question for someone - be it your boss, co-worker, Google, random stranger on the internet, or your Mom - keep these guidelines in mind to maximize your chances at getting the help you need.

Be specific.

"I tried to use your script and it didn't work. What am I doing wrong?"

This type of question is impossible to answer because it's too vague. What didn't work? What was the output? Was there an error? What was it? What happened exactly? If you need help, help the askee help you. Don't ask unless you can make your question clear - it'll save both of you a lot of back and forth.

Do your research.

"Do you know how someone might keep a to do list in a plain text file, like todo.txt?"

If it's obvious that you haven't put any elbow grease into researching your question yourself, folks are a lot less likely to help you - especially on mailing lists. Make sure you do a good faith run through the user guide and search the web before you waste other people's bandwidth on an issue you can solve yourself.

There are times when web search won't help because you don't know the right terms that others have used to describe the concept. In those cases, say up front, "My Google skills failed me" or "I searched a few different combinations of foo and bar, with no success" or "I called customer service and they couldn't help either."

Show that you at least tried. Just remember that busy smart people will only volunteer their time if you show that you're not just trying to con others into doing free research work for you.

Ask the right person.

"When I tried to do X on example.com I get this error. How come?"

When you find a helpful resource, your natural inclination is to ask them questions about everything. But, asking anyone other than someone AT example.com about an error there just doesn't make sense.

Make sure you're asking the right folks for the information you need. This goes triple for departments at the office and friends. Develop your own personal "board of experts" - or join a Q&A community like the excellent Ask MetaFilter. Then, when you have a question, after you've done your research and come up short, consider who in your life is best equipped to answer it with ease. Spare everyone else.

Make it worth the askee's while.

"I can't get your program to work and it's driving me crazy!!! Help me ASAP I have a deadline!!!"

When you're tired and frustrated and wrapped up in your own needs, it can be hard to step outside yourself and think about others. But the best way to get someone to help you out of the goodness of their heart is to offer them something in return.

"Hi, I want to use your software because it looks really interesting, and I'd like to write it up on my web site. But I'm having this problem which doesn't seem to be documented. Can you help me work it out?"

In that case, the askee has two motivations: the first is free publicity, and the second is the chance to work with a cooperative, calm tester to debug a problem and complete the software's documentation.

. . .

If you want to get people to do something, don't tell them how desperately they are needed. Don't try to appeal to their sympathy and kindness. Instead, create the impression that you are giving them the opportunity to be part of your success.

Source: http://lifehacker.com/software/communicati...king-191451.php[/b]

Although this article was written with a blog in mind, it still applies to a public forum

Leaving a comment on someone's weblog is like walking into their living room and joining in on a conversation. As in real life, online there are some people who are a pleasure to converse with, and some who are not. Good blog commenters add to the discussion and are known as knowledgeable, informative, friendly and engaged. Build your own online social capital and become a great blog commenter by keeping these simple guidelines in mind before you post.

Stay on topic.

Bloggers enable comments on specific blog posts to hear more about the content of the post. Don't change the subject. There's nothing more annoying than seeing a comment on a post about Hurricane Katrina that reads, "By the way, do you know anything about turtles?"

Contribute new information to the discussion.

Twelve people saying the same exact thing in one comment thread is useless and irritating. Before you comment, read the entire thread and make sure your comment offers something new to the conversation. If you don't have the time or patience to read an entire thread, then don't comment at all. The longer a comment thread the more likely someone has already said what you're thinking, and the less likely it is to be read by future visitors anyway.

Don't comment for the sake of commenting.

Commenters who only say "First!" or "Nice site" on an open thread have no business hitting that "Post" button at all. Further, only spammers comment for the sake of adding their name and URL to a web page. Useless comments will gain you the reputation for being a useless commenter.

Know when to comment and when to e-mail.

A weblog comment is a public one-to-many communication within the context of a blog post. An e-mail is a private interaction. A weblog comment that reads, "Oh yeah, that link is cool. By the way, how's your sister?" doesn't contribute to the public conversation and belongs in an e-mail message to the author instead.

Remember that nobody likes a know-it-all.

The best kind of comments come from thoughtful, knowledgeable people who add more information about a topic. However, tongue-lashings from condescending smartypants will go over as well on someone's blog as they would in that someone's living room. Expect to get shown the door in the form of the delete button. When fact-checking, pointing out a typo or dead link or asserting a dissenting opinion, do it in a respectful, friendly way.

Make the tone of your message clear.

No one can hear the tone of your voice or see your facial expression online. Sarcasm, in-jokes and exaggerations can easily be taken the wrong way in a public forum. Remember that a simple colon and a parentheses can change the meaning of a sentence entirely. Use emoticons or additional information to communicate the spirit of your message.

Cite your sources with links or inline quoting.

To comment on specific bits of a blog post, copy and paste the lines in question and add your response below each section. If you're referencing information located elsewhere, provide a short summary and a link to your source so others can click through for more information at their discretion.

Be courteous.

Chances are something someone says in a comment or post is going to irk you. Still, personal attacks are unacceptable, useless and can quickly degrade a discussion to a third grade "Yo Mama" flamefest. Resist the urge, and be respectful and objective at all times.

Do not feed or tease the trolls.

No matter how many articles like this get written, there will always be people who surf around the Internet and inject pointless vindictiveness into any available textarea. Don't let the terrorists win. Do NOT acknowledge these people with refutations, disagreements or even a mention of their screen name.

Source: http://lifehacker.com/software/top/geek-to...ents-126654.php[/b]


This is a nice tech support article that has some great tips. It applies to "over-the-phone" computer tech support, but it applies to these forums too since the people helping you are "blind" to your problem.

The key to making things work with your tech support representative is to make things easy for them. I know that there are a great many jackasses out there who feel some sense of entitlement and indignation when speaking to people in service roles, but believe me - you want them to be happy.

As you may or may not know, how you act before you even pick up the phone can pay a crucial role in the success or failure of your tech support experience. It can, quite literally, mean the difference between a quick and complete resolution to your problem and a harrowing grudge match that ends in frustration and defeat.

* Know how to reproduce the problem - If you're getting some cryptic error from within your web browser or something, be able to make the error happen on command before you call. Don't call in and say <strike>Internet Explorer said there was an error and had a bunch of weird numbers�</strike> "my car has a rattle noise every couple of days" if you aren't able to do this, because you can bet your bottom dollar that the tech's first request will be for you to make the error happen again. So, do yourself a favor and (to the extent that you're able, obviously) get this process straight before calling.

* Attempt to fix the problem yourself - Most people seem to have a very strong aversion to this suggestion. Either they don't feel like they have the know-how to even try to fix it, or they just feel like they'd rather have a pro look at it. I understand all of this, but people who think that way run the risk of wasting both their time (and money, depending on who they're calling) and the time of the poor schlep on the other end of the <strike>phone</strike> computer.

Things to Remember

* They can't see what you're doing - In other words, you need to be descriptive. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to know (and use) all of the techie jargon (and unless you know what you're talking about, I would recommend not even attempting to do so), but avoid using words like "thingie" when you're talking about a <strike>pop-up window or the mouse cursor</strike> camshaft position sensor or a distributor.

* They don't necessarily know the answer right off the bat - Diagnosing a <strike>computer</strike> car problem is just that, an exercise in diagnostics. Trial and error is the name of the game here, so expect to wander down some paths that end up being dead ends. Effective tech support personnel are able to quickly pare down the list of possible causes of a problem, then systematically eliminate the rest until they arrive at the culprit. Just know that the <strike>phone call</strike> topic may not be a quick one.

While on the <strike>Phone</strike> Topic

* Do exactly what they tell you to do - There's nothing more infuriating to the tech support guy than some know-it-all, weekend warrior type who managed to install Windows 98 on his own a few years back and is now an expert. These are also the types of people who roll their eyes when the person on the phone asks them to do something they may have already tried (or worse, something they feel isn't relevant to the issue at hand). Chances are, the person you're talking to knows more about this stuff than you do. You should operate under this assumption and do precisely what you're asked. It will make the process go much more smoothly, believe me.

* Be patient - As I mentioned before, the tech will likely try several candidate solutions to your problem before arriving at the winner.

* Context is relevant - If you're calling about a printer problem, it might be worth mentioning that you recently installed a new cartridge. If your computer is making funny noises, you might want to bring up the series of power outages you experienced in the last 24 hours. It's better to give more information than not enough, so feel free to share any facts that seem like they might be relevant.

* Don't lie - The simple fact of the matter is that many, many computer problems are the result of doing things with said computer that you might not want to admit. And I'm not just talking about porn (though, that's the chief sinner a lot of the time) - it could also be that toolbar you installed for your browser that gives you easy access to pictures of cute cats, or maybe that free Su Doku game. No matter what, if they person asks you if you opened any strange email attachments (or something) recently, just freakin' fess up, because they're probably going to figure it out eventually anyway.

* Don't be an Ass - One of the quickest ways you can get to the land of the banished is to treat the tech like some peon who's just "beneath you"� or something. Trust me, if you want help, humility is like gold. And if you think that certain tech support people won't give you the runaround if your attitude is sour, you're very, very wrong. Very.

Most of us will have to get an expert on the horn at some point in our lives. If your time is drawing near, remember these tips and hopefully your experience will be relatively painless.


More tips about asking for help:

Learn as much as you can on your own. Before you start contacting friends or hiring professionals, do some research on your own. I'm trained as a lawyer, yet I haven't practiced for years and am not familiar with most areas of the law. So when I have a need for legal advice, I first familiarize myself with the relevant area of the law so that I have a sense of what the issues will be. That way, when I sit down with an expert -- whether or not I'm paying for the advice -- I can be sure that I have a good sense of what the issues are.

Be direct. No one appreciates a passive-aggressive plea for help ("If only I had someone to take care of my daughter a few afternoons so that I could focus on this proposal."�) If you know what you want, ask outright. ("Is there any chance you could watch Lilly for me two days this week? I'd so appreciate the quiet time to finish the proposal."�)

Be clear. A few weeks ago, I got a mass email from an acquaintance asking if anyone knew of any apartments for rent in New York. That was the entirety of the message. The writer said nothing about dates of availability, the location or how much she could afford. While I usually forward these kinds of requests, I didn't do anything with this one because the email was so unclear that I didn't know what to do with it. Granted, I could have written her back and asked for clarification, but with 50 other emails in my inbox, I didn't want take the time to get all the answers.

Spread it out. If you anticipate you'll be needing a lot of help, try to find a team of people to rely on rather than repeatedly going to the same person. You'll get two benefits: first, you'll hear more than one approach to your problem; and second, you won't become a burden to someone you appreciate. (An exception here is if you've decided to hire professional help. In that case, it's fine to rely on one person, as long as you've chosen wisely and still realize that you'll have to do your share of the work.)


Has It Been That Long?
11,999 Posts
A few additions to this.


See? That little blurb seems angry. This isn't Facebook. We have the capability to bold text, to italicize it, to underline it, or to do any combination of the three! Isn't that nice?

2. Do not create a new thread for your issue when you have already made one. Especially if you think that "I need new answers". People here are doing this in their spare time. There are no paid employees here. We have no obligation to help you, or even to give you the answer you want. If you ask for advice, you're going to get what people think is best. Take it or leave it. And if you don't get advice, perhaps people don't have an answer for you.

Again; volunteers and spare time are the key terms here.

3. While manners are good, putting "PLEASE HELP" in your post isn't going to make anyone move faster. We don't have filters set to tell everyone when someone posts "PLEASE HELP". Remember, we can't see your car, we're volunteers, and we're not there. Sometimes you just need to break down and take it to a friend who knows what they're doing, or even to a mechanic.

4. Be concise yet detailed. That may sound confusing, but it's not. We do not need to know about every single bolt you removed, or what you ate for breakfast. But on the other hand, telling us "IT DON'T WERK--HALP!" isn't helpful either. Give us simple detail on what the problem is, what you've done so far, tell us if any warning lights are on, and most importantly USE PARAGRAPHS. When we see one massive block of text, it makes most people roll their eyes and simply move on.

5. Be patient. We all specialize in different things, and we're not on here 24/7. Volunteers, spare time, are you seeing a common theme here? :D

That's it for now.
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