Maximizing Help


Some tips on asking more relevant questions to get faster, more accurate and more productive answers, and how to maximize the help you receive on IRC, internet forums and mailing lists by asking more directed and well thought out questions:

  1. Respect
  2. Remember that most IRC help channels are free. The more effort you can put in ahead of time to troubleshoot or organize your problem, the less time someone else needs to quickly look at all of your configs, error output, kernel version or other important, relevant and useful information. Always look for your own answers first. Showing others you are actively trying to solve your own problems increases the chances someone will be willing to help you out and decreases any irritation you may receive or inadvertently transfer to others.

    Never ask to ask a question. It is redundant and generally frowned upon. Just ask your question.

  3. Keep a History
  4. Keep a logical and accurate history of the troubleshooting efforts you’ve already attempted and in what order (i.e. don’t repeat steps that have already proven fruitless). This is more respectful of others time and your own. Showing respect for others time and effort is more likely to get you the help you are looking for. People want to help those who can get along with others and use common sense. Remember, people are donating their time. money and other resources to help you.

  5. Keep Records
  6. Just like above, we want to take a systematic approach to learning the computer as it is a system. To learn what the true causes or outcomes should be keep a notepad next to your computer or open a text editor:

    • To help you remember complex tasks you’ve successfully completed.
    • For keeping detailed troubleshooting steps, problems encounters, etc.
    • To create your own, succinct, text help files.

    Memory retention is far greater when we combine the physical act of writing or typing with the visual stimulus of seeing what we have written; Self-Programming. Periodically, review what you’ve written to refresh your memory. Use what you’ve learned to help others with the same problems or for making concise help documents. Helping others helps you remember as well, help pass knowledge on.

  7. Use Appropriate Help Forums
  8. Be mindful of the help arena you are using to find a solution. Use appropriate forums, channels, websites and other resources to look for answers. Improper use of help resources can be met with irritation and possible banning or blacklisting by others. Don’t ask off topic questions or disrupt the normal operation of your help resources. If you’re redirected to another forum, channel or help resource try using it as well.

    Also, be observant of information given to you, people don’t like to repeat themselves when you can just as easily scroll up and re-read what was typed to you. Also, do not use “text talk” such as “u” or heavily abbreviated words such as “hlp plz” or similar forms of phone texting “communication”. This does not help you and will most likely turn off any potential help you might otherwise receive if people are required to “decrypt” what you’ve written.

  9. Keep Calm
  10. The old adage ‘you catch more flies with honey’ could not be more true on the net. Here you are judged by what you type and by what your reactions are to what is typed to you. You never know who is watching. Don’t accuse, bait or otherwise cause disturbances in help forums; it’s you that will be remembered negatively in the end.

  11. Focus
  12. When asking for help, try to listen to one person at a time. Often, there are several ways to accomplish the same task. If you try accepting information from more than one person you may quickly become confused and/or experience errors, conflicting information or be unable to proceed. It is ok to try different methods but you should try to stick with one at a time so that you can understand each method’s process, benefits and weaknesses.

    Also, when accepting advice, follow the instructions of the person giving it. Listen to them respectfully; don’t go off on your own tangents typing commands that weren’t asked for or giving incorrect or incomplete responses. This is extremely frustrating, disrespectful shows you aren’t paying attention and will most often lead to no more help.

  13. Show You’ve Done Your Work
  14. Finally, when posing a question, your best bet is to paste all pertinent information on a pastebin such as: fpaste, dpaste, or phpfi.

    Then, give a brief synopsis of your problem in the appropriate channel with a link back to your pasted errors and other information. Pay attention to the information your receive, if someone is abusive or unhelpful, simply ignore them and do not respond at all. Fighting or arguing with others (even if you believe you’re right) will only make you look bad and unnecessarily complicate your issue. This is the internet, let it go.

Following these simple steps will help you and those providing assistance to you. Remember, it’s not how much you know but knowing how to find what you need to know that matters… Now, ask yourself “How can I help the open source community?”

Here’s a few ideas

  1. Give Back
  2. Donate time, money, energy, coding skills or other resources to a FOSS project of your choice. There are numerous ways to contribute, the only limit is your imagination. Help free others who are truly seeking to free themselves of outdated modes of thought and help make /home better for everyone.

  3. Help Out
  4. Give sound, proven advice that is agreed upon by the majority. This sets a good example while also providing stability and reliability to the solution. If everyone is using the same proven solution that works, there is less chance of it not working for someone and less chance for other confusion. Try to refrain from advising “fringe” or custom solutions. Do so only when it is apparent to everyone there is no other recourse. If someone has a good idea, let them speak so everyone learns something new.

  5. Don’t Argue
  6. Finally, refrain from software debates or who has the best Linux distro, program or Desktop Environment. There is no universal “best”. These are tired arguments and have been beaten to death. It really defeats the whole purpose of helping others. One of the many beauties of Linux and open source is it’s versatility. Give others the freedom to choose what fits them best. Keep in mind however, if you veer too far off the standard path experimenting, less people may be likely or willing to help you. Remember to have fun.

Last Modified: 19 Dec, 2015 at 13:24:21