Joel from Joel On Software is assembling a book about software development by asking people to send in links to articles they think people should read. I'm slowly working my way through the ones that sound interesting.
This one sounded interesting. How To Ask Questions The Smart Way. It's about how to ask a techie a question. Examples:
hackers have a reputation for meeting simple questions with what looks like hostility or arrogance. It sometimes looks like we're reflexively rude to newbies and the ignorant. But this isn't really true. What we are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to be unwilling to think or to do their own homework before asking questions. People like that are time sinks — they take without giving back, they waste time we could have spent on another question more interesting and another person more worthy of an answer. We call people like this “losers”
Some other choice bits
Before asking a technical question by email, or in a newsgroup, or on a website chat board, do the following:
When you ask your question, display the fact that you have done these things first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge and wasting people's time. Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. We like answering questions for people who have demonstrated that they can learn from the answers.
- Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
- Try to find an answer by reading the manual.
- Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.
- Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
- Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.
- If you are a programmer, try to find an answer by reading the source code.
Make it easy to reply: Finishing your query with “Please send your reply to... ” makes it quite unlikely you will get an answer. If you can't be bothered to take even the few seconds required to set up a correct Reply-To header in your mail agent, we can't be bothered to take even a few seconds to think about your problem. If your mail program doesn't permit this, get a better mail program. If your operating system doesn't support any mail programs that permit this, get a better operating system. In Web forums, asking for a reply by email is outright rude... If you want to get an email when somebody replies in the thread, request that the Web forum send it; this feature is supported almost everywhere under options like “watch this thread”, “send email on answers”, etc.)
Unfortunately the document is full of things I don't agree with. For example Eric Raymond, the guy who wrote it, is extraordinarily irrational in his hatred of Microsoft, non−plain text e−mails, greater than 80 column text, and other ridiculous stuff but the jist of it is 100% spot on.