Suggested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

#1
I decided to make this proposed sticky, to address some of the nonesense I see on a daily basis on this forum. I based it on a sticky on a linux forum I visit regularly (credit goes to exterm on the PCLOS forum).

My request to the regulars is: Please peer review this suggested sticky, give comments, and please add your suggestions (preferably by copying the whole text and adding it in red)

Draft: Intelligent posting behavior pays off /Forum Guidelines.


If you want to ask a question on this forum, and you actually want a meaningful answer or an actual answer at that, then do the following:

1) Search and show effort. We cant stress this enough.

  • Try to find an answer by searching the forum.
  • Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
  • Try to find an answer by reading your statistics package program manual.

Now when you ask your question, it really helps when you display the fact that you have done these things first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge or that you are wasting people's time. Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. We love answering questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from the answers

2) When You Ask, choose your forum carefully

Be sensitive in choosing where you ask your question. You are likely to be ignored, or written off as a loser, if you:

  • post your question to a forum where it's off topic
  • double-post to too many different forums
  • post a personal e-mail to somebody who is neither an acquaintance of yours nor personally responsible for solving your problem (we are not your supervisor)

3) Use meaningful, specific subject headers

The subject header is your golden opportunity to attract qualified experts' attention in around 50 characters or fewer. Don't waste it on babble like “Please help me” (let alone “PLEASE HELP ME!!!!”; messages with subjects like that get discarded by reflex). Don't try to impress us with the depth of your anguish; use the space for a super-concise problem description instead.

One good convention for subject headers, used by many tech support organizations, is “object - deviation”. The “object” part specifies what thing or group of things are you having a problem with, and the “deviation” part describes exactly what you are trying to do.

* Stupid:
HELP! I dont know how to do this test plz help
* Smart:
Comparing groups - which test should I use
* Smarter:
[SPSS - T-Test] Should I use a two sample or paired t.test?


Any expert who sees a smart header can immediately understand what it is that you are having a problem with and the problem you are having, at a glance.

4) Write in clear, grammatical, correctly-spelled language

Answering questions for careless and sloppy thinkers is not rewarding; we'd rather spend our time elsewhere. So expressing your question clearly and well is important. If you can't be bothered to do that, we can't be bothered to pay attention. Spend the extra effort to polish your language. It doesn't have to be stiff or formal — in fact, we value informal, slangy and humorous language if it is used with precision. But it has to be precise; there has to be some indication that you're thinking and paying attention.

Spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. Really DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS; this is read as shouting and considered rude. (All-smalls is only slightly less annoying, as it's difficult to read)

More generally, if you write like a semi-literate you will very likely be ignored. So don't use instant-messaging [SMS] shortcuts. Spelling "you" as "u" makes you look like an semi-literate dud who just saved two entire keystrokes. Worse: writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r is the absolute kiss of death and guarantees you will receive nothing but stony silence.


5) Be precise and informative about your problem


  • Describe the research you did to try and understand the problem before you asked the question.
  • Describe the steps you took to try and pin down the problem yourself before you asked the question.

If you can do your best to anticipate the questions an expert will ask, and answer them in advance in your request for help - you will be helped much more rapidly.

Don't waste your time, or ours, on crude primate politics “I know I'm just a pathetic stats loser, but...”. Instead, present the background facts and your question as clearly as you can. That is a better way to position yourself than by grovelling.
Grovelling is not a substitute for doing your homework It is distracting and unhelpful. It's especially annoying when it's coupled with vagueness about the actual problem.


6) Describe the goal, not the step

If you are trying to find out how to do something, begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on.

Often, people who need technical help have a high-level goal in mind and get stuck on what they think is one particular path towards the goal. They come for help with the step, but don't realize that the path is wrong. It can take substantial effort to get past this.

Stupid:
How should I split my data in groups based on temperature so I can conduct an two way ANOVA?
* Smart:
I'm trying test for a relationship between group A and B at different temperature levels. Right now the only way I can see to do this is by splitting my data in groups and running a two way ANOVA [group x temp].

The second version of the question is smart. It allows an answer that suggests a tool (here likely an ANCOVA) better suited to the task.

7) Courtesy never hurts, and sometimes helps

Be courteous. Use “Please” and “Thanks for your attention” or “Thanks for your consideration”. Make it clear you appreciate the time people spend helping you for free.

Remember, this isn't as important as (and cannot substitute for) being grammatical, clear, precise and descriptive; me personally would rather get somewhat brusque but technically sharp questions than polite vagueness. (If this puzzles you, remember that we value a question by what it teaches us.)

However, if you've got your technical ducks in a row, politeness does increase your chances of getting a useful answer.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Should we add this?

8) Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Post a note after the problem has been solved to show all who helped you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help. If the problem attracted general interest in, it's appropriate to post the followup there.

As Dason once suggested: optimally, the header should then also be changed to ‘SOLVED’ or an equally obvious tag in the subject line.
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#2
Re: Sugested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

Do 'announcements' show up at the top of every forum? A sticky just stays on top of the forum that it was created it but I think this would be a good thread for people to see no matter which sub-board they go to.

1) Search and show effort. We cant stress this enough.

  • Try to find an answer by reading your textbook (if you are a student asking for homework help).
  • Try to find an answer by searching the forum.
  • Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
  • Try to find an answer by reading your statistics package program manual.
Sometimes I just feel like some of the questions that get asked could get answered by opening up a textbook.
 
#3
Re: Sugested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

Do 'announcements' show up at the top of every forum?
Good question. Quark, can we post announcements?

Edit: yes we can but do they show up on all Forums - I can run a test.

Edit2: yes, just use the post announcement -> all forums option!

Guess if we agree on the contents of these guidelines, I'll post it as an announcement!
 
Last edited:

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#4
Re: Sugested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

I think an all forums announcement would be the route to go. The homework help stickies didn't really apply to every forum so it didn't make sense to do it for those but I think this is general enough and even covers the homework help guidelines pretty well that an all forums announcement would be warranted. I think they're pretty good as it but maybe we should wait a little while and let others pitch in with their opinions.
 
#5
Re: Sugested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

I think they're pretty good as it but maybe we should wait a little while and let others pitch in with their opinions.
Oh, absolutely. I'd like input from as many regulars as possible (peer review he ? :) ). So lets give this a few more days before announcing the final.

How is your 'how-to' Math tags going? I still think that's a good idea. We could run it through a similar procedure here (this forum/ peer review) and post it as an announcement as well if you like.
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#6
Re: Sugested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

The math tags thing I sort of wasn't sure if I should do. Mainly because we already have something like what I was going to do here. I was probably going to go a little more in depth (cover tables and other things that come up somewhat frequently) but we already have a thread for the basics. I just forgot we had that thread when I suggested the how-to thread.

Do you still think it would be a good idea to possibly expand on that thread? Maybe have that as an announcement as well?
 
#7
Re: Sugested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

Do you still think it would be a good idea to possibly expand on that thread? Maybe have that as an announcement as well?
I for one would like to have a more advanced math section to use as a reference, so both expand or add will work for me... why don't you add it to the statistical research section.. as that is the section where it will most likely be useful.

Edit: we should add the most useful remarks - those that are not covered in the above yet - from this thread to the forum wide announcement:
 
#8
Re: Sugested sticky: How to ask questions in an intelligent manner.

Yeah we can definitely make this an announcement. This is so helpful. Thanks guys!

I get an email every once in a while asking about how to post a question. I guess the "New Thread" button is hard to find for first time forum visitors. Can we add something like: Please post new questions by clicking the "New Thread" button at the upper left corner of each forum. Thanks.
 

CowboyBear

Super Moderator
#9
Thanks heaps for putting this together, it looks great :) Couple of ideas below, but I pretty much agree with all the guidelines.

8) Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Post a note after the problem has been solved to show all who helped you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help. If the problem attracted general interest in, it's appropriate to post the followup there.

As Dason once suggested: optimally, the header should then also be changed to ‘SOLVED’ or an equally obvious tag in the subject line.
I like this idea. It'd definitely be interesting to see how things turn out in the end - maybe we might even see some articles that posters have published after solving a problem here! I think this can also be applied to questions that the OP manages to solve by himself or herself without responses from other talkstatters. I sometimes see posts where the OP has clearly figured it out alone and then edited the post just to say "never mind, I figured it out myself!" or similar. This is a bit annoying - the OP could use the opportunity to let others know how they solved the problem, instead of leaving an effectively blank post.

Following the thanking/followup theme, I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to add something specific about using the "thanks" feature when appropriate?

If you are trying to find out how to do something, begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on.
This is really good, but I wonder if it might be handy to be as explicit as possible that people should describe their actual research question (at least for consulting-type questions)? It's frustrating when people cloak their questions in hypothetical vagueness (as if their undergrad research project was a CIA secret). This works out ok sometimes, but often means we can't tell whether the analysis they want to do is appropriate. Plus, knowing what we're actually helping with can help motivate responses.
 
#10
Oke here is an updated version. We still need a catchy title, any ideas?


Version: 1.0: Intelligent posting behavior pays off /Forum Guidelines.


Welcome to talkstats.com, the place for statistics help. This is a guideline for people who want to ask a question on this forum, and value a meaningful answer or even an actual answer at that.
So If you are one of these people then - when you click the "New Thread" button at the upper left corner of each forum - make sure you do the following:

1) Show effort. We cant stress this enough.

  • Try to find an answer by searching the forum.
  • Try to find an answer by searching the Web (use that famous search engine).
  • Try to find an answer by reading your statistics package program manual.
  • Try to find an answer by reading your textbook (if you are a student asking for homework help).

Now when you ask your question, it really helps when you display the fact that you have done these things first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge or that you are wasting people's time. Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. We love answering questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from the answers

2) When You Ask, choose your forum carefully

Be sensitive in choosing where you ask your question. You are likely to be ignored, or written off as a loser, if you:

  • post your question to a forum where it's off topic
  • double-post to too many different forums (don't double post, it useless, we will remove it)
  • post a personal e-mail to somebody who is neither an acquaintance of yours nor personally responsible for solving your problem (we are not your supervisor)

3) Use meaningful, specific subject headers

The subject header is your golden opportunity to attract qualified experts' attention in around 50 characters or fewer. Don't waste it on babble like “Please help me” (let alone “PLEASE HELP ME!!!!”; messages with subjects like that get discarded by reflex). Don't try to impress us with the depth of your anguish; use the space for a super-concise problem description instead.

One good convention for subject headers, used by many tech support organizations, is “object - deviation”. The “object” part specifies what thing or group of things are you having a problem with, and the “deviation” part describes exactly what you are trying to do.

  • Stupid:
    HELP! I dont know how to do this test plz help
  • Smart:
    Comparing groups - which test should I use
  • Smarter:
    [SPSS - T-Test] Should I use a two sample or paired t.test?

Any expert who sees a smart header can immediately understand what it is that you are having a problem with and the problem you are having, at a glance.

4) Write in clear, grammatical, correctly-spelled language

Answering questions for careless and sloppy thinkers is not rewarding; we'd rather spend our time elsewhere. So expressing your question clearly and well is important. If you can't be bothered to do that, we can't be bothered to pay attention. Spend the extra effort to polish your language. It doesn't have to be stiff or formal — in fact, we value informal, slangy and humorous language if it is used with precision. But it has to be precise; there has to be some indication that you're thinking and paying attention.

Spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. Really DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS; this is read as shouting and considered rude. (All-smalls is only slightly less annoying, as it's difficult to read)

More generally, if you write like a semi-literate you will very likely be ignored. So don't use instant-messaging [SMS] shortcuts. Spelling "you" as "u" makes you look like an semi-literate dud who just saved two entire keystrokes. Worse: writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r is the absolute kiss of death and guarantees you will receive nothing but stony silence.

If your posting code/syntax from any statistical software make sure that the code is "clean" (and make a reference to the appropriate package(s) needed). To us, those trying to offer assistance, this makes things much easier and amplifies the chance that the poster will get a reply. We will not sieve through your code in an attempt to figure out which errors are due to sloppy/careless coding and which are the ones you are having trouble with. So code clean and indicate where the problems are.


5) Be precise and informative about your problem


  • Describe the research you did to try and understand the problem before you asked the question.
  • Describe the steps you took to try and pin down the problem yourself before you asked the question.

If you can do your best to anticipate the questions an expert will ask, and answer them in advance in your request for help - you will be helped much more rapidly.

Don't waste your time, or ours, on crude primate politics “I know I'm just a pathetic stats loser, but...”. Instead, present the background facts and your question as clearly as you can. That is a better way to position yourself than by grovelling.
Grovelling is not a substitute for doing your homework It is distracting and unhelpful. It's especially annoying when it's coupled with vagueness about the actual problem.


6) Describe the goal, not the step

If you are trying to find out how to do something, begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on.

Often, people who need technical help have a high-level goal in mind and get stuck on what they think is one particular path towards the goal. They come for help with the step, but don't realize that the path is wrong. It can take substantial effort to get past this.

  • Stupid:
    How should I split my data in groups based on temperature so I can conduct an two way ANOVA?
  • Smart:
    I'm trying test for a relationship between group A and B at different temperature levels. Right now the only way I can see to do this is by splitting my data in groups and running a two way ANOVA [group x temp].

The second version of the question is smart. It allows an answer that suggests a tool (here likely an ANCOVA) better suited to the task.

Are you here for statistical consulting on your research? Then its smart practice to actually post your research question. It's frustrating when people cloak their questions in hypothetical vagueness (your undergrad research is not a CIA secret) because this often means we can't tell whether the analysis you're doing is appropriate. Plus, knowing what we're actually helping you with will motivate helpful responses.

7) Courtesy never hurts, and sometimes helps

Be courteous. Use “Please” and “Thanks for your attention” or “Thanks for your consideration”. Make it clear you appreciate the time people spend helping you for free. We made it very easy to do this on this forum -> just use the 'thanks' button below every post.

Remember, this isn't as important as (and cannot substitute for) being grammatical, clear, precise and descriptive; me personally would rather get somewhat brusque but technically sharp questions than polite vagueness. (If this puzzles you, remember that we value a question by what it teaches us.)

However, if you've got your technical ducks in a row, politeness does increase your chances of getting a useful answer.

8) Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Post a note after the problem has been solved to show all who helped you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help. If the problem attracted general interest in, it's appropriate to post the followup there. Optimally, the header should then also be changed to ‘SOLVED’ or an equally obvious tag in the subject line.

A person that has applied to the guidelines here seems worthy of an answer. He/she has exhibited problem-solving intelligence rather than passively waiting for an answer to drop from on high. However, If you have applied to all the conditions above and your question is still not being answered: feel free to bumb the thread. Your question could of simply been swamped in traffic at a busy time. Remember though that it could simply be that the lack of an answer stems from the fact that nobody here knows the answer. After a bumb, we're more likely to tell you whats up - at least if you have posted your question in an intelligent fashion.

Remember these are not posting rules
, rather guidelines that will maximize your chances of getting help. So if you're genuinely here for help then let them guide you.

Happy posting everyone!

Acknowledgements
These guidelines are meant to be a summery and combination of Eric Raymonds posting guides, the javaranch faq and both these [1,2] forum threads as well as including helpful suggestions from (in no particular order) quark, Dason and CowboyBear
 
#11
Also I sometime find that people crosspost.. is this therefore useful to add?

Be honest about crossposting

There might be times when you are inclined to post a question not only at talkstats.com, but also at some other site.

When you do so, keep in mind that this is not generally in the interests of the posters who might be responding to your posts - those folks may find they've wasted their time. You certainly don't want to annoy those you want to help you, so you might want to make the experience as painless as possible.

The best way to do something like this (without ticking people off) would be to let people know upfront that the crossposting is occurring. This makes the most sense if there's a respectable delay between posting in one forum and another, e.g:

"I posted this question the other day in SomeOtherForum.com [link], but wasn't able to get a good answer, so now I'm asking here..."

A decent poster might also post a followup in SomeOtherForum.com letting people there know if a better answer is found.
 

bugman

Super Moderator
#12
Should we add this?

8) Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Post a note after the problem has been solved to show all who helped you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help. If the problem attracted general interest in, it's appropriate to post the followup there.

As Dason once suggested: optimally, the header should then also be changed to ‘SOLVED’ or an equally obvious tag in the subject line.
First of all, you are a diamond for putting this together. Second, I completely agree with this. It is actually a much clearer explanation of one of my suggestions a couple of months back :)

So, thanks again!
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#13
I might be missing something but I think the announcement went away. Is there a time limit on announcements by default? I can't even seem to find the announcement anymore through searching.
 
#14
I might be missing something but I think the announcement went away. Is there a time limit on announcements by default? I can't even seem to find the announcement anymore through searching.
Yeah, there´s a limited time by default. Will be posting it again as a sticky.
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#15
What if we repost it as an announcement that goes until say the year 3000? I think that'd cover our bases. Or will it not allow that?
 
#16
What if we repost it as an announcement that goes until say the year 3000? I think that'd cover our bases. Or will it not allow that?
Yeah, I was just so frustrated with the announcement that I lost it automatically - and was forced to make a new final version from the draft - that I didn't even check the announcement options. Already made some stickies now.

You got that beginners guide on making LaTeX equations, math symbols ect? Cause I could link to it in the stickies now.
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#17
I probably should write that. Today is a bad day for that though. I'll finally get it done tomorrow when I need a break from actual coding.
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#18
I'll break my own moral code of never double posting so this gets bumped. I went into the forum manager and saw that the original announcement you made didn't get deleted after the expiration date. It just gets hidden from the end user. I bumped the expiration year to 2020 so it should stick around for a while. I don't know if we should keep the stickies or not. They're nice because the more places these guidelines get posted the better. On the other hand it's better to have a centralized thread to avoid duplication. But also users can't post in announcements so if they have questions they can't voice them in the announcement itself but if they go to the sticky they could...

tldr; I just thought I'd let everybody know I reinstated the announcement and I'm not sure what we should do about the stickies.
 
#19
I'll break my own moral code of never double posting so this gets bumped. I went into the forum manager and saw that the original announcement you made didn't get deleted after the expiration date. It just gets hidden from the end user. I bumped the expiration year to 2020 so it should stick around for a while. I don't know if we should keep the stickies or not. They're nice because the more places these guidelines get posted the better. On the other hand it's better to have a centralized thread to avoid duplication. But also users can't post in announcements so if they have questions they can't voice them in the announcement itself but if they go to the sticky they could...

tldr; I just thought I'd let everybody know I reinstated the announcement and I'm not sure what we should do about the stickies.
You got a point about users commenting on the stickies. Lets keep one sticky in the homework section, linking to it in the announcement. I assume this solves all problems. I'll do this soon.

Thanks for finding the announcement.