How to answer a question the smart way.Last edited on Jan 6, 2014


The way I see it, the internet has made it easier for everyone to get answers and solutions for different problems. That's the beauty of the internet: information is easily accessed. If you think about web forums, they allow people to talk to each other. They allow you to ask a question and get an answer. Asking a question on a forum is easier that posting a question in a magazine or trying to find something in an encyclopedia. If you look at the section "Before you ask" in Eric Steven Raymond's "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way", he lists 7 steps that you should do before asking a question. Attempting those 7 steps defeats the whole point of making information easily accessible. So what if a person asks a question on a forum without having performed those 7 steps? Does it make it harder for you to answer the question? If you don't want to answer the question, then just don't answer. In my opinion, if the question was asked before and the answer was already provided, there is no harm in providing the answer a second time. The more the information is duplicated, the more it gets easy to find that information. If you understand how the Google search engine works, you will know that this is true.

replying "Google it"

When a person asks a question and someone else replies "let me Google that for you" or just gives a link to a Google search, that person should just not reply at all. How many times did I Google something, clicked the first result and landed on a forum where the OP asked the exact same question that I am asking myself and the only answer is "Google it". Well I did Google it actually, and I am landing on a page that says to Google it. Was it really hard to provide the right answer or to just ignore the OP?

replying "why would you wanna do it like that" or "you shouldn't do that"

I see that too often. The OP asks something like "I wanna print a document that I just scanned.... blah blah... how do I do it?" and someone replies "why would you do that? just use the original document". Never mind why he wants to do it that way. Do you know the answer or not? If you don't, then don't reply. The other day I was searching for "how to create SSH keys on behalf of another user". I landed on a forum with where the OP asked that same question and there was one reply: "You should not do that because the private key is private blah blah blah.". The person who replied that may find it stupid to do such a thing but I had very specific constraints that pushed me into doing that. Maybe I have a script running as root that creates keys for users. Maybe I have other reasons too. So if that person just found it odd to do such a thing and did not know the answer, maybe that person should have ignored the question.

Questions not to ask

in Eric Steven Raymond's "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way", you can find this:

Q: Where can I find program or resource X?
A: The same place I'd find it, fool at the other end of a web search. Ghod, doesn't everybody know how to use Google yet?

Let me get this straight, because you used to walk 4 miles in 4feet of snow to go to school, I shouldn't take the bus? You just said that you found it at the other end of a web search, so do us a favor and share the information so we don't have to do a big search like that. And by giving us the link and duplicating that answer, the link will end up ranking high in Google.


"How To Ask Questions The Smart Way" seems to have been written by a smart person who is really tech savvy but has neither the skills and patience to share his knowledge. That person should not become a teacher.

My philosophy is: Make the information easy to find. Why would I search a word in a dictionary when the guy sitting across me knows the definition and could tell me right now? The days of the teachers saying "You'll learn more if you work at finding it" are over. Make the information accessible. Duplicate the information and spend less time looking for answers. That's the whole point of the "information super highway". At least that's how my employer thinks. My boss will be very mad if I spend 8 hours searching for a solution on Google because a co-worker, who knows the answer, replies "Google it".