Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How forum experts know you're not worth our time.

Most of the people who answer questions on forums are professionals. We do this whole "writing code thing" for a living. Most of us have put up with enough shit just from work that we won't hesitate for a second to ignore your question if you give us an excuse. That's not to say we're jerks, looking for reasons to ignore you; it means that we're not going to work really hard to help you when you make it hard for us.

There are many obvious indicators, and I'll go through a few of them now. Hopefully you don't make any of these mistakes.
  1. No source code. I'm not sure how many hundreds of times I've had to type this in one way or another, but we aren't going to write your project for you. Homework or actual work; it doesn't matter. None of us are going to do your job for you. Most of us love helping. The greatest reward for a forum expert is to see that someone comprehended the answer you posted and applied it to solve their problems.

    Handing you the code is not teaching. It's cheating. And it's also working for free. Screw that.

  2. Spelling. Look, I understand English may not be your first language. That's fine, I don't expect you to spell everything perfectly. But for those of you that do speak English, I expect you to type it properly as well. Every modern browser has a built-in spell checker, and IE has addons that provide that capability. Get one. It honestly can make the difference. It lets us know that you respect us enough to treat us like the professionals we are.

    On that note, if you type "plz," especially with numerous extra "z"s, I close the browser tab and ignore your question. It's a personal peeve, but one I've seen reflected in many of the other experts on the forums I frequent. Just don't do it.

    And it's "code," not "codes" or "codez."

  3. Overstating urgency. I'm a volunteer. You're not paying me. Because of that, my time is mine, not yours. Just because you "urgently need codes plzzzz send quick" doesn't mean that I'm going to go out of my way to help. Your poor planing does not create an emergency on my part. I'll do my best to help, but don't start getting frustrated or impatient or I'll walk away and never look back.

    If your problem is urgent, clearly state so. A real timeline helps: "This is actually pretty urgent. The project is due in 48 hours." If I can help you in that timeframe, I'll do my best to. But that's different than just freaking out and begging. Which leads me to...

  4. Begging. The entire point of this (and any) programming forum is for experts to help you. You don't need to beg us. If we can help, we will. Saying "plz plzzzz help im clueless help plz" isn't incentive for us to help. It's actually the opposite.

    The best thing you can do to get help is clearly state your problems, what you've tried to resolve them, the code where it's happening, and any error/exception messages. Which is a segue into:

  5. Lack of effort/clarity. This is the big one. This is probably the most common way that we decide you're not worth our time. If it's not worth your time to clearly post what your problem is, then it's not worth our time to help you fix it.
I'll expand on effort and clarity, because it deserves its own section. Here are some dos and don'ts.


  • ...only post one sentence. If your question is simple enough to be fit into a single sentence, it's probably simple enough to use google to answer.
  • ...post no code. We need to see your code to solve your problem. Conversely, 
  • ...post ALL your code. We don't need to see 4000 lines of auto-generated garbage to solve a problem in one method.
  • ...just say "It doesn't work." That's the most useless statement ever. What doesn't work? Does anything happen? Nothing? Is your code being executed? Does it throw an exception? These are the important things we need to know.

  • ...clearly post your entire problem.
  • ...post relevant source code.
  • ...post any exceptions, and indicate which line they're thrown at.
  • ...post the steps you've tried to resolve your own problem.
  • ...respect the professionals trying to help you. This one's important!
Following these simple rules makes it much more likely that someone is going to help you. Number one rule: respect us, and we'll respect you.


  1. Excellent post. I dont know how many times I've been through this with people. One you should have probably mentioned is SMS speak, those who are helping on these forums are professionals and aren't your "homies" from down the road and deserve to be treated as such.

  2. I agree, excellent post, only problem is the only people who will read this are the people who follow the dos and not the don'ts. Great post though!

  3. I really wish there was some way to make people read this before posting. Great info, that needs to get out to the masses.


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