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Tips for Getting Technical Help Online

Grant Fritchey provides some tips:

One thing you see a lot is that people, for whatever reason, will absolutely not simply state what the actual problem is. You’ll get stuff like “What SQL Server internal behavior prevents dynamically naming local variables?” And you’re left scratching your head, why on earth would someone want to dynamically name local variables? Only to find out, after lots of comment & discussion, they thought that you needed to rename variables when changing values.

When you get stuck, take a moment to describe the problem, but aim for the root of the problem, not peripheries. “I want to do X. I’m doing X. It looks like this. The results are this when they should be that. What am I doing wrong?” That’s the “magic” formula.

Grant provides several helpful tips for increasing the likelihood that someone will help you find the right answer.

I want to note two quick things here, though. The first is that, quite often, people don’t even know what they intend to ask. In the cited bit above, this quite often comes from basic confusion cascading into specific “I’m stuck here” questions. This leads to foundational misunderstandings between people and frustrates the question-and-answer process.

The second thing I’d note is, be clear in your writing. The biggest tip I have here is to make sure your sentences and ideas flow. In other words, within a paragraph or section, try to keep thoughts related to the key topic and avoid asides or rambling. The reason for this is that your inner monologue can make sense of a variety of asides, but a reader without access to your thoughts will struggle to follow along. Furthermore, it is common to add bits and pieces to a half-finished post, fleshing out details. Before posting, make sure that it makes reading sense. Quite often, people will write a post and then fill in additional details before submission. A common result of this is that you might add some information intended to clarify a point which you actually introduce later in the post.