Why questions don't get answered, or "No, I've already RTFM, tell me the answer!"

jdow jdow at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 29 06:20:44 UTC 2005

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Charles Howse" <chowse at charter.net>

>> On Wed, 2005-12-28 at 21:37 -0600, Charles Howse wrote:
>>> I'd like to start a calm, respectful, reasonable discussion of the reasons
>>> that we tell people to RTFM, or reasons that people don't get their
>>> questions answered on mailing lists and usenet groups.
>>> I'm not complaining about anything or anybody, just wanting to start some
>>> discussion which might lead to more answers and less 'noise'.
>>> No one has been disrespectful to me, don't get the wrong idea.
>>> I personally am a former Microsoft Certified Professional in NT Server 4.0,
>>> have used operating systems including, PC DOS, MS DOS, OS/2 Warp, all
>>> flavors of Windows through XP Pro (except ME, which sucked sooo bad), Linux,
>>> FreeBSD, and currently, Mac OS X Tiger.
>>> I've administered networks consisting of hundreds of workstations and dozens
>>> of servers, installed lans and wans from scratch, taught Windows operating
>>> systems, software and networking.
>>> I feel that might just barely qualify me as knowing a little about
>>> computers, and I say that seriously...'a little'.
>>> There are a lot of things I don't know, and when I run out of research
>>> options, or get frustrated when all the troubleshooting solutions don't
>>> work, I'm heading for usenet or a mailing list, because time after time,
>>> that has been the resource that provided the solution.  A wise man once told
>>> me, "Someone out there has solved that problem, you just have to find them."
>>> I don't really know where to start, so here are some random thoughts...
>>> Maybe I got told to RTFM because I missed something in it?  Well, could you
>>> just politely point me to the section I missed, please?  Or give me a link
>>> to a howto or some html page where it is explained?
>>> Maybe the question has been answered in the FAQ for the list?  Just point me
>>> to it, you don't have to say anything else.
>>> I've seen lots of posts to this list and others with no subject or a subject
>>> that has nothing to do with the question, but the question was answered
>>> respectfully.  So, when I post with a good subject, one that will show up in
>>> a Google search, help me out.
>>> Many lists and groups regularly autopost the guidelines for posting, FAQ,
>>> and relevant howto pages, point me to those when necessary.
>>> Someone used the phrase 'spoon feed' recently.  I don't remember who, nor is
>>> it important, but what's wrong with a spoon full of sugar now and then?
>>> And why would you ignore a reasonable question unless you don't know the
>>> answer?
>>> I think the members of this list are mostly doing things the way I would
>>> like to see them done, but I also think we could all do better, eh?
>>> I don't mean to step on any toes, just want to start some discussion.
>>> Does anyone else have any thoughts on why questions don't get the respectful
>>> treatment they deserve?
>> ----
>> 1 - this is a voluntary list and thus responders offer their time
>> without compensation. No answers are to be expected at all.
> Then what is the purpose of the list?  The title of the subscribe page says,
> "For users of Fedora Core releases."  It doesn't say not to expect any
> answers.
>> 2 - if you can concisely describe the problem, you are more likely to
>> get an answer. You are verbose which will always diminish the likelihood
>> of an answer.
> I can't think of a concise way to reply to that.  ;-)
> Perhaps I am too wordy...but...isn't it better to list everything I've tried
> that didn't work, rather than just say, "Why isn't <this> working?"
>> 3 - A few replies that state roughly, RTFM reflect the opinion of the
>> responder...it may or may not be fair, they are what they are.
> I guess that's fair.
>> 4 - this is a high traffic list and sometimes messages are lost in the
>> deluge
> Fair again.
>> 5 - there is a general type of guideline for open source questions...
>>     http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html
>>     It's harsh but pretty much on target
> I've read that...a good while ago.  Didn't memorize it, but have bookmarked
> it.
>> Craig

Charles, several reasons for not getting an answer exist. I know I have
many reasons for not answering. Many of those reasons mean I don't
answer many questions I know how to answer. Some of those reasons are a
rather harsh reflection on this list. I may and may not include them
below depending on whether I can get my armored undies out of the drier
in time. But one of the chief reasons I don't answer is that I do not
read the list very much. Frankly I see too many repeated questions, some
regarding information that was just discussed at depth for several days
in the last week ending hours before the question was posted.

1) If you expect God to create a miracle so that you win the lottery
   you need to give God some material with which to work, Invest in the
   lottery. The Q&A lottery on this list requires investing some information
   in the queries. "I can't get my Fubaracity2 IEEE1394 to be recognized as
   a proper 132 channel sound card. Help!" That's not enough investment.
   Give us something to work with. At LEAST give us some error messages.
   It also helps to mention some of the steps you've already been through.

2) Do Google for answers. It can save you from the need to wipe that
   icky egg off your face when the answer was very easily available.
   And if you get no answers specifically add this list, "fedora-users",
   to the query. That seems to wake up Google sometimes. (in a silly
   voice she says, "Gee, I dunno why but sometimes it works." {o.o})

3) Commonly used items have enough users that you can get answers far
   quicker than with that Fubaracity2 device above. In this case no
   response means everybody reading the question has avoided an AOL
   response, "I dunno!" followed by 203 "Me too!" responses and 1816
   other "I dunno!" responses.

4) The list is busy. I scan it. If a problem is common I'll often make
   the rash assumption that someone else either has already answered it
   or will "RSN." This happens when I am otherwise rather busy.

5) If I don't think I have a pretty good answer I opt to seem wiser than
   I am by not saying anything. (<harsh 1>Even when I do have a pretty
   good answer people with rather poor answers will often shout me down.
   Thus is the Fedora-users list. It's why I only scan it.</harsh>

6) Even when I think I have a "pretty good" answer I will hang back if I
   suspect there is an even better answer. I watch for that answer. If it
   really is good I add it to my bag of tricks. Otherwise I try to chip
   in with a brief description of my way.

7) If I really DO get moved to make a serious answer to a large problem
   I am prone to waxing rather prolix. This message is an example. It is
   often better to avoid motivating Joanne to a "big answer." {^_-} This
   falls back on "silence makes me seem wiser than I am."

8) <harsh 2>In some cases, particularly when I've been shouted down, I
   have quite literally cringed at the competing solutions promulgated
   and adopted by the questioner. This list is overloaded with mis-
   information from time to time. Some solutions work but have side
   effects "you don't really want and don't have to suffer." When that
   happens it leads me into a period of "why bother?"</harsh>

All that said, I made a remark earlier. "If you tell a critter to RTFM
at least have the basic humanity to throw the poor fellow a bone and tell
him which manual is worth reading." <harsh 3>I take a bare RTFM response
as an indication that the responder doesn't know crap and is trying to
hide that fact.</harsh>

Now watch Joanne get flamed for daring to comment that this list is one
of the most hostile areas outside of UseNet itself.

{o.o}    Joanne said all that.

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