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How do I ask a good question on a forum?


Level 6

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Actual Post:

I love forums. The nerdier the better. One of my absolute favourite ones in the Java Ranch. (http://www.coderanch.com/how-to/java/HowToAskQuestionsOnJavaRanch)

Why? Because they have a good tradition of asking good question.

This, unfortunately, seems to be something that is mostly absent in many forums. Let me share with you a small guide on how to ask question on a forum.

Asking questions in general is an art. The quality of the answers depends a lot on the quality of the question. When you do not get the answer you wanted, you should always ask yourself "could I improve the question".

The first rule of getting a good answer is "Show Some Effort". Remember that people are not getting paid to answer your questions on this forum. You are going to take their time, so make sure you at least put as much effort into the question as you expect other to give back. Do not presume that other people's time is so much less valuable than yours that you can afford to take shortcuts when typing your question - especially if doing so causes them to have to spend more effort just to figure out what you're asking.

"Be precise". If you have gotten an error message, post the WHOLE error message. Paraphrasing doesn't help much, especially in the cases where the message gives details that you don't know how to interpret but is invaluable to others.

"Search first". Use the search field in this forum. Use Google. Tell us what you have searched for and we might just give you a hint on what to search for. I personally hate when you can cut'n'paste the one-liner question of the subject into Google and get 10-15 good answers. (And yes, even if I use an anonymous Chrome instance). Don't be offended if someone posts a http://lmgtfy.com link.

"Take it easy". So, you are in a hurry to solve a problem. Call Day Care. It does not help to write IN CAPITLAL LETTERS. It does not help to write URGENT and ASAP. I don't like when you to try to pass over your stress to me. Take 10 and download the Headspace app or get yourself a Rubber Duck. It is amazing how good problem solver Rubber Ducks are. (Google on Rubber Duck Debugging). If it is really urgent and I arrive to the question about a day after it was posted, I generally think I am to late and don't answer anyway.

"Be patient". Don't go pushing your post to the top stating "Anyone??". 24 hours is not a long time to wait for an answer. While you are waiting you could "Show Some Effort" and "Search First". It is perfectly fine to bump a post if you have new information like "I found this article but can someone explain what they mean with X?".

"Use a meaningful subject line". This has a lot to do with "Show Some Effort". This is your way of advertising your question. "SLING FRAME WORK" is not a good subject. "Where do I find Sling Tutorials?" is a better one. Forum junkies like me loves a challenge. Make sure your subject is challenging.

"Not a Code Mill". "I have been given the task of implementing a n-th level cache for components. Please provide me with the code." Do I have to explain that? We have worked a lot to get where we are today. I you do not know how to do a task, you should tell it to your manager or team lead.

"Tell the Details". We want the details, the whole details and nothing but the details. Telling us that "My program throws an error" will just render in the question "What error?".
Telling us "My program throws a NullPointerException on line 13. Below is the code and the stack trace" is much better.

This is what you should be able to describe:

  • Detailed description of problem
    • what you did
    • what you expected to happen
    • why you expected it to happen
    • why you need it to happen
    • what actually happened instead and why what happened is a problem to you
  • Error message
  • Version numbers of relevant libraries, JDK, tools, operating system etc.
  • Code snippets
  • Stack trace
  • What else you tried/what worked/what didn't work

99 times out of 100, I have solved the problem when I have answered the questions. See Rubber Duck Debugging.

"Use Real Word". Mst ppl dnt lk 2 read an sms lk msg. Do this with your friends if you like to. Same with using "h4x0r353".

"Quote your sources". Tell us where you got the question from. A book, a mock exam, an article, AEM Documentation.

"Post Text not Screenshots". When posting code, compiler messages, or really anything to the forums, please post text using code tags rather than attached screen shots.
Not only do the screen shots require people to download them to their computers -- something many people are reluctant to do -- they are not searchable, cannot be indexed by search engines, and cannot participate in cut-and-paste.
Besides, making it more difficult for people to help you by putting extra steps in the way isn't a great strategy for encouraging people to spend their time to assist you.

"Say thanks". If you get a good answer that helped you, say Thanks. That way, the one that replies will know that next time you post a question, you will appreciate the effort
that was put into the answer.

"Use your own name". I rather answer a question from "Clive Owen" than "slartibartfast". I like talking to people.

"Do not scream". Using capitalized letters, specially in subjects, are commonly considered to be somewhat rude according th the netiquetee.

"No need to say Sorry". The tips I have posted re not rules so there is no need to apologize if you forget to follow them. If someone pointed any of these tips out to you, they did so because they really want to see you get the best help possible with your question. I break my own rules all the time.

More really good reading on this subject can be found at http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html


10 Replies


Level 9

Hi Ove,

The points you have put down are very true and correct.

I visit the forum on a regular basis to keep myself updated/ask queries. I always follow most of the points you have mentioned. Nevertheless there is always scope for further improvization.

But you will have to excuse me on this one "Use your own name".


Level 10

Yes -- we will discuss this. Thanks - good points Ove!  


Level 1

Which is all very well, but I HOW do I just ask a question?   How do I place a question on the forum?  Simple as that - I can see now way of posting a question.


Level 1

There is nothing that says "still have questions".

What is going on here?


Level 10

I am not sure where your issue about posting a question is. If you want to post a question - click this button:



Level 10

Yes, Scott is right..Asking the questions are very easy  ..

As Scott mentioned, you need to click on Ask a Question on right hand side and you can ask your query..