Asking Questions of The Answer Gang
In the world of hackers, the kind of answers you get to your technical questions depends as much on the way you ask the questions as on the difficulty of developing the answer. This guide will teach you how to ask questions in a way that is likely to get you a satisfactory answer. -- Eric S. Raymond, "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way"
This document draws heavily on several sources, including Tad McClellan's Posting Guidelines for comp.lang.perl.misc and the Netiquette Guidelines RFC. How to Ask Smart Questions by Eric S. Raymond and Rick Moen is also strongly recommended as a general guide to getting good Net.answers.
General Info About The Gang
The Answer Gang is a group of volunteers at the Linux Gazette. It is the source of the Gazette's tech support columns, The Mailbag, 2-Cent Tips, and The Answer Gang. To gather relevant questions to respond to, we run an open mailing list where anyone is welcome to ask their Linux-related questions. Each member of The Gang has a set of Linux-relevant interests, skills, and abilities; whether you get an answer or not depends on how well you engage those. There is no guarantee that your question will be answered at all: however, interesting questions of broad scope (i.e., those that would be of interest to a number of our readers), especially presented by folks who are pleasant, polite, and have a sense of humor are not likely to be ignored.
Be Warned: The answers themselves may range from friendly to gruff and often contain sharp humor, horseplay, fluff, pedantry, and pontification; the discussion spawned by your question may well wander off-topic and possibly back on again – with all of this reflected in your mailbox. Thin-skinned folks, those who expect "their answer" and nothing else, and narrow-minded people are urged to take the appropriate precautions. (Yellow helmets and fire- and bullet-proof underwear are available in the shop just off the main lobby.)
Here's something you can do right away that will greatly increase your chances of "winning the TAG lottery", even before you fire up your e-mail software: prequalify your question by running it through the following info-gauntlet. If it comes through without being answered, we'd be interested in at least looking at this rare beast – and you'll gain status points by telling us about having done this and the results you got.
Check your local resources:
- Run your program with a "-h" or "–help" option "
- Use your man pages (type "man program_name")
- Try info if you have it installed ("info program_name")
- Read the program documentation (usually found in "/usr/doc/program_name" or "/usr/share/doc/program_name")
Use the Web:
- Do a web search – Google!/Linux, etc.
Check out the LG treasure trove:
- The Answer Gang's Knowledge Base
- The Linux Gazette FAQ
- Search the previous issues of LG
- Check the list of HOWTOs for relevant topics – these offer detailed coverage of many Linux tasks
POSTING TO TAG
Question should be about Linux, or of interest to Linux community
Carefully choose the contents of your Subject header
Beware of saying "doesn't work"
Use an effective follow-up style
Provide enough, but not too much information
(Heather Stern "The EditorGal"'s addendum, with modifications)
Too Much Info: Where you bought the computer and whether you still have a receipt. What color the case is. Your passwords or anything else you wouldn't discuss in the bookstore or at a picnic.
Not Enough Info: "So I plugged everything in but it doesn't work."
Questions whose answers (from you) would give us enough to run with:
What, exactly, did you plug in?
Into what? What did you expect to happen?
What happened instead?
What were the exact error messages?
What have you changed since then?
Where does Linux come into the puzzle? (feel free to guess)
Which Linux distribution?
Which version of the problem software package (you did upgrade to the latest one, right?) are you using?
For a more complete treatment of this topic, see Simon Tatham's excellent How to Report Bugs Effectively.
Send text-only content
Remove all "confidential" notices or cancel them explicitly (asking for your name not to be posted is OK)
Published answers benefit the entire community; this is what we do here in TAG. If you have a "This is to be kept confidential" blurb in your post, forget about having it answered: it just isn't going to happen. Don't expect people to do one-on-one problem resolution unless you're willing to pay for it. If your company automatically glues a "confidential" tag to all your e-mail, either e-mail us from home or preface your question with an explicit permission for us to publish. In fact, here's one you can simply copy and paste:
————————————————————————- I hereby give my explicit permission for the Linux Gazette to publish the material in this e-mail, as well as all future responses or discussion that result from it. This notice supersedes all other restrictions. ————————————————————————-
(Heather Stern "The EditorGal"'s addendum) If you know that it includes some sort of message about who it's intended for, you can make that more clear. This example asks for anonymizing…
————————————————————————- The intended recipient of this message is the readership of the world wide webzine "Linux Gazette". Any responses or discussion with the Answer Gang or any LG editor may be published worldwide. Please don't reveal my last name, email address, or company. …This notice supersedes any and all other attached restrictions. Thanks! ————————————————————————-
Note that we normally hide your company anyway, unless you are with a company that helps maintain the application being discussed. But email addresses are normally shown with Tips, in case the readers have any comments.
So – you've already done one of The Right Things by reading this document; presumably, you've already done more than one Right Thing by working through the preceding list. If you still haven't found an answer, go ahead and send your question to The Answer Gang – we'll be glad to hear from you!