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How to ask/answer questions the smart way

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

How to ask/answer questions the smart way

Old 04-24-09, 02:17 PM
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StupidlyBrave 
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How to ask/answer questions the smart way

Don't give me any credit for this. I read something very similar a long time ago and decided that the same dynamic existed here to some extent. So, with careful editing and substitution, it might be a useful resource to the new user on this forum.

If you want to find the original source of what I refer to, google "Foonly Flurbamatic 2600" - Seriously.


Comments are appreciated. Constructive criticism will be considered, whining and complaining about this post serve no purpose to the community.


Introduction

In Road Cycling (RC), the kind of answers you get to your road cycling questions depends as much on the way you ask the questions as on how interesting your topic is. I hope that this thread can teach you how to ask questions in a way more likely to get you a satisfactory answer and in a way that lacks a nasty discourse that is all too common here.

Please note that these are guidelines only and are an attempt to represent a "best demonstrated practice" of success.

The first thing to understand is that (at least I think) the RC community really likes helping new and relatively inexperienced cyclists. If we didn't, we wouldn't be here. If you give us a good question you are quite likely to give us the dialog necessary to discuss things we might have not thought about too much before. This stimulus is the lifeblood of a good forum. On the other hand, if your question is asked rather frequently or you post news of an event that already has one (or more!) threads created, you won't get the response you hoped for.

The RC community has a reputation for meeting simple questions with what looks like hostility or arrogance. It sometimes looks like we're rude to newbies without cause. I don't believe this is really true. This community is hostile to people who seem to be unwilling to think or to do their own homework before asking questions. This isn't limited to "newbies".

If you find this attitude obnoxious, condescending, or arrogant, please check your assumptions. We're not asking you to genuflect to us - I believe most of us would be quite happy to deal with you as an equal and welcome you into our culture. But you must in the effort required to make that possible. But it's simply not rewarding for us to try to help people who are not willing to help themselves.

On the other hand, we observe that this perception is damaging to the community. We often read or hear about new users afraid to ask a question because of the reputation of the forum. A culture such as this will slowly kill this forum. This situation also creates a rift in the community where some established members blame other established members for this reputation.

Furthermore, we don't want your thread to become useless drivel with no point yet filled with nonsensical bickering and ad hominem attacks. The best way to get a rapid and responsive answer is to ask it like a person with intelligence, confidence, and tact who just happens to need help on one particular problem.


Before you ask
  1. Try to find an answer by searching the archives of the forum you plan to post to.
  2. Try to ascertain if the same question has been asked before.
  3. Try to find an answer by reading the manual or FAQ/Wiki.
  4. Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
  5. Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.
When you ask your question, please note the fact that you have done due diligence these things first and include which sources you have tried. Putting your best effort into one or two techniques listed above is far more important than enumerating every one.

If you do happen to find a solution and there is a good opportunity to share what you've learned, please do. You'll find the experience rewarding and the community can benefit as well.

If the forum search is not functioning properly, a useful alternative is to use google with your search keywords coupled with site:bikeforums.net

Prepare your question. Take your time and think it through. Hasty-sounding questions get hasty answers, or none at all. The more you do to demonstrate that having put thought and effort into solving your problem before seeking help, the more likely you are to actually get meaningful help. The less thought put into the question, the more likely the thread will devolve into the sort of thread that no one is proud of.

Never assume you are entitled to an answer. This is a key point. After all, you are not paying for the service. You can earn an answer by asking a substantial, interesting, and on-topic question - one that implicitly contributes to and draws on the experience of the community rather than merely passively demanding knowledge from others. The right question can educate many.


When you ask
  1. Choose your forum carefully - Be sensitive in choosing where you ask your question.
  2. Don't post your question to a forum where it's off topic
  3. Don't cross-post to too many different forums
  4. If a picture is required, such as when describing a crack or physical defect, post it with the defect in focus and don't make us ask for it.
  5. Don't make a follow up post shortly after your question is posed asking why no one has responded yet.
  6. Basically, be patient and courteous. Use "Please" and "Thanks for your attention" or "Thanks for your consideration". Make it clear you appreciate the effort people make helping you.

Write in clear, grammatically correct and correctly-spelled language

Expressing your question clearly and well is important. If you can't be bothered to do that, we can't be bothered to pay attention. Spend the extra effort to polish your language. Perfection is not desired, simply must be evidence that you're thinking and paying attention.

Spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. Don't confuse "its" with "it's", "loose" with "lose", or "break" with "brake". Don't TYPE IN ALL CAPS; this is read as shouting and considered rude. (All-smalls is only slightly less annoying, as it's difficult to read. botto can get away with it, but you can't.)

More generally, if you write like a semi-literate boob you will very likely be ignored by most and attacked by others. So please don't use instant-messaging shortcuts. Spelling "you" as "u" makes you look like a semi-literate boob to save two entire keystrokes. Worse: writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r is the absolute kiss of death and guarantees you will receive nothing jeers and abuse.

If you are asking questions in a forum that does not use your native language, you will get a limited amount of slack for spelling and grammar errors. You should state this, but no apology is necessary. After all, you probably speak English better than I speak your native tongue. However, you will receive no extra slack for laziness.

Grovelling is not a substitute for doing your homework

Some people who get that they shouldn't behave rudely or arrogantly, demanding an answer, attempt the opposite extreme of grovelling. "I know I'm just a pathetic newbie loser, but...". This may be distracting and unhelpful. It's especially annoying when it's coupled with vagueness about the actual problem.

Instead, present the background facts and your question as clearly as you can. That is a better way to position yourself than by grovelling.


Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Follow up on your thread after the problem has been solved; let us know how it came out and thank those who helped again for their efforts.

Your followup doesn't have to be long and involved; a simple "Howdy - it was the derailer adjustment! Thanks, everyone. - Bill" would be better than nothing. A short and sweet summary is about perfect.

If the solution involved a vendor "going the extra mile" to resolve the problem, that would be useful information as well.

Besides being courteous and informative, this sort of followup will help others searching the archive of the forum to know exactly which solution helped you and thus may also help them. Consider how you might be able to prevent others from having the same problem in the future.


How to answer questions in a helpful way
  • Be gentle. Problem-related stress can make people seem rude or stupid even when they're not.
  • Reply to a first offender off-line. There is no need of public humiliation for someone who may have made an honest mistake. A real newbie may not know how to search archives or where the FAQ is stored or posted.
  • If you don't know for sure, say so! A wrong but authoritative-sounding answer is worse than none at all. Don't point anyone down a wrong path simply because it's fun to sound like an expert. Be humble and honest; set a good example for both the newbie and your peers.
  • If you can't help, don't hinder. Don't jokingly suggest things that could injure or destroy because the poor sap might interpret these as instructions.
  • Ask probing questions to elicit more details. Try to turn the bad question into a good one; remember we were all newbies once.
  • While muttering "use the search feature" is sometimes justified when replying to someone who is just a lazy slob, a well constructed link is better.
  • Your credibility should be important to you. Volunteer an answer if you have one, but don't be afraid to acknowledge a better answer that might appear as part of the thread dialog.
  • Answering one good question is like feeding a hungry person one meal, but teaching them research skills by example is showing them how to grow food for a lifetime.
  • Don't confuse opinion with fact.

Last edited by StupidlyBrave; 04-29-09 at 06:18 PM. Reason: edit #3: more fine-tuning
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Old 04-24-09, 02:49 PM
  #2  
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thank you, thank you, thank you.
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Old 04-24-09, 02:50 PM
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So...what is your question?
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Old 04-24-09, 02:59 PM
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Hey, Stupidlybrave, would you mind if I did a direct steal of this for a project I have in the works?
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Old 04-24-09, 03:12 PM
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But the BottoPowered Search function has been working so well lately !
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Old 04-24-09, 03:12 PM
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"Before you ask
Try to find an answer by searching the archives of the forum you plan to post to.
Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
Try to find an answer by reading the manual.
Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.
Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend."

No way Im' doing ALL of these before asking a forum question. I agree that laziness and stupidity is bad policy, but this is ridiculous. All this does is encourage alienation of all possibly productive forumites. You might as well say flat out "don't bother to ask your question - it's definitely too stupid and common for all of us road cycling forumites."

If you want a great example of a forum doing it 'right', check out BeginnerTriathlete.com. It's true that yes, the same questions get rehashed over and over again, but there's usually a specific take on it that makes it more relevant to the issue at hand. I'm frankly tired of all this 'go home and do your homework' BS before you're worthy to ask a simple question.
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Old 04-24-09, 03:13 PM
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can we make this a sticky?
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Old 04-24-09, 03:17 PM
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Could you give me an example of a stupid question?
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Old 04-24-09, 03:17 PM
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is there a cliff notes version of this?

lots of people really seem to hate reading lengthly posts.
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Old 04-24-09, 03:23 PM
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Originally Posted by The Weak Link View Post
Could you give me an example of a stupid question?

"Could you give me an example of a stupid question?"

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Old 04-24-09, 03:23 PM
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Originally Posted by agarose2000 View Post
"Before you ask
Try to find an answer by searching the archives of the forum you plan to post to.
Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
Try to find an answer by reading the manual.
Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.
Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend."

No way Im' doing ALL of these before asking a forum question. I agree that laziness and stupidity is bad policy, but this is ridiculous. All this does is encourage alienation of all possibly productive forumites. You might as well say flat out "don't bother to ask your question - it's definitely too stupid and common for all of us road cycling forumites."

If you want a great example of a forum doing it 'right', check out BeginnerTriathlete.com. It's true that yes, the same questions get rehashed over and over again, but there's usually a specific take on it that makes it more relevant to the issue at hand. I'm frankly tired of all this 'go home and do your homework' BS before you're worthy to ask a simple question.

When I decided I wanted to start cycling regularly there was no internet ... no bikeforums for me to ask every single little question that entered my head. I found the answers by going to the library and reading books, then by inspection or experimentation, and then by asking my father who has been into cycling since the 1940s.

In other words, I did as many of the things in that list as I could ...... and I expect the same thing from the people who ask questions here. Figure it out for yourself, if possible ... and if you still have a question, by that point hopefully you've learned a lot along the way so you can ask a very specific, well-thought-out, intelligent question.
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Old 04-24-09, 04:23 PM
  #12  
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Here is the internet bicycling FAQ: https://draco.nac.uci.edu/rbfaq/
Can we make that a sticky in this forum?
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Old 04-24-09, 04:28 PM
  #13  
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that's so nerdy it hurts.

so a bunch of nerds got tired of "newbs" coming to "their" forum, so they made a bunch of rules up about it. nice.

so this is what nerds do when we're out riding bikes? now i get it.

edit: some proof of how dorky this note is:

We're (largely) volunteers. We take time out of busy lives to answer questions, and at times we're overwhelmed with them. So we filter ruthlessly. In particular, we throw away questions from people who appear to be losers in order to spend our question-answering time more efficiently, on winners.
put another way, but modded for BF: (remember this was for hackers originally)

We're (large) volunteers. We take time out of sad lives to answer questions, and at times we're overwhelmed with them. So we tease ruthlessly. In particular, we throw away questions from people who appear to be losers (aka they aren't popular on this board) in order to spend our (oh so valuable!) question-answering time (away from WoW no less) more efficiently, on winners.
winners. really? do you think a "winner" wrote this? because i don't.

in fact, i bet their out there on teh internetz right now, still losing, in their mom's basement.

anyway, have fun trying to herd cats!
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Old 04-24-09, 04:31 PM
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sticky sticky sticky!!!!
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Old 04-24-09, 05:00 PM
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Short version: be courteous and use common sense.

Did I leave anything out?
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Old 04-24-09, 05:29 PM
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very nice.
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Old 04-24-09, 05:37 PM
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Originally Posted by DScott View Post
Short version: be courteous and use common sense.

Did I leave anything out?
Yes ... do your own research first and try to figure it out yourself. If, after you've put in some effort, you still have questions, feel free to be courteous and use common sense while you ask specific questions.
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Old 04-24-09, 05:47 PM
  #18  
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Originally Posted by The Weak Link View Post
Could you give me an example of a stupid question?
scroll down the first page of the forum.
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Old 04-24-09, 05:51 PM
  #19  
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Originally Posted by botto View Post
thank you, thank you, thank you.

So my guess is that this board should be locked since apparently every question has been asked and can be found by doing a search?
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Old 04-24-09, 06:19 PM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by DScott View Post
Short version: be courteous and use common sense.

Did I leave anything out?

Exactly! Nothing left out.

Brevity is the soul of wit.
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Old 04-24-09, 06:32 PM
  #21  
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There are no stupid questions. There are only people who feel stupid and get annoyed for clicking (yet again) on questions they've seen answered a dozen times.

These people need someone to blame for their lack of time management skills...besides themselves of course.

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Old 04-24-09, 06:55 PM
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Originally Posted by The Weak Link View Post
Could you give me an example of a stupid question?
"The only stupid question is the one not asked."
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Old 04-24-09, 07:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Jive Turkey View Post
So my guess is that this board should be locked since apparently every question has been asked and can be found by doing a search?

Yep just about ... really all that's left for us to talk about are our rides.
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Old 04-24-09, 07:06 PM
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Originally Posted by fordmanvt View Post
"The only stupid question is the one not asked."

You haven't attended university recently have you?
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Old 04-24-09, 07:20 PM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by AEO View Post
is there a cliff notes version of this?

lots of people really seem to hate reading lengthly posts.
It's rather insulting to suggest to the author that some/most of the words he wrote were unnecessary.

I get this all the time at work, b/c I provide detailed answers to complex questions. Then the recipient acts as if they can't be bothered to read "that novel" (usually 3 or 4 two- or three-sentence paragraphs). I take it as abject laziness and anti-intellectualism.

Read what the OP wrote, or just stick to the bike porn threads. Your choice.
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