Asking Good Questions

Warning: This blog post is going to be part rant and part educational.

Recently I’ve been dealing with a mailing list subscriber that does not understand how to ask good questions on mailing list.

He has a habit of posting overly broad questions that, at least in my opinion, demonstrate that he has not tried do any of his own research into the what he is trying to work on. His posts are often followed up, within a few hours, with a request for updates on his question.

He also tends to post questions to the wrong list. Just a few days ago he tried to post a message to RPG400-L that contained a bulleted list of 20 different questions related to system operations. The questions ranged from backup procedures, system operations, LPAR creation & managment, and performance tuning.

Nobody has actually seen any of these questions (at least recently) because I have moderated him. None of his posts are allowed on the list without moderator (me) approval.

To be clear, lists are ABSOLUTELY the place to ask questions about problems you are encountering on IBM i. But in order to get people to answer your questions, you have to be asking something specific and show that you have done some of your own leg work.

Questions such as …

How do I do xyz?

… will not get the most positive response.

However …. if your post is something like this …


I’m trying to accomplish xyz.

I’ve tried doing abc, def, and ghi, but I keep getting error QQQ1234 when the program runs. I thought it might be related to this, that, or the other thing.

Can anyone give me a pointer to where the QQQ1234 error might be coming from?


… people are going to be much more willing to help you. They will see what you are to acomplish, what you’ve tried, what you’re encountering, and that you are at least trying to understand the problem.

Not knowing, or understanding, something is absolutely fine. It’s to be expected. Not willing to put in some level of work to try and understand something isn’t fine.

I’ve always been a fan of Eric Raymon’s How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

In the case of the person I’m currently dealing with, I’ve tried to explain to him how to ask questions on the list. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to comprehend what I’ve said (numerous times). I’m sure that english is not his first language, but there are people on the lists for whom english is a 2nd language also.

I’ve also explained to him (again, numerous times) that all his posts will be held for moderator approval until he demonstrates a pattern of asking good questions that demonstrate that he is at least trying to do his own research.

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