Before you ask a question....

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Before you ask a question....

Postby Dell'Orto » Wed Jun 13, 2007 7:09 pm

Before You Ask...........

Before asking a question do the following:
• Try to find an answer by searching this website. .
• Try to find an answer by reading our FAQ section.
• Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
• Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.

When you post your question, display the fact that you have done these things first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge and wasting people's time. Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. We like answering questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from the answers.

Search! This might well take you straight to a thread answering your question. Even if it doesn't, saying "I searched on the following phrase but didn't get anything that looked promising" is a good thing to include in your post requesting help.

Prepare your question. 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 top shelf help.

Beware of asking the wrong question. If you ask one that is based on faulty assumptions, someone is quite likely to reply with a uselessly literal answer while thinking "Stupid question...", and hoping the experience of getting what you asked for rather than what you needed will teach you a lesson.

Never assume you are entitled to an answer. You are not; you don't pay us for the service. However you can (and will) earn an answer, by asking a substantial, interesting, and thought-provoking question - one that implicitly contributes to the experience of the community rather than merely passively demanding knowledge from others.

On the other hand, making it clear that you are able and willing to help in the process of developing the solution is a very good start. "Would someone provide a pointer?", "What test am I missing?", and "What should I have searched for?" are more likely to get answered than "Please post the exact procedure I should use." because in the former examples you're making it clear that you're truly willing to complete the process if someone can just point you in the right direction. In the last you want someone to read you the manual. Go buy one.

How to search:

Search with key words related to your issue. Read the threads that are returned. Modify your search to include new terms you learned from the previous results. This will yield more/different results. Do this, until you have exhausted the variety of terms applicable, and you may just find the answer before you make a new thread. This works on forum searches and Google searches. Try it.

Choose your forum carefully

Be selective in choosing where you post your question. You are likely to be ignored, or written off as a waste of time, if you:
• post your question to a forum where it's off topic
• post a very elementary question to a forum where advanced technical questions are expected, or vice-versa
• cross-post to multiple forums.

A lot of us blow off questions that are inappropriately targeted in order to try to protect our communications channels from being drowned in irrelevance. Some people will remember the poster, and classify them as a waste of time. You don't want this to happen to you.

The first step, therefore, is to find the right topic area here at SM. Again, searching is your friend. Use it to find information about what is giving you difficulties. Check the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list. Posting on this, or any forum is the final place to go for help, if your own efforts (including reading those FAQs you found and that manual you bought) do not find you a solution.. Think about it, when you post out here, you make your problem our problem, and we don't mind that, provided you have already tried to work it out yourself.

When selecting a topic area verify your question is on-topic. Read some of the back traffic before posting so you'll get a feel for how things are done in that forum. Each topic area and its associated moderator has it's own style. In fact, it's a very good idea to do a keyword search for words relating to your problem before you post. It may find you an answer, and if not it will help you formulate a better question.

Don't shotgun-blast mulitple topic areas at once, that's a violations of the forum rules and it REALLY irritates us admins... Find the right location and post once.

Know what your topic is! One of the classic mistakes is asking questions about turbos in the N/A (non-turbo) section . If you don't understand why this is a blunder, you'd be best off not asking any questions at all until you get it.

In general, questions to a well-selected topic area are more likely to get quality answers than equivalent questions to the wrong one. There are multiple reasons for this. One is simply the size of the pool of potential respondents. Another is the size of the audience; a guy who specializes in helping on turbo cars would rather answer questions in the turbo forum. He may not even read the N/A forum.

Use meaningful, specific subject headers

On forums, the subject header is your golden opportunity to attract qualified experts' attention in 50 characters or less. Don't waste it on babble like "Please help me" (let alone "PLEASE HELP ME!!!!"; messages with subjects like that get discarded by reflex). Don't try to impress us with the depth of your anguish; use the space for a super-concise problem description instead.

One good convention for subject headers, used by many tech support organizations, is "object - deviation". The "object" part specifies what thing or group of things is having a problem, and the "deviation" part describes the deviation from expected behavior.


HKS SSQV doesn't blow off

HKS SSQV Blow-Off Valve doesn't blow off after hard pipe install

The process of writing an "object-deviation" description will help you organize your thinking about the problem in more detail. What is affected? Just the BOV or are other problems happening at the same time? Someone who sees a good subject line can immediately understand what it is that you are having a problem with and the problem you are having, at a glance.

More generally, look at the thread list in a forum. Note that just the subject lines are showing. Make your subject line reflect your question well enough that the next guy browsing the forum with a question similar to yours will be able to follow the thread to an answer rather than posting the question again.

Do not simply hit reply to a list message in order to start an entirely new thread. If you are going off in a different direction, search for a thread that applies to that subject. If you don't find it then post a new question. Changing the subject is not a good way to do things. Once a thread has a title it does not change even if you change the subject of your individual post. This makes it harder for people to find.

Write in clear, grammatical, correctly-spelled language

Most of us have found by experience that people who are careless and sloppy writers are usually (there are excptions) careless and sloppy at thinking and working on cars. Answering questions for careless and sloppy thinkers is not rewarding; we'd rather spend our time elsewhere.

So 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. It doesn't have to be stiff or formal in fact, the car culture values informal, slangy and humorous language used with precision. But it has to be precise; there has to be some indication that you're thinking and paying attention.

Spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. Don't confuse "its" with "it's", "loose" with "lose", or "they're" with "there". Don't TYPE IN ALL CAPS; this is read as shouting and considered rude. (All lowercase is only slightly less annoying, as it's difficult to read.)

More generally, if you write like a semi-literate boob you will very likely be ignored. Writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r or a gangsta frm da ghetto is the absolute kiss of death with us and guarantees you will receive nothing but stony silence (or, at best, a heaping helping of scorn and sarcasm) in return.

If you are asking questions on our forum and English is not your native language, you will get a limited amount of slack for spelling and grammar errors - but no extra slack at all for laziness (and yes, we can usually spot that difference). Write in English. We will flush questions in languages that the bulk of our users don't understand, and English is the working language of the Internet. By writing in English you minimize your chances that your question will be discarded unread.

Post your question standard format

If you make your question artificially hard to read, it is more likely to be passed over in favor of one that isn't. So:

Do not abuse "smiley" and text formatting features. A smiley or two is usually OK, but colored fancy text tends to make people think you are lame. Seriously overusing smileys and color and fonts will make you come off like a giggly teenage girl, which is not generally a good idea unless you are more interested in sex than answers.

Be precise and informative about your problem

Describe the symptoms of your problem or project carefully and clearly.

Describe the car in which it occurs (eg AE101 Turbo Conversion). Provide your mod list (Turbonetics T3, 440cc injectors's, Greddy SP Exhaust, DDP)

Describe the research you did to try and understand the problem before you asked the question.

Describe the diagnostic steps you took to try and pin down the problem yourself before you asked the question.

Describe any possibly relevant recent changes to your car. After 10 posts and queries it's maddening to see "oh yea, I forgot to mention I swapped out the fuel pump the day before".

Do the best you can to anticipate the questions a people will ask, and answer them in advance in your request for help.

Volume is not precision

You need to be precise and informative. This end is not served by simply writing a long winded description of the date you were on, or what had for dinner into your help request. If you have a large, complicated situation, try to trim it and make it as small as possible.

This is useful for at least three reasons:
1. Being seen to invest effort in simplifying the question makes it more likely you'll get an answer
2. Simplifying the question makes it more likely you'll get a useful answer.
3. In the process of refining your post, you may develop a fix or workaround yourself.

Remember, 99 times out of 100 there are many other owners that are not experiencing your problem. (If your injectors aren't working for example) Otherwise you would have learned about it while reading the forum and searching the site (you did do that before complaining, didn't you?). This means that very probably it is you who are doing something wrong.

Describe the problem's symptoms, not your guesses

If you don't know what the problem is, it's not altogether useful to tell people what you think is causing your problem. (If your diagnostic theories were such hot stuff, would you be consulting others for help?) So, make sure you're telling them the raw symptoms of what goes wrong, rather than your interpretations and theories. Let them do the interpretation and diagnosis. If you feel it's important to state your guess, clearly label it as such and describe why that answer isn't working for you.

Describe your problem's symptoms in chronological order

The clues most useful in figuring out something that went wrong often lie in the events immediately prior. So, your description should provide precisely what you did, and what the car did, leading up to the blowup. "I stopped to get gas and then problem x happend" can save us all a lot of work.

Most Cars have diagnostic codes. Check the ECU for them before posting a question. Include any codes you got in your description.

If your post ends up being long (more than about four paragraphs), it might be useful to succinctly state the problem up top, then follow with the chronological tale. That way, people will know what to watch for in reading your account.

Describe the goal, not the step

If you are trying to find out how to do something (as opposed to reporting a problem), begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on.

Often, people who need technical help have a high-level goal in mind and get stuck on what they think is one particular path towards the goal. They come for help with the step, but don't realize that the path is wrong. It can take substantial effort to get past this.

How do I get enough power to my top fuel dragster sized fuel pump?

I want to make 350 RWHP, I have 550 injectors. I'm thinking I need one of these huge 400 liter an hour pumps, how do I get power to it?

The second version of the question is smart. It allows an answer that suggests a tool or part better suited to the task.


Be explicit about your question

Open-ended questions tend to be perceived as open-ended time sinks. Those people most likely to be able to give you a useful answer are also the busiest people (if only because they take on the most work themselves). People like that are allergic to open-ended time sinks, thus they tend to be allergic to open-ended questions.

You are more likely to get a useful response if you are explicit about what you want respondents to do (provide pointers, suggest parts, check your install method, whatever). This will focus their effort and implicitly put an upper bound on the time and energy a respondent must allocate to helping you. This is good.

To understand the world the experts live in, think of expertise as an abundant resource and time to respond as a scarce one. The less of a time commitment you implicitly ask for, the more likely you are to get an answer from someone really good and really busy.

So it is useful to frame your question to minimize the time commitment required for an expert to field it - but this is often not the same thing as simplifying the question. Thus, for example, "Would you give me a pointer to a good explanation of turbo A/R's?" is usually a smarter question than "Would you explain turbo A/R's, please?".

Prune pointless queries

Resist the temptation to close your request for help with semantically-null questions like "Can anyone help me?" or "Is there an answer?" First: if you've written your problem description halfway competently, such tacked-on questions are at best superfluous. Second: because they are superfluous, people find them annoying - and are likely to return logically impeccable but dismissive answers like "Yes, you can be helped" and "No, there is no help for you."

In general, asking yes-or-no questions is a good thing to avoid unless you want a yes-or-no answer.

Don't flag your question as "Urgent" or "Need help fast!"

That's your problem, not ours. Claiming urgency is very likely to be counter-productive: most of us will simply ignore such messages as rude and selfish attempts to elicit immediate and special attention. We also might not answer if we missed the problem in the first few minutes. We'll assume that if you didn't get an answer quickly, it's too late now.

If you find this mysterious, re-read the rest of this how-to repeatedly until you understand it before posting anything at all.

Courtesy never hurts, and sometimes helps

Be courteous. Use "Please" and "Thanks for your attention" or "Thanks for your consideration". Make it clear you appreciate the time people spend helping you for free.

To be honest, this isn't as important as (and cannot substitute for) being grammatical, clear, precise and descriptive, etc.; We would all in general would rather get somewhat brusque but technically sharp posts than polite vagueness. (If this puzzles you, remember that we value a question by what it teaches all of us.)

However, if you've got your technical ducks in a row, politeness does increase your chances of getting a useful answer.

Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Post after the problem has been solved; let everyone know how it came out and thank everyone again for their help. I can't stress how important this is.

Your followup doesn't have to be long and involved; a simple "Hey! It was a failed fuel pump! Thanks, everyone. - Bill" would be better than nothing. In fact, a short and sweet summary is better than a long dissertation unless the solution has real technical depth. Say what action solved the problem, but you need not replay the whole troubleshooting sequence.

For problems with some depth, it is appropriate to post a summary of the troubleshooting history. Describe your final problem statement. Describe what worked as a solution, and indicate avoidable blind alleys and wastes of time after that. The blind alleys and wastes of time should come after the correct solution and other summary material, rather than turning the follow-up into a detective story. Name the names of people who helped you; you'll make friends that way.

Besides being courteous and informative, this sort of followup will help others searching the forum to know exactly which solution helped you and thus may also help them.

Last, and not least, this sort of followup helps everybody who assisted feel a satisfying sense of closure about the problem. If you are not a techie or mechanic yourself, trust us that this feeling is very important to the gurus and experts you tapped for help. Problem narratives that trail off into unresolved nothingness are frustrating things; we itch to see them resolved. The goodwill that scratching that itch earns you will be very, very helpful to you next time you need to pose a question.

Consider how you might be able to prevent others from having the same problem in the future. Ask yourself if a sticky or additon to the FAQ would help, and if the answer is yes, ask a mod or admin to stick or copy to the FAQ.

We really like to see this, and this sort of good followup behavior is actually more important than conventional politeness. It's how you get a reputation for playing well with others, which can be a very valuable asset.

RTFM and Search! - or - How To Tell You've Seriously Screwed Up

There is an ancient and hallowed tradition: if you get a reply that reads "RTFM", the person who sent it thinks you should have Read The $&#$% Manual. He or she is almost certainly right. Go read it.

RTFM has a younger relative. If you get a reply that reads Search!, the person who sent it thinks you should have searched the site. He or she is almost certainly right. Go search it. (The milder version of this is when you are told "Google is your friend!") In fact, someone may even be so kind as to provide a pointer to the previous thread where this problem was solved. But do not rely on this consideration; do your searching before asking.

Often, the person telling you to do a search has the manual or the web page with the information you need open, and is looking at it as he or she types. These replies mean that he thinks (a) the information you need is easy to find, and (b) you will learn more if you seek out the information than if you have it spoon-fed to you.

You shouldn't be offended by this; by our standards, your respondent is showing you a rough kind of respect simply by not ignoring you. You should instead be thankful for this grandmotherly kindness.

If you don't understand...

If you don't understand the answer, do not immediately bounce back a demand for clarification. Use the same tools that you used to try and answer your original question (The TSRM, FAQs, the Web, skilled friends) to understand the answer. Then, if you still need to ask for clarification, exhibit what you have learned.

For example, suppose I tell you: "It sounds like you've got a stuck wastegate; you'll need to free it up" Then: here's a bad followup question: "What's a Wastegate?" Here's a good followup question: "OK, I read the manual and page and I found the wastegate, but the the manual doesn't say anything about freeing it up. Am I missing something here?"

Questions Not To Ask

Here are some classic stupid questions, and what we are thinking when we don't answer them.

Q: Where can I find the list of ECU error codes?
A: The same place I'd find it, fool - at the other end of a search. Doesn't everybody know how to use the damned search feature yet?

Q: Where do I find the wiring diagram for the APEXi S-AFCII?
A: If you're smart enough to ask this question, you're smart enough to RTFM and find out yourself.

Q: How can I set my boost controller?
A: If you're smart enough to ask this question, you're smart enough to RTFM and find out yourself.

Q: My car doesn't work
A: This is not a question, and I'm not interested in playing Twenty Questions to pry your actual question out of you - I have better things to do. On seeing something like this, my reaction is normally "Damn, that's too bad, I hope you get it fixed.."

Good and Bad Questions

Finally, I'm going to illustrate how to ask questions in a smart way by example; pairs of questions about the same problem, one asked in a stupid way and one in a smart way.

Stupid: Where can I find out stuff about the HKS SSQV BOV? - (This question just begs for "Search..." as a reply.)
Smart: I used search to try to find out about the HKS SSQV BOV, but I got no useful hits. Can I get a pointer to install information on this BOV?

Stupid: I'm having problems with my car. Can anybody help? - (The average response to this is likely to be "Yes, if you'd tell us what is wrong..")
Smart: I tried X, Y, and Z on on my car. When that didn't work, I tried A, B, and C. Note the curious symptom when I tried C. Obviously the ignition isn't getting power, but the results aren't what one might expect. Anybody got ideas for more tests I can run to pin down the problem?

This person, on the other hand, seems worthy of an answer. He/she has exhibited problem-solving intelligence rather than passively waiting for an answer to drop from on high.

In the last question, notice the subtle but important difference between demanding "Give me an answer" and "Please help me figure out what additional diagnostics I can run to achieve enlightenment."

If You Can't Get An Answer

If you can't get an answer, please don't take it personally that we don't feel we can help you. Sometimes the members of the asked group may simply not know the answer. No response is not the same as being ignored, though admittedly it's hard to spot the difference from outside.

In general, simply re-posting or 'bumping' your question more than once every 24 hours is a bad idea. This will be seen as pointlessly annoying. Have patience: the person with your answer may currently be asleep, in a different time-zone, on vacation, etc.

There are also plenty of commercial companies you can go to for help, both large and small. Don't be dismayed at the idea of having to pay for a bit of help! Mechanics & shops exist for reason.
1988 KE70 Wagon - Slowly rusting
1990 NA6 MX-5 - because reasons
2018 Ranger - Because workcar
1997 FD3S RX-7 Type R - all brap, all the time
OMG so shiny!

Quint wrote:Not just cock, large cock.
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Postby Malcolm » Wed Jun 13, 2007 10:09 pm

So many of the target audience (dumb/impatient newbies?) do you think are going to read the thesis above? :P

Maybe you should do a synopsis if you want it to be actually read?
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Postby Dell'Orto » Wed Jun 13, 2007 11:13 pm

Believe it or not, that is a reasonably truncated version!
1988 KE70 Wagon - Slowly rusting
1990 NA6 MX-5 - because reasons
2018 Ranger - Because workcar
1997 FD3S RX-7 Type R - all brap, all the time
OMG so shiny!

Quint wrote:Not just cock, large cock.
User avatar
** Moderator **
Posts: 17484
Joined: Tue Jul 08, 2003 5:07 am
Location: Straight out the ghetto, Lower Hutt

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