Chances are you have your favorite community in which to ask questions. You are asking questions, right!? Maybe you follow a particular blog (this one?) and ask questions in the comments, or maybe you are a part of a couple online forums, or maybe your favorite community to ask questions in is your neighbor’s cubicle. Regardless of the setting in which you ask your questions, there are steps you can take to get better answers, and often times answer your own question.

In my experience the best asked questions get responses that are actually answers, and not questions themselves. Here are some tips about how to get substantive answers to your questions by addressing these concerns before they happen:

1. I have no idea what you are trying to do.

  • Be specific about what you are trying to learn
  • Explain why you are asking in the first place and what you will do with this information

2. You have not done your research.

  • Do your research! Has this question been answered before?
  • If the question seems like it has an obvious answer, explain why the obvious answer(s) will not work

3. Are you trying to do ‘X’ or are you really trying to do ‘Y’ (do they even know they can do ‘Y’)?

  • Be upfront about your knowledge or lack thereof
  • Attack the specific problem and avoid treating the symptoms and not the cause. If you can include “…and why I care is because…” you are on the right track to asking a good question

Being a programmer, naturally my favorite community to ask questions is Stack Overflow. One of the greatest values that SO provides to me is something that happens before I even post my question. Having spent a fair amount of time on SO in the past several years, I know the lingo and rules of the community, and that helps me get better answers and,more importantly, helps me answer my own questions.

To get a good answer, I need to be very clear and concise about what exactly I am trying to do. Phrasing your question so that people who have no idea who you are (skip this if you are in your neighbor’s cube) and what exactly you are doing, can be really hard! To ask a good question, one has to think critically about what he/she is doing, often breaking down each step and dissecting it. Provide specific details that are pertinent to understanding your question, and leave out those that are not. I found that by going through this thought process I often develop a solution myself and the “Post Your Question” button never gets pressed.

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