I was reading through one of my regular mailing lists when I came
across a post entitled "How do I get my questions answered?". A
Linux user named Josh had earlier sent in a question about Linux
networking that had yet to be answered.
I did spend a few minutes looking at his technical question and
sent off a partial answer. I have to admit, though, I was intrigued by
I have submitted several questions to this list and have not had any
response. Do I need to format my questions in a certain way to get a
response? I know there are some very bright people watching the list,
because of the response some people get.
It's always frustrating to need help and not get it; Josh was
justified in asking why.
I felt it was important to address his non-technical question
as well as his technical one. It turned out that I spent almost three
times as much time on it as my technical answer. I think it applies to many
other questions as well.
Good evening again, Josh,
I'm not posting this as any kind of official representative of the
Linux community; I'm only sharing my thoughts. Others may
Because this is free support from volunteers you're not guaranteed
an answer. You knew that already, but sometimes it helps to keep that in
Here are some of the ways you can raise the probability your
question gets seen and answered. These are general guidelines, not
specifically addressed to the question you posed earlier or the way in
which you posed it.
- To the best of your ability, come up with a specific problem
with specific details. "How do I allow smtp traffic to pass through a
masquerading firewall using ipfwadm on RedHat 5.1?" is more likely to get
answered than "Why doesn't my mail work?"
- Do some research ahead of time. Look through the archives of any
applicable mailing lists, the HOWTO's, and the man pages for the commands you're
interested in. Do a search on DejaNews for the keywords you're interested
in or error message you're seeing. Try Google or AltaVista for a more
- Try some tests yourself. See what works and what doesn't.
Clearly state what you've tried and how those trials turned out. Keep
good records of your tests and summarize the results in your post.
- Clearly and succinctly document the question. What, exactly,
isn't working in the way you expected? What symptoms do you see? Was it
working before, and if so, when did it stop? Did you make any changes
to your system around that time?
- Include details about the software you're using. The specific
kernel version, distribution name and number, and the names and versions of
the programs you're using. What configuration choices have you made?
- Offer to help in the process of solving the solution. "Can
someone provide a pointer?", "What is my example missing?" and "Is there a
site I should have checked?" are more likely to get
answered than "Please post the entire script I should use." because you're
making it clear that you're truly willing to complete the process if
someone can simply point you in the right direction. If you expect to get
a lot of answers that may tie up the list, ask people to respond privately
and offer to summarize to the list in a few days.
- Do as much of the work ahead of time as you can, letting the
answerer focus on getting you the answer. Write out some possible
solutions and ask "Is one of the above close to correct, or do I need to
take some other approach?"
- Be courteous. Use "Please" and "Thanks in advance". Make it
clear that you appreciate the time someone spends helping you for free.
- Send a note after the problem has been solved to all who helped
you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help.
It doesn't have to be long and involved; a simple "Howdy - it was a
failed network cable! Thanks, everyone. - Bill" would be better than
For balance, here are some of the things that, in my book, are
likely to reduce the chance that your question gets answered:
- Ask vague questions.
- Make it clear that you expect the person answering the question
to do all the work.
- Write your question with script-kiddie language (trying to be
cute with replacing e's with 3's, etc.
- Use poor grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization for
the sole reason that you're lazy and can't be bothered to ask the question
clearly. Please understand that people writing english as a foreign
language do not get penalized for the above; in fact, they get
extra points in my book because their English is a lot better than my
German, Italian, Japanese, etc.
- Start off the exchange by venting the frustration you have with
the problem at the mailing list. It's perfectly fine to state that a
problem has been frustrating you, but don't take it out on the community.
Don't let the above list scare you off. If any of the above don't
apply to your situation or you simply don't know how to comply, no
problem. Do what you can. I'm not going to start rating questions and
saying that a given question needs to score above 30 before I'll even
consider answering. :-)
The above is simply my way of letting you know that finding the
solution to your problem is a partnership between the questioner and the
answerer - I'm letting you know what kinds of things I'd like to see in
One more thing. Even if you follow all of my suggestions in the
first list and avoid all in the second, you still may not get an answer.
We all have busy lives and schedules. If you don't hear anything, keep
trying yourself. Perhaps try posting again later with new information.
If you just can't get the answer you need, there are always companies that
will find answers for pay:
www.questionexchange.com and many others.
Here are some places to look when you have questions of your own:
William is an
enthusiast, and advocate from Vermont, USA.