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How to Ask Questions on the Internet

ToddTodd Chief Product Officer Vanilla Staff
edited November 2011 in Releases

When asking a question on the Internet always assume that someone else has the same question as you. I like to refer to this as the golden rule of asking questions on the Internet.

What does this mean? Well, like all golden rules it can mean many things, but there are two direct implications of this rule.

  1. Someone may have asked your question before so you may want to search for an answer before asking again.
  2. Someone may ask your question in the future so you may want to ask your question in a way that will help the next person find it.

Why would you want to ask a good question at all?

When you ask a question on the Internet you are asking people, often complete strangers, to give you help for free. Guess what? This is okay. People should like helping people for free.

However, when you ask a question you can help pay back this free help by putting in a bit of thought into your question.

Things to think about when asking a question

  1. Try and phrase the title of your question as a complete question. Just reading the title of your question should give people a good idea of what your problem is. There should be little need to read the description except for specifics and clarification. If you phrase your question well, people with expertise will be more likely to click through and answer.
  2. Put specific error messages in your question. If your application is giving you a specific error message then this is what most people will be searching for when trying to solve their problem. If the error message is long then include a bit of it in the question title and the rest of it in the first paragraph of your full question.
  3. Ask one question at a time. If you ask a list of questions in one post you may get only partially answered and then have the rest of your questions will get lost.
  4. If you find the answer to your own question then answer it. When someone else finds your question, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing something like "nevermind, solved it!" The absolute least you can do is answer a question that you once expected someone else to answer.
  5. Once your question is answered, avoid asking followups. If you have a different, question then ask a new question. Asking it under an already answered question just makes it get lost for other people.
  6. Have an open mind about your question. You may not get the exact answer you want but it could still be the answer to your question. The goal is getting an acceptable answer to a question and then moving on.


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