Along your learning journey, you will inevitably need to ask questions in an our community, or in conversations with your teacher. While asking questions may seem rather simple, in a forum it is essential to ask well formed questions with as much context as needed so you can get the most out of asking for help. In essence, “help others help you!” This lesson will provide you with the tools to effectively ask questions in our discussion forum.
Whether you’re part of a group in a tradition school or an online high school student at Digit, asking good questions is essential. Students that ask good questions are more effective because they get better answers more quickly and more often. They’re also taken more seriously and get more respect, which matters if you care about your career.
Good questions save time. Bad questions waste time. Bad questions create unnecessary back-and-forth conversations, which create frustration and conflict. Students that ask bad questions get frustrated because they can’t get help, and Students that are trying to help get frustrated because answering bad questions is so damn frustrating.
Bad question askers usually don’t get far in their careers. That’s because working with them is pure frustration. If you were a manager and had to fire someone, you’d immediately think of people that ask bad questions. The only thing that saves most bad question askers is that everyone around them is bad too, and so in relative terms, they look alright.
1. Understand the topic to the best of your ability.
- Yes really, actually do this. Do not rush this step.
- Go through line-by-line and figure out what each line does. Take notes, think about things that might be confusing. Let them sink in.
- Google unfamiliar concepts. You want to avoid asking a question that you can figure out on your own with a quick Google search.
- Use a debugger to help you. If you don’t know how to use a debugger or don’t know what it is, watch the video below.
2. Clearly describe the problem.
- Explain the context. For example, if you’re a student at Digit, provide the URL for the associated lesson and explain what you’re trying to do and or understand. If you have a question about a video, provide the timestamp too so that someone trying to help can reference the exact place where you got stuck.
- Explain the exact steps you took to produce the problem. For example, did you click three buttons in a specific order? Did it work fine in Chrome but not in Safari? Explain every little step.
- Explain what you expect to see.
- Explain what you actually see. If there’s a weird user interface problem, take a screenshot.
3. Explain what you did to troubleshoot the problem.
- Come up with a list of hypotheses about what the problem might be and then test them methodically. For each hypothesis, explain what you did to test each hypothesis.
- During this process you might figure out the problem yourself. This is very common.
4. Proofread your question.
- Read through your question and make sure you’ve provided everything that someone would need to answer it.
- Edit for clarity. If you think something might be confusing, fix it. If there’s a typo, fix it. If you have typos in your question, people will assume that you have typos in your question. And like I said before, other people are not your personal typo hunters.
5. Send updates and remember this will not be your last question.
- If you’ve figured out the answer before anyone can respond, then tell people so they don’t waste time looking for an answer you’ve already found.
- When you get an answer back, take time to digest it carefully and fully understand what the person is saying. Keep in mind they might not actually be right. So you need to verify that their solution works.
- Thank each person that helped you and remember that they didn’t have to answer your question, but for some reason they wanted to.
While asking for help is encouraged, it’s important to avoid becoming a “help vampire” and be respectful of the communities or persons you are asking for help. This resource goes in depth to identify what a “help vampire” is, gives those who help others the tools to empower folks to ask questions effectively, and help the “help vampire” effectively.