How to Ask for Help and Get It
I see so many technical (and other) questions in forums and social media that go unanswered. Not due to lack of trying, but due to lack of understanding. People posting questions like this (an actual post in a popular PHP group on FB):
Hello PLease Help Me PHP :( SQL INJECTION login.php
No I am not kidding, here is a screenshot of the actual post:
Posts like this have almost zero chance of getting the help they need, and 100% chance of getting virtually mocked, spit upon, and/or flat-out ignored. And there’s no reason for it. By following a few simple steps, you can ask intelligent questions that people will understand and try to respond with useful information.
Don’t waste time asking questions that the reader cannot understand.
Use complete sentences
Using complete sentences gives your question meaning and relevance. So that the reader can understand what you are trying to say. It also tells the reader that you care about their time, and that you are sincere in your attempt to get help. Otherwise they’re just going to laugh at you.
Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.
Respect the language
Whatever language you are using to communicate, it is important to at least try to use it correctly. Otherwise your post may be taken as a joke or meme or even an insult. Language is essential for communicating ideas. So it is very important to use the language as effectively as possible. Especially when asking for help. Even more so when asking for free help.
Don’t be lazy
If someone asks you to design their wedding for them, you would need to know the details, right? Like lots of details, about every little thing. Well, that’s gonna be pretty hard to do if the client fails to provide any specifics.
It’s the same way with asking for help online. As a technical support specialist, I can tell you that the desire to help is very high, but motivation much less so for lazy questions like this:
i need to use my pluginssssss
Seriously, someone sent me that verbatim (I saved the email). Were they seriously looking for help? Maybe. Point is: unless you provide basic details like:
- Name of item (what are working with or asking about)
- Context (what you are trying to do)
- Specific issue (why it is not working, what is happening instead)
- What you’ve tried (to fix the problem)
Without that sort of basic information, there’s not much that people are going to be able to do for you. So don’t be lazy with your question; provide enough information so that the reader will be able to understand and want to help.
Remember, the reader is not sitting right there next to you, watching your every move.
And don’t forget..
Some other things to keep in mind when asking for help:
Screenshots are super useful, powerful way of communicating. By including a screenshot, you are communicating tons of information visually and simply. And I can tell you from experience that a lot of people respond to visual media (especially on social media sites). So make good use of screenshots whenever possible.
Important: take an actual screenshot on your computer or device; don’t just take a photo of the screen. Digital photos tend to be blurry and make you look lazy or incompetent. There are oodles of free screenshot tools available, or you can just use your machine/device’s built-in screenshot functionality.
If you’re working with a code snippet and want to post it, make sure the code is formatted for human readability. If there are more than a few lines of code, use a free service like pastebin.com and then just share a link instead of posting a giant mess of code. Especially on social media sites, large code snippets are a pain in the eyeball. Post a link instead.
Last but not least, remember to be polite and respectful when asking for help. Nobody likes rude or lazy people, and even fewer people like to help them.
You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
5 second summary
Don’t: write short, vague, ineffective questions. They are a useless waste of time.
Do: write clear, complete, informative questions. Show that you value the reader’s time and get the help you need.
Great points, Jeff! Many would argue these are just “common sense” for generating an intellectual discussion, but alas, I’m always surprised by how relative that term is, lol.
Thanks Rishi! Hopefully it helps some folks get the help they need.
Strange I thought you didn’t use Facebook! Accordingly to your previous post. The reason I mention this point is because people in Facebook tend to not have any common sense and seem to be only able to share other people’s posts or post a pointless picture e.g. like a cup from starbucks as soon as they been there!
I use FB very rarely anymore, mostly to share links and deals, etc. But yes FB mostly is a bunch of idiots pretending to have lives. Not going to argue with that lol.
Thanks for sharing this. Hopefully it will help us to get better and more complete support requests.
Earlier this year I wrote an article (Dutch language) about how to use email the right way and I shared the article, inlcuding a test, with all my subscribers (including customers). Weeks later, I have the idea that customers doing things wrong just to irritate us :)
Hi Olaf, a guide on proper email usage is needed especially these days as more folks are learning how to work online. I’ve been planning to write a book on successful email communication, but have not had time yet to finish it. And yes lol, I think sometimes that some of the “dumb” posts on Facebook also are intentional just to irritate the group admins :)
Terrific note, Jeff!
There may be “no such thing as a bad question” but there’s plenty of incomprehensible questions!
Many thanks for all your work
Great point! Thanks Cliff.