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Getting Help Dos and Don'ts

D. Ben Knoble on 13 Jan 2020 in Blog

Keep these things in mind when asking for help from others.

Dos and Don’ts



In person

(Nothing to add here yet.)


  1. If you went from “something’s not working” to “asking a question” in less than 10 minutes, you probably haven’t done enough research.
  2. Ideally anyone answering the question should be able to copy your code, paste it into a text editor, compile it, run it, and observe the problem. Console applications are good for this—unless your question is directly about a user interface aspect, prefer to write a short console app. Remove anything not directly related to your question, but keep it complete enough to run.
  3. Try to avoid code which makes users scroll horizontally. You may well need to change how you split lines from how you have it in your IDE. Take the time to make it as clear as possible for those trying to help you.
  4. I realize that English isn’t the first language for many. I’m not looking for perfection, but some effort. If you know your English isn’t good, see if a colleague or friend can help you with your question before you post it.

Motivation & Reference

I spend a lot of time, on various internet forums and in person, answering people’s questions. I enjoy it. But that time continues to increase as I take on increasing teaching duties (at the moment, as an undergraduate learning assistant for CS classes).

I wanted to have a somewhat principled set of guidelines for question-askers to consider as they are working. Perhaps eventually I will follow-up with guidelines for question-answerers, but that is generally less pressing for me. Most of these stem from personal experience, painful or otherwise, and all are intended to help the asker grow, learn, or receive better feedback faster.

If you have time, you should read Writing the Perfect Question. I took some ideas from the followup checklist-version. Both are good reads.

I also highly recommend How to not get a question answered.


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