How to Get Better Help

August 9, 2016

Enjoying my writing? Sign up to hear about future posts!

3 min read

I see a lot of people make the same mistake over and over again when asking for help. They ask based on their most recent thought -- which is the obvious approach -- but they’re making a key error: their most recent thought doesn't give any information into their problem! For example, someone will ask questions like:

  • Is my chest too high when I’m squatting?
  • Can you help me write a regular expression for a string I’m trying to parse?
  • How can I release and renew an IP address?
  • How can I figure out what studs my walls have?

These questions don’t give your expert enough information! You've got to include the original problem you're trying to solve. Some improved examples:

  • Is my chest too high when I’m squatting? I’m feeling back pain when I come back up
  • Can you help me write this regular expression? I’m trying to parse this string out into a list
  • How can I release and renew an IP address? I can’t get to facebook right now
  • How can I figure out what studs my walls have? I’m trying to hang a small picture

The reason this extra context can help is that you may not actually need the answer to your latest thought:

  • If you feel pain when you squat, you might have errors elsewhere in your form, such as in your shoulders or knees, but if you don’t include that extra information, the person you ask is likely to just say “Your angle looks good, keep it up!” when they may have noticed something else about your form had you included the extra context
  • If you’re trying to parse a list, you might not actually need a regular expression! You might be able to do it with a split function. If you included that extra info, your expert may have explained that you don’t need a regular expression and saved you a ton of time of going down the wrong path.
  • If you’re trying to get to facebook, you might release and renew to no avail, only to find that your problem was with your web browser! If you included your intent, your expert might have taken you through some troubleshooting steps to identify the issue rather than learning how to release and renew without actually fixing your problem.
  • You might figure out what studs your wall has, but if you’re hanging something small, you probably don’t need the extra support of wall studs and are wasting your time! If you included your intent, your expert may have explained that you don’t need to worry about it since your drywall can handle the weight of what you’re hanging

I see this issue almost on a daily basis. You can save yourself, and the people you ask for assistance, a ton of time if you include the context of what you’re trying to achieve.

Enjoying my writing? Sign up to hear about future posts!

© 2018 Tweeres Software