RFC: Simple Internet Question Asking Protocol (for human beings)

This is my  attempt version 0.1 to teach the world how one should ask questions in the simplest possible way in Internet discussion. To make it simple, I try to keep this short. This post sprouts from my frustration from the lack of people’s ability to form questions one could easily answer.

1. Assumptions

If you want to ask a question in forum, IRC (chat) or mailing list

  1. Assume people are busy
  2. Assume that people want to help you, even though they are busy, since they volunteer to participate the community discussion and thus they must care about the community

To make it win-win situation, you as the question maker, are responsible of making the process of asking the question and answering the question as easy as possible. Form your question in such a way that it is as easy as possible for the readers to place themselves into your situation and think how they would themselves solve the situation (Mikko’s rule of empathy).

The less time it takes to undestand your situation the more likely people are willing to contribute their time.

2. Question process

Thus, I propose that you always follow the simple three steps when asking a question

  1. Before asking the question tell what you already know
  2. Describe the problem
  3. Ask what you do not know yet

Then wait patiently for the answer (the busy part).

3. Pitfalls

These issues often stem from the fact that the person asking the question is not familiar with text-based communication where people’s time (bandwidth) is limited and the lack of body gestures often leads to misinterpretations.

  1. Do not ask yes / no questions. You are skipping steps #1 and #3.
  2. Do not saturate the bandwidth: do not repeat yourself or otherwise flood the medium. If people are busy it it does not make them un-busy by repeating yourself. You are breaking the assumption #1.
  3. Do not try to pull excessive attention on you – do not try to highlight your question like “PLEASE HELP !!!!” Even if it is a matter of life and dead for you it is not for the other people who are dealing with their own matters of life and dead. You are breaking the assumption #2.

4. Example

Q: Is it possible to fly me to the Moon? A: Yes

Q: I am an evil super-villain whose plan overtake the world failed.  Now I must escape. I am looking for methods to take me to the Moon or the orbit where national laws to do not apply. I am not sure should I use a shuttle or a rocket. Where could I obtain such a vehicle?

A: US of A just retired one reliable space shuttle what you could use. But if I were you I’d consider underwater base instead, as they will become cheaper in long run, since you can more easily produce breathable oxygen.

5. More info

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