Ask Me Better

You probably are here because you asked someone for help, and that someone would like more information.

Ask Me Better is intended to help you ask for technical help in a way that will get you a better answer, faster.

By the time you're asking for technical help you're probably frustrated. You've probably become very focused on the specific step where the problem is happening. You want me to make it go!

In order to help you, though, I need more context. In particular, I need you to answer the following four questions:

1. What are you trying to accomplish?

What is your larger goal? Not just the specific step where the problem is happening, but the overall goal. When your problem has been completely solved, what will you be able to do?

2. What specific steps are you using to try to accomplish it?

What are the steps you are going through to try to accomplish your overall goal? Ideally, you will tell me this in sufficient detail that I can actually follow along in your footsteps, repeating each step in the process.

It is important to be specific. If there is a particular program I should be using, tell me what program. If there is a particular page on a website I need to go to, give me the actual URL. If there is a specific set of actions I need to take to get to the point where I can see the problem, give me those steps in enough detail that I can easily follow them:

3. What is it that you expect will happen when you perform those steps?

This one is easy to overlook, but it's important. Maybe the problem isn't the thing you're doing, but your expectations. Maybe you have misunderstood what a particular action is supposed to do, so you are using an approach that will never actually work.

You know what you expect will happen; it's obvious to you. But it's not obvious to me. So tell me what it is that you expect will happen at the point when the problem occurs:

4. What is the problem that happens when you perform those steps?

This is the other half of the last question. You've told me what it is that you expect will happen. Now tell me what it is that actually does happen, and what it is that makes it a problem:

For even more detail, see Eric Steven Raymond's and Rick Moen's How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

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