Howto: Ask for (and get) help on the forums

A lot of support threads spiral wildly out of control and end up splattering against the pavement. Others get weirdly muddled by dozens of people asking the same “please post the output of lspci” suggestion, even though that was done days earlier. In other words, not every plea for help is a success story. Oh, that they were. …

However, for a great example of a support thread gone right, take a look at this one. It’s short, so it won’t take long to read through it. And while it’s not a newbie question (NFS networking is something I would call intermediate level), it’s a fair problem for a newcomer to ask, and need help with.

I won’t dwell on this too much since the thread basically explains itself. But here are a couple of points worth noting.

  • First, it took a couple of hours for the original poster to get a working solution to his problem. This is a forum, not a chat room. It takes time for people to read through threads, think about your problem and offer a suggestion. Pleas for help can sometimes go unanswered for days before someone chimes in with a possible solution. If you need help now, go to IRC. Just remember that you’re not always among the same quality of people there.
  • Second, the OPer took the time to add all the information he could, up front. He (I’m using “he” as the generic pronoun here; I don’t know if fedex1993 is a man or a woman) explained the situation, added snippets from his configuration files, and described the problem in brief. He also reported the error message he was getting, and a very brief note about the hardware involved. Perhaps equally important, he didn’t rant about his problem in 1337, which is an immediate turnoff.
  • A moderator replied first, and another user offered a similar suggestion soon afterward. A lot of the moderators are very knowledgeable, but not always on every topic. The point here is that sending a private message to a staff member over a support issue is generally a bad idea. PMs are just that — private, which means you don’t get the added benefit of 400,000 other people glancing over your question. If a mod or admin can actually offer a solution, you’ve gotten lucky — I get help requests on an almost-daily basis, and two-thirds of them I have to say, “Sorry, but I’ve never worked with that equipment. Post a thread and maybe someone can help.”
  • The OPer needed clarification, asked for it and got it. At one point the thread seemed to die because one of the helpers had other chores to attend to, but about an hour later, it revived and the problem was solved.
  • Finally, and probably most importantly, the OPer reported success and thanked the people who helped. It seems like a minor point, but most staff members say a large part of what they like best about moderating or administrating is when someone says thanks, or says something works. The same is true for other forum members. Taking the time to express your gratitude is what volunteers live for — and we are all volunteers in this community.

Like I said, it’s a shame that not all support threads go this well. But in this case, the OPer did everything right, was patient and got their problem solved. If you’re new to the forums, take this as an instruction, and if you’re a veteran, try to reinforce threads like this when you see them. Ours is a community that leads by example. :D

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2 Responses to “Howto: Ask for (and get) help on the forums”


  1. 1 Dr Small 2007/12/13 at 7:16 AM

    Yup. That is the correct way to do things. I wish all of the threads turned out like that. But, sometimes, (even when I go into detail with alot of information), my posts never get answered. (I am guessing that this is because I am too technical ? :D)

    But we are all volunteers, and alot of us (yes, including myself) don’t know the answers to everything, so we just help out where we can. :)

    Dr Small

  2. 2 Lluis Perez-Vidal 2009/01/17 at 4:10 PM

    This has been VERY useful for me.


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