Questions, Answers, and Reports

Posted Sunday, May 12, 2024 by Sri. Tagged TOPIC
EDITING PHASE:gathering info...

This is a collection of standards that are related to prosocial culture building, inspired by the Don't Ask to Ask, Just Ask website. It's a work in progress.

Don't Ask to Ask, Just Ask

The Don't Ask to Ask, Just Ask website quotes a posting from somewhere about questions of this form posted on technical forums, asking questions like:

"Any experts around to help me with [Topic]?"

The intepretation of the quoted writer on the website suggests that the question really means:

Any experts around who are willing to commit into looking into my problem, whatever that may turn out to be, even if it's not actually related to [Topic] or if someone who doesn't know anything about [Topic] could actually answer my question?

or alternatively it could me:

I have a question about [Topic] but I'm too lazy to actually formalize it in words unless there's someone on the channel who might be able to answer it

The intepretation of the author is that this appears lazy, and furthermore doesn't provide any useful context that might pique the interest of people who could help, and therefore does not gain a good response. They suggest the solution is to just ask the actual question by describing the problem.


While I think their conclusion is a reasonable one, I don't like how it emphasizes the implication of how the question is perceived by regulars/insiders in the social space. This has no bearing on how to ask a good question in the form they are implying; it feels like a passive aggressive swipe at people without the words or expertise to articulate what they need. It also shows a lack of understanding of general etiquette, where when a newcomer is entering a space they are unfamiliar with and out of their depth, do not want to be overly presumptious by just throwing the question out there.

Good Pattern Examples:

  • Hi, I have a question about [Doing Thing], which is that I am trying to do [Doing-related action] so I can [Desired Outcome], but [Description of Undesired Outcome]; I was expecting [Description of Desired Outcome]. Appreciate any insights, thanks!

[insert example for cultural pattern to use for asking questions in a newcomer-friendly space]


Chris commented:

The inference of lazyness is kinda silly. My mental translation of what they are actually asking when they ask "how do I do this thing?" is usually something like: "Hello, I'm at a loss. I'm at least a bit confused about how to even start to think about this. If you were just starting to explore this, what questions would you ask Gemini or ChatGPT?"

Mikael commented:

I can see how it could come across as lazy though. I have had interactions where they literally told me "I didn't want to waste time explaining the problem if there weren't anyone here willing to address it", but I also can see how it is expressed in a needlessly negative way. I remember when I was just getting into linux. It was kinda rough. People would help you, but they would constantly berate you and be really mean about it. Glad I didn't let that faze me. Unfortunately that sort of toxic behavior probably turned a lot of cool folks away from it as well.

Sri commented:

Yah, it’s a tough space. The percentage of insider posturing about being a certain kind of smart to be talked to like a human makes most tech-oriented spaces unpleasant for me. I think there are two opposing forces in my ideal tech space: genuine interest in helping others succeed at doing something new, and genuine interest on the part of the doer to push through and try. The tricky parts are patience with negotiating a communication style that works across both parties, which presumes an awareness that this exists. There’s an implicitly held belief in equality too, untainted by differences in knowledge and experience. Perhaps it’s inherently an anti-competitive mindset. There’s a certain amount of defensive trauma that’s built up also in a lot of people from having bad interactions in the past that can trigger chains of emotional reactivity. That’s a harder problem to directly address, and more of a “trust earned over time” long play.

Don't Answer to Answer

This is one of my own pet peeves: people who answer questions with responses that are not answers, but something else. The pattern is:

I have a question about [Topic]. [Question]

Responses Patterns

  • I don't know, but I googled your question and this is what it said.
  • I don't know, but here is my guess on a related similar idea that I also don't know is relevant.
  • I don't know, but it is probably this even though I don't have the details that I would need to support my theory.
  • I don't know enough, so I am going to teach you without asking whether you asked for it or not.
  • I don't know, but this reminds me of a story or problem so I'll talk about that insteead because I do know something about that.

And various forms of this. I think like Don't Ask to Ask, these responses can be driven by a genuine desire to be helpful or show that their question was heard, which is a positive prosocial response. However, the desire to be helpful isn't the same as being helpful, and if this type of pattern persists then the OP will potentially feel more distanced from the community.


This is a pickle...what is a good pattern to respond with by the people with the desire to be helpful but without direct knowledge and experience? Perhaps here is a good place to ask to answer?

  • "You've probably googled this already, but in the case you haven't did you see this link?"
  • "I don't know, but there's a related idea X that might give you ideas. Would you like to hear more about it?
  • "I'm guessing here without the full picture, but perhaps it is X. It's a problem I've seen before; can go into more detail if you like."
  • "That sounds interesting. Can you provide more detail on X so I can understand the context of what you're trying to do?"
  • "I've had something similar happen to me. I'll post a followup after the chat gets a chance to address OP's question"