How To Ask For Help

Adam Ross Nelson
Jun 12, 2020




The dos and don’ts of asking for help with data science, programming, or related topics online

Computer programmers, data scientists, and other tech professionals frequently need to ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength! Professionals at all levels of skill sometimes need help…

Image Credit: publicdomainvectors.org — Help Speech Bubble.


Here is a non-exhaustive list of tips for reference when asking for help online.

Do not assume those that will assist you are ‘guys.’

Do not start asking for help with the words “Hey guys ~” it will alienate a large collection of those that can help you.

Too many posts start out with “Hey guys.” This is sexist. Stop it.

Find out if someone has already asked and answered your question.

This is easy to do. If you’re asking for help online. Search the forum with keywords related to your question. Read those posts and their responses. If you’re in a private setting and you cannot post your question publically use your company forums (if available). Slack, after all, is full of helpful institutional knowledge that may answer your question: it is THE Searchable Log of All Content & Knowledge, after all.

Check the documentation.

Read the documentation before asking for help.

Reference the documentation.

Related to the previous, if the documentation hasn’t provided you with your answers it is often a good idea to reference the portion(s) of the documentation you found and referenced. Say why it fell short for you. Ask your potential helpers if they can point you to other documentation that may be more helpful.

Think hard about your question title.

Avoid titles that state the obvious. Phrases like “question about…” or “I have a problem with…” are implied. Better choices are “What is it about [name software] that might cause [describe unexpected behavior or result].”

Avoid cross-posting.

Others may disagree with this. Cross-posting is posting your question to multiple forums. Some do not mind it. I tend to avoid it. The one exception is when A) someone has said: “hey, you might have better luck over at [insert another forum name].” And B: when the original post has not produced an answer. Also if you do cross-post, be transparent and offer a link to your original post to help your helpers.

Avoid edits.

If you must edit your original post be clear with a comment that also describes why you edited, and why.


Too many posts start out with “Hey guys.” This is sexist. Stop it.

Find out if someone has already asked and answered your question.

This is easy to do. If you’re asking for help online. Search the forum with keywords related to your question. Read those posts and their responses. If you’re in a private setting and you cannot post your question publically use your company forums (if available). Slack, after all, is full of helpful institutional knowledge that may answer your question: it is THE Searchable Log of All Content & Knowledge, after all.

Check the documentation.

Read the documentation before asking for help.

Reference the documentation.

Related to the previous, if the documentation hasn’t provided you with your answers it is often a good idea to reference the portion(s) of the documentation you found and referenced. Say why it fell short for you. Ask your potential helpers if they can point you to other documentation that may be more helpful.

Think hard about your question title.

Avoid titles that state the obvious. Phrases like “question about…” or “I have a problem with…” are implied. Better choices are “What is it about [name software] that might cause [describe unexpected behavior or result].”

Avoid cross-posting.

Others may disagree with this. Cross-posting is posting your question to multiple forums. Some do not mind it. I tend to avoid it. The one exception is when A) someone has said: “hey, you might have better luck over at [insert another forum name].” And B: when the original post has not produced an answer. Also if you do cross-post, be transparent and offer a link to your original post to help your helpers.

Avoid edits.

If you must edit your original post be clear with a comment that also describes why you edited, and why.


Image Credit: wallpaperflare.com — Chalk Questionmark.



Avoid asking for private assistance.

The reason private assistance is less than desirable is that the reason for seeking, and for providing, help online is that it’ll multiple the effects of your efforts. If you correspond privately, others in the future will not have the benefits of the discussion your question may generate.

Assuming you have followed the above advice, don’t be shy to post ‘elementary’ questions.

If you have legitimately endeavored to find an answer to your question using the advice above, your question is probably one that others will have too. Ask away, no matter how simple it may seem.

Make sure the ultimate solution is clear.

After you have a solution, make sure the solution is clear on the forum. Sometimes this will have been done for you by others on the forum. But, not always. It never hurts to post a summary of your solution. Also helpful, post specific examples.

Be nice, be kind, see things from the perspective of others.

This goes both for those that post questions and those that post helpful answers. If someone asks a question that violates any of these suggestions or guidelines, don’t get angry. Don’t be passive-aggressive. If you say anything, be as helpful as you can. It is okay to ask for more information. If you’re asking for help, don’t blame those that are helping you for what are almost never their mistakes or faults.


Still need advice on asking for help?
Find other questions that were answered and that generated extensive discussions. Analyze the content, structure, look, feel, and tone of those questions. Replicate what has shown to succeed before you.

Image Credit Copyright © 2020 Adam Ross Nelson — Word cloud related to asking questions.



Thanks For Reading

Thanks for reading. Send me your thoughts and ideas. You can write just to say hey. And if you really need to tell me how I got it wrong I look forward to chatting soon. Twitter: @adamrossnelson LinkedIn: Adam Ross Nelson.

“How To Ask For Help”
– Adam Ross Nelson twitter social icon Tweet


Share this article:

0 Comments

Post a comment
Log In to Comment
divider graphic

Related Stories

11

Pandas Essentials For Data Science

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on UnsplashPython is a popular language in data science, and of course, the most popular language for machine learn...

Mahbubul Alam
By Mahbubul Alam
29

Predicting survivors of Titanic

F.G.O. Stuart (1843–1923) / Public domainRMS Titanic was a British passenger liner operated by the White Star Line that sank in the North Atlantic ...

Dorian Lazar
By Dorian Lazar
17

All About Missing Data Handling

Missing data is an everyday problem that a data professional need to deal with. Though there are many articles, blogs, videos already available, I ...

Baijayanta Roy
By Baijayanta Roy
arrow-up icon