Jan Dennison

Help! Here we go!

Feb 19, 2015

If you're like me, you've been stuck on a coding problem at some point. Maybe more than once (she says, vastly understatingly). And after you stubbornly try to work it out for probably longer than you should, you finally realize: you need to ask someone else. Enter: asking questions on the internet. Yes, that ominous music you just heard is justified. Luckily when you're just asking coding questions, you're not likely to get into the bad internet stuff, but you are quite likely to not get any reply at all, or get the wrong reply if someone misunderstood your question. So how do you write a good question that gets the answer you need?

Good questions:

  • Include any background research you've done and approaches you've tried, so that people don't suggest things you already know.
  • Include details on any software you're running that might impact results - Windows or Mac? Chrome, Firefox, IE? Which version?
  • Are asked in places that are more likely to get replies (forums, StackOverflow, etc).
  • Have a summary of your problem as an introduction.
  • Include sample code snippets.
  • Have a title summarizing your problem in one sentence.
  • Explain your issue fully, but precisely. Don't go on and on or your readers will be moving on.

In the past, I've tried asking questions on Twitter and gotten hit-or-miss responses. Sometimes it's a great way to get short, quick answers, but sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle of people's feeds. For more in-depth answers, look on forums or Q/A sites, or look for mentors who can answer in person or through email.