Ignorant Simplification: The Bane of Technical Help Forums

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
1,612
I am not talking about simplified answers, rather simplified questions.

I’d estimate fully 80% of questions that cause trouble for those who want to help suffer from this. The person seeking help doesn’t want to “burden” the helpers with the complicated truth so, they simplify.

The problem is, they don’t know the answer so they don’t know how to pick among the facts and circumstances to make a simple version. Interrelated to this is the error of asking about an ignorantly selected “solution” instead of presenting the problem.

If you need expert help, why would you imagine that you know what’s needed before you get it?

So many times people show up asking things that turn out to be completely useless when answered and they finally say something like “well actually, I am trying to do X...” and finally get help.

My career as a consultant often started with clients asking if I could make some piece of hardware or software “work” and ended up with telling them to chuck it out because when I did make it work they’d still have the problem they thought it would solve. Consultants often get a bad name because they simply do what the client asks, successfully, and leave them with a big bill and the original problem.

In a programming community in which I was very active, I developed a rule for questions: “tells us what you have, what you want to happen, and give examples of real data—not some random part of your problem, and not some fake data you you think is the same thing as the real data”.

The hard part of all this is that regular question askers can be taught it, and do learn as it gets them effective help. Hit and run askers waste a lot of time going through the bad solution and fake data phase, if they ever get out of it.
 
Last edited:

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
10,096
True. It is not uncommon that someone cones to AAC with a solution that "doesn't work" and asks for help without telling us what they want done.

Responses often begin with a barrage of questions to tease out what the poster wants to do. That is not always successful until many posts later. Most people here seem to be aware of that issue. I can't think of an easy remedy. Maybe along with the "Welcome to AAC" greeting, someone might insert, "Please tell us what you are trying to do, not how you want to do it," when appropriate.
 

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
1,612
Maybe along with the "Welcome to AAC" greeting, someone might insert, "Please tell us what you are trying to do, not how you want to do it," when appropriate.
In other places, I often use something along the lines of, "for us to help you we need to know the problem you are trying to solve before the solution you have settled on". Same idea.

People often show up in technical forums (or hire consultants) at the point where they've failed to implement a solution they should never have tried in the first place. They may well have a lot invested in that solution including money, time, and pride. I try to be sympathetic to that, it isn't as if I didn't have to learn about it the hard way myself.

I suppose the ones that elicit much less sympathy from me are the "do this complicated thing for me, here's not enough information and some immutable and meaningless constraints".
 

ericgibbs

Joined Jan 29, 2010
10,493
hi,
It is not unreasonable to expect the younger hobbyists or new students to have difficulty in formulating and expressing the problem they want help in solving.

Sometimes it is difficult to get to the actual question being asked by a new TS, but I have noticed as they gain experience, by the back and forth dialogue with 'helpers', their posts usually become more precise.

We do get the odd TS who is just down right lazy and has done minimal or no preparative work, they want to be spoon fed with a complete working solution.
They get a very sharp shrift from 'helpers' who read their posts.

Also there is the TS who keeps moving the design 'goal posts' as the Thread develops, I find this type the most irritating.

I would say, the experienced members are well versed in dealing with most types of TS's and they act accordingly, so IMO no changes are required at the present time.

Eric
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
21,671
It is a "Catch 22" problem. They do not know the right question to ask since they don't know the correct answer.
Very often it is also poor communication skills.

You are correct. We play the game of 101 Q & A until we find out what is the real problem in the first place.

TS thinks they are doing us a favour by focusing on what they think is the problem and don't want to bother us by revealing the bigger picture where the actual problem lies.

It is all part of human nature.
 

MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
21,240
I’d estimate fully 80% of questions that cause trouble for those who want to help suffer from this. The person seeking help doesn’t want to “burden” the helpers with the complicated truth so, they simplify.

The problem is, they don’t know the answer so they don’t know how to pick among the facts and circumstances to make a simple version. Interrelated to this is the error of asking about an ignorantly selected “solution” instead of presenting the problem.
.
The main problem is being remote from the potential project/equipment the the OP is trying to create.
When I would be called by a client to solve some process issue, I would have the luxury of communicating face to face and also see the rest of the process that may exist and be able to design a system that will satisfy the clients aims.
IOW, see in person exactly what may be required.
That is why pictures and drawings are worth a thousand words when attempting to help someone in a forum who just posts half a dozen lines of description.
Max.
 

djsfantasi

Joined Apr 11, 2010
6,719
I worked for a Managed Service Provider (MSP). MSP’s are contracted to provide IT support and services to small and medium sized businesses.

It’s part of the job that the majority of such support is performed over the phone. Similar problems to those being discussed, occur in that business.

I have a story about one such call. The client had a DOS program, for which the had to type in the program name (The OS was
DOS). I instructed them to type in the name, APROGRAM, and press enter. It came back “program not found”. Assuming there was a typo, I repeated the instruction, adding “no spaces”! It still didn’t work. We tried a couple more times. Then, I asked to be read the line back. They responded “A<space>PROGRAM”. Exasperated, I told them I specifically said “no spaces”. Their response? “I didn’t think you meant THAT space”. :eek:
 

ElectricSpidey

Joined Dec 2, 2017
1,194
You can blame the questions if you want, but in my opinion the real problem with this site is the lack of protocol in answering the questions.

One example:

You see many threads where a person asks a question, and the scenario looks like a person sitting in class with 15 teachers at the front all in competition with each other to get “their” clever solution across, and debating technical issues all along the way.

That’s just one example.

And the whole likes and rank thing doesn’t really help things either, that crap should be abolished, period.
 

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
1,612
You can blame the questions if you want, but in my opinion the real problem with this site is the lack of protocol in answering the questions.

One example:

You see many threads where a person asks a question, and the scenario looks like a person sitting in class with 15 teachers at the front all in competition with each other to get “their” clever solution across, and debating technical issues all along the way.

That’s just one example.

And the whole likes and rank thing doesn’t really help things either, that crap should be abolished, period.
There are points to be made about the instruction of the answerers, but that wasn't my topic. The problem I described doesn't go away because when you conflate the problems of the social interaction with it. They are orthogonal.

What you are talking about should be addressed, but it's a separate topic with its own merit, not this one.
 

killivolt

Joined Jan 10, 2010
786
I think they might also be shy to say something stupid. I'm not sure in the consulting portion digging down makes them feel your getting into their intellectual property, which might exposed the real reasons for their invention, thought, idea etc. They just don't realize we don't give a crap for what they think is a golden device or product.

kv
 
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