Asking smart questions

The art of problem solving on JamiesWhiteShirt's Ramblings

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How do you ask optimal questions? There are certain things to keep in mind. It helps to be able to put yourself in the helpers’ shoes to avoid some common problems. This resource will try to turn the tables, helping you understand the challenges of helping people so you can optimize your approach.

Let’s say you’re a lone computer person and people come to you asking for help. You have nothing to gain from helping people, so what would you request of people who ask for your help? You would want to optimize time spent on each problem, and the ease of solving the problem, because you don’t have all the time in the world. But how?

Don’t ask dumb questions

A friend of yours asks you how to format their newly purchased external hard drive. You don’t really know exactly how to do it, but you know you can Google it. You figure it out then relay it to your friend. If you wanted to save time, you could simply have asked them to Google it themselves.

Some people ask for help because they can, and not because they have to. Either you use a search engine to find the solution, or they do it. It’s your problem, why would they do the job you could easily do yourself?

Therefore, do your research before you have someone do it for you!

Providing the right information

Your friend calls again asking why their computer doesn’t work. You are puzzled. Did their keyboard stop working? Is there a hardware failure? Did they forget to turn on their monitor? You also wonder what your friend might have done to trigger this. If only your friend was a bit more specific…

Avoiding the XY problem

Your mother calls having computer trouble. She asks you how to remove an icon from the desktop. You could tell her to click the icon and press the “delete” button. However, if you’re clever, you might realize that she actually wants to uninstall an application. Uninstalling the application would be the solution to her actual problem, but it was not the solution she asked for.

The XY problem is a potential issue with the way you pose your question. It is asking about your attempted solution rather than the actual problem. can explain the problem in more detail.

Try repeatedly asking yourself “why?” until it becomes “I want to make a Minecraft mod”. When asking for help, you can explain your reasoning from there. This helps save time, and helps you find better solutions in the case you are headed down the wrong path.