In How to ask questions the Smart Way"
, Eric Raymond provides guidelines about asking questions in a manner that will get you the most reasonable answers. However, I think there needs to be a companion piece, "Answering Questions the Smart Way". Here's a start - I'd like feedback.
So, you are a participant on an online forum, and somebody has asked a question. You want to answer it, but before you click Reply, take a moment to think about answering the question The Smart Way.
First of all, are you really about to answer the question
? If somebody asks "Where can I find some water?", saying "There's beer in the fridge" isn't answering the question they asked. It may be answering the question "Where is there something to drink?", but that's not what was asked.
Now, it may be legitimate to ask for more detail - "what do you need water for? Are you thirsty? Is it for irrigation? Is something on fire?" - but only if the question is unclear. A clear question deserves a clear answer (with possibly a request for more detail):
"Where can I find some water?"
"There's a faucet over there - why do you need water?"
Then if the person says "Because I'm thirsty", you can mention the beer. If they say "Because my cat is on fire", well, the beer probably wasn't the right answer.
Second, is your answer helpful?
If somebody asks "How do I keep my hard disk cool when it's 50C where I am using it?", then "Go someplace cooler" isn't helpful. You don't know why he's working someplace so hot, so take it as a precondition that he has to work there. Saying "Don't use it where it's so hot - that voids the warranty" isn't answering the question asked in a way that is useful.
Third, if you are going to answer "RTFM" - you might actually take a moment to supply a link to where the Fine Manual is - perhaps even point out a chapter or page that addresses the issue. Likewise, "Search the F'n Web" isn't as helpful as adding a quick link with the right search terms. And if you are too busy to be bothered with doing that, then you are too busy to answer the question, so let somebody else do it.
Fourth, saying "Everybody always asks that" or "That question comes up everytime $THING is mentioned" isn't answering the question. Try saying "This is a common issue, look at this URL for info". Oh, there is no URL you can give? Then perhaps this is a question that deserves a FAQ somewhere?
It's OK to point somebody at How to ask questions the Smart Way"
if they need it, but ultimately, they asked a question because, curiously enough, they would like to know the answer to their question
. It's only Smart to actually provide it.