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How do YOU find the answer to your question?

by Velaki (Chaplain)
on Sep 02, 2004 at 18:20 UTC ( #388040=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

While reading through a fine discussion on whether to disallow single-word titles in Seekers of Perl Wisdom, I began to ponder the situation in greater depth. It occured to me that many of those who frequent that page use those very single-word titles simply because they do not know how to categorize their question; hence, they are here asking it. And if they knew what to call it, perhaps they would research more of it on their own first?

And this made me ask myself:

How do people go about finding out the answers to their questions?

Extreme methods came down to two kinds:

  1. Reseach the problem personally
  2. Immediately try to get a quick answer from someone else

It appears that many single-word titled requests -- not all by any means -- are of the second method, whereas more verbose descriptions appear to be by those who use the first method.

The obvious exceptions are those that pour through the documentation, the books, the sample code, but still don't "get it," and so post a help request with a less-than-descriptive title; and those that write up a beautiful descriptive text with a clear title, reminiscent of a Request For Proposal document put out to consulting firms.

I know that I, personally, will try to research everything on my own, but I will also ask coworkers, chums, and the occasional mailman for assistance. However, when coming up with an appropriate title for my posts, I will sometimes stumble, and fail to think of anything more descriptive than "HELP!" When that happens, I walk away from the problem, and come back to it later, hopefully thinking of a suitable name for the post, so that people will readily understand my question.

What have your experiences been?



Kudos to Errto for pointing out that my links were absolute, and might accidentally log someone off.


"Perl. There is no substitute."
  • Comment on How do YOU find the answer to your question?

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Re: How do YOU find the answer to your question?
by Old_Gray_Bear (Bishop) on Sep 02, 2004 at 18:48 UTC
    Personally, I figured out a long while back that if I can't summarize the problem in one or (at most) two sentences, I probably don't really understand it. Then I go back and re-read my notes (such as may be) and the docs/code to figure out _why_ I can't write a coherent summary sentence. That often jogs things loose, and I end up not asking the Question. (Or at least asking a better formed Question....)

    I Go Back to Sleep, Now.


      Personally, I figured out a long while back that if I can't summarize the problem in one or (at most) two sentences, I probably don't really understand it.

      I often ask people asking for help in EFnet's #perlhelp to describe the problem in 12 words. This makes answering questions much easier, if only because when shortening their question they often realise they already know the answer :)

      12 words is a rather small limit, but this is necessary to force them to abstract it and leave all external factors that have nothing to do with the problem out. It also helps people learn jargon.

      So far, most questions that couldn't be summarized in 12 words or less turned out to be composed of multiple related questions or to be about some very awkward program design.

      Yes, I do think even questions should be refactored when possible.

      (And it can of course be 13, 14, 15 words. But if you say 15, you get 20, and that is too many.)

      Juerd # { site => '', plp_site => '', do_not_use => 'spamtrap' }

Re: How do YOU find the answer to your question?
by rhythmicus (Sexton) on Sep 02, 2004 at 18:50 UTC

    A typical scenario for me:

    I'll first go over a problem mentally and do some simple debugging. If that reveals nothing, and if I have any inkling of an idea what my problem is related to, I'll try `perldoc'. If that fails to give me anything or if I feel I need a better explanation, I'll do a 'Super Search' here. If I can't find anything useful here, I'll Google for it; usually doing a 'group:comp.lang.perl.misc' search on Google Groups first, and then a general web search thereafter. Finally, if I still can't find anything, I'll post a question here. Many times, just getting my question/problem out of my head and onto something in front of me will reveal the answer.

    I'm a musician, and not a programmer, by trade. I program in my spare time because I enjoy it, so I don't have the luxury of asking a co-worker, and none of my friends are programmers. This leaves me with only documentation and the internet for assistance.

      Call me old fashion but I hit my Perl books first which more often than not resolve the issue. If not, they usually show me how to better put together the question. Then I Super Search my question. Rarely do I need to post a code question

Re: How do YOU find the answer to your question?
by zentara (Archbishop) on Sep 03, 2004 at 14:21 UTC
    Besides all the standard answers given, like "search snippets" or "", I would like to comment on the "zen" of understanding a problem.

    What I tend to do, is sit back and listen to some jazz, and think about the problem from an "outside perspective", like "how would an advanced space alien view the problem" ? :-)

    It usually comes down to building a "mental blackbox", which processes information. Then I define what information is available as input, and what is the desired output. At that point, the question is formulated.

    Then it just becomes a question of the "mechanics of the internal blackbox functioning".

    Then I start slapping together snippets, setting up feedback loops, and whatever is needed to process some typical sample input to give the desired output. Then I start testing for the "edge cases" of "possible, but not probable input"; and make code modifications to handle them.

    When I'm done, I have a big heap of spaghetti code. :-) But I understand it :-)

    Then I like to sit back for awhile and let the spaghetti cool. As it cools, I seem to get "serindipidous inputs" from "the world in general" as to ways of improving the blackbox functioning. This is a great source of mystery to me. Sometimes I'll be listening to the radio, and a "word" will just "pop out" at me, triggering a new insight into how to make a code improvement. Sometimes, it will be in the "Newest Nodes" right here, where someone will ask a question, which immediately translates in my mind into a code improvement.

    It could just be my "sub-concious genius" trying to get a message thru to the "concious-dummy at the controls", but too often it is hard to believe it's coincidence, and I often "look over my shoulders for cameras".

    Well thats my "zen-psychic" method of problem solving. I know that the modern school system discourages this way of thinking, but in some weird way, it makes the programming FUN.

    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. flash japh
Re: How do YOU find the answer to your question?
by johnnywang (Priest) on Sep 03, 2004 at 18:14 UTC
    Just want to add another angle. I sometimes post a question not necessarily because I don't know how to do it at all, but to find out what the geniuses will do it. I've been amazed at the different solutions people come up, and learn much more that way.

    One thing I think is important is that the posters should try to avoid wasting people's time, not in posting a "trivial" question, but in posting a less thought through question, especially not "here's a mess I have, figure out both the question and answer for me." This is not to say there are no vague questions, one can usually tell the difference.

    At work, when I have a question, I usually just yell across the cubicles, instead of researching first, because I find that people who do know actually know more than just the answer itself. I'd like to do the same thing here, but am aware of the value of people's time. So it's a balance.

Re: How do YOU find the answer to your question?
by kutsu (Priest) on Sep 03, 2004 at 13:02 UTC

    When I first got here I read the Tutorials, esp. the stuff under "Welcome to the Monastery", of which 3 meantion questions in they're titles.

    "Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum - I think that I think, therefore I think that I am." Ambrose Bierce

Re: How do YOU find the answer to your question?
by Anonymous Monk on Sep 05, 2004 at 03:17 UTC
    My current method:
    1. Search Google for a related example
    2. Search Google for keywords that might be similar
    3. Search here for a tutorial or example
    4. Search perl books
    5. Consider posting code here for help

    Frankly, I hesitate to post problems or new topics here. There seems to be a strong reaction to posts deemed "trivial" or a waste of time. That makes me wonder if any question I'm considering is actually "trivial" and not worthy of posting.

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