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Old 4th July 2015
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jggimi jggimi is offline
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Join Date: May 2008
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Default A guide to asking for help



From time to time, everyone has (or will have) a technical problem they cannot solve on their own. The community here may be able to help. Here are some things to think about as you prepare to ask for assistance.

Telepathy is a myth
We aren't mind-readers. The entirety of what we know about your problem come from the contents of your post. The list of things we don't know about your situation is infinite.

We aren't looking over your shoulder. We don't know what you typed, we don't see error messages. We don't know how your system(s) are configured, and we don't know how you have them interconnected.

As you draft your request for assistance, consider what someone who knows nothing may need or want to know. If you're not sure if some information is necessary, include it anyway.

The more information you can include, the easier (and faster) it is for someone to help you. If information is missing, someone is likely to ask for it. If you want your problem solved sooner rather than later, include as much information as you can with your first posting.
Only you can remember
You posted about another problem last year, last month, last week, or yesterday. Don't assume anyone reading your new question will have seen it. If they have, it's more than likely they don't remember it, or, if they do, they don't remember any technical details. If they do, perhaps details have since changed.

Post information about the new problem completely, and assume none of the information you've previously posted has been seen.

If the prior posting contains up-to-date and accurate information about your technical environment, and you wish to refer readers to those previous technical details, post a link to the prior question thread.
Set clear requirements
If you want to know what time it is, someone may tell you how to build a clock. Is that what you want, or need?

Telling your readers what type of help you need will allow them to respond with an appropriate type of assistance.

Do you need a reference to the proper documentation? Does the available documentation confuse you, and you need clarity? Do you need an example of a working configuration? Do you need step-by-step instructions? Do you need someone to log in remotely and fix your system for you?

Tell us.
Have reasonable expectations
People answering questions are volunteering their time and effort to help you. Our time, our knowledge, and our skills may be limited.

If our answer doesn't address the problem -- consider your question. If you need to revise your question, or provide additional information, please do so. If you require a different solution, or the solution offered does not address the problem, be sure to explain why.
Be public about your privacy
We don't need know your Internet-facing IP addresses, and it is best practice not to disclose them in a public forum.
Configuration information posted may indicate possible security weaknesses.

An IP address may be considered Personally Identifiable Information in some jurisdictions.
It's perfectly fine to post IP addresses which are used only within your private networks. But when you post a configuration that includes publicly facing, "real" Internet addresses, please alter them so they are no longer identifiable. Make it obvious to the reader that these addresses are being redacted. For example, change 192.0.2.37 to x.x.x.x. If multiple "real" IP addresses are involved, perform a partial redaction to make it easier for your readers to discern this. For example, change 203.0.113.17 and 203.0.113.18 to x.x.x.17 and x.x.x.18. If the "real" addresses are on different subnets, redact in a way which makes this clear, such as "x.x.A.18" and "x.x.B.37" -- and make similar changes to subnets in any routing tables you post.

In like manner, obviously redact any real passwords or passphrases that may be part of any of your configuration files you post. Change the password or passphrase to "xxxx" or "my redacted passphrase" in a way that it is clear it is not your actual password/passphrase, and that does not break the syntax rules of the configuration file you are posting.

Last edited by jggimi; 4th July 2015 at 03:38 PM. Reason: clarity, typo
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