(Reading time: 6 - 11 minutes)

“I read it somewhere on the internet …”

672 hits Updated: 09 October 2022 Blog

How forum rules are supposed to operate

Asking (and answering) questions “the smart way”

Forum rules are meant to help people who do not know how to use forums.  Technical discussion forums, in particular, can be scary for novice users because every forum is different: forums develop their own unique culture, set of traditions (many of which are codified/laid down in a set of rules), behaviour and etiquette and it takes time for newcomers to understand how things are “done” before they’re ready to post their first question.  Forum rules should help people understand how they to go about obtaining information and asking for assistance with problems they may be having.  How often, therefore, do we read on various forums,

I saw some information somewhere on the internet that related to my problem but nothing worked ...
I remember seeing something on this forum but when I followed the instructions it did not help ...
According to my research, the documentation is wrong or non-existent ...
I’ve followed all the other tips about my problem but nothing helps ...

It doesn’t matter how many different ways people may “explain” what they’ve done and what is “wrong” with the advice they’ve found, if we don’t know exactly what they’re referring to, we can’t improve on their research if we don’t know what “research” they’ve already done.  Therefore forum rules should make a point of informing people that, when they try to explain what they’re researched, they should include links to the articles, discussions, etc. that they’ve used.

One often-quoted resource about forum etiquette is How to ask questions the smart way, written over twenty years ago; I wonder how many people have read it?  One of the points made in that article is:

When you ask your question, display the fact that you have done [certain] things first; this will help establish that you’re not being a lazy sponge and wasting people’s time.  Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things.  We like answering questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from the answers.

Use tactics like doing a Google search on the text of whatever error message you get (searching Google groups as well as Web pages).  This might well take you straight to fix documentation or a mailing list thread answering your question.  Even if it doesn’t, saying “I Googled on the following phrase but didn’t get anything that looked promising” is a good thing to do in e-mail or news postings requesting help, if only because it records what searches won’t help.  It will also help to direct other people with similar problems to your thread by linking the search terms to what will hopefully be your problem and resolution thread.Raymond & Moen, How to ask questions the smart way, c. 2011

It’s unfortunate that forum rules tend to become reference manuals used by forum moderators to justify punishments instead of helping forum users to assist one another better.  It would be better, in my opinion, if forum rules were used to help people ask questions “the smart way” (and help people answer questions, likewise, “the smart way”) so that people would feel less intimidated by the possibility that they’ll be punished if they don’t.

Coincidentally, when I originally conceived the idea for this article and posted my initial thoughts at The Joomla! Forum™, I had two purposes in mind:  (a) to write about how people should reflect on how they introduce themselves when they write “I read it somewhere on the internet …”, and (b) how forum rules become corrupted over time, from a list of tips to help people to a list of things that people can be punished for transgressing that forum’s etiquette.  The Joomla! Forum™ has, in my view, evolved into one of those places where dispensing justice is the main order of business for the small team of moderators who patrol it and increasingly more awkward for the user community to engage with because justice is sometimes dispensed with swift brutality; indeed, I spend three-quarters of the year “serving time” for what I write at that forum (but that's a whole other story).  For these reasons I was sensitive about how to approach the subject, mindful of the possibility, if I was not tactful, I could be accused of violating any number of rules that would result in another “official board warning”:  I intended my article to be a catalyst for discussion; I did not intend it to be seen as a question or problem in search of a solution or argument about what may be the “best” solution.  As is often the case, soon after I posted my thoughts, a couple of the forum experts stepped forward, pondered the matter, immediately went into solution mode, and had their own panel discussion without even asking me—the OP—whether their solution was what I wanted.  I wasn’t looking for an expert solution; as I say, I wanted to focus this community’s attention on how its members should reflect on what they write and how they can be helped in a broad sense.  The solution is not to impose another set of rules.

I agree that the article written by Raymond & Moen twenty years ago—that is mentioned in the forum rules at The Joomla! Forum™—may not be entirely fit for purpose or entirely relevant in the present circumstances but it was not my intention to propose a rewrite of that article as a way forward.  I welcome the opportunity for people to write their own help guides and propose them to the moderation team at whatever forum they’re using and, if the forum moderators feel that these guides are better than what currently exist, that’s a good outcome.  However, forum moderators are often constrained by their own internal bureaucratic procedures that limit their ability to change the forum rules to reflect the evolution of the community.  In this situation, Raymond & Moen’s article has been part of the forum rules at The Joomla! Forum™ for nearly twenty years and it could be a long time—years perhaps—before those rules make use of something better, more fit for purpose and more relevant to the community’s core business.  Again, that's a whole other story …

In conclusion, the next time you’re tempted to write, “I researched everywhere but I did not find an answer to my problem”, please tell other forum users where you researched with links to those places.

This article is based on the author's previously published work posted at the Joomla forum.

About the author:

has worked in the information technology industry since 1971 and, since retiring from the workforce in 2007, is a website hobbyist specialising in Joomla, a former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years, and contributor on The Joomla Forum™. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.

No thoughts on ““I read it somewhere on the internet …””

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
Trending now