Making the most of this mailing list.

p.echols at p.echols at
Wed Jan 6 10:47:35 UTC 2010

Considering all of the recent posts, frankly a "flame war", it occurs to me that new users to this list might wonder how they should ask questions and avoid running afoul of the written and unwritten expectations of the mailing list community.

I do not speak to this issue directly in this email.  That is some ot the subject of the "Flame war" and I am NOT trying to revisit that subject.  I am also not telling anyone that what I have to say are RULES that must be followed.  While the ideas below are about some of the same subjects, I am suggesting some purely selfish reasons why, at least in my opinion, these ideas will help a new user make the most of this list.

The first idea is to remember what this list is.  We are a group of peers, equals, providing mutual support.  Why is this important to the new user?  No one here is paid, no one is required to answer your questions and there are often so many questions, that not all of them will get answered.  So to get the answers you want, it is important to make your question one that a knowledgeable reader will want to answer.  

Please Note:  ALL of the rest of these ideas are based on this first idea.

Second, try to do some homework before you post a question.  If you have searched google, or bing, or clusty, or whatever; and if you have read the results, two things will happen.  First, you will be able to write a better question because you will understand your problem better.  Also, a good question shows the reader that you respect their time.  That will make them more eager to help you.

Third, Pick a good subject line.  One that describes in a few words what the question is about.  Since the readers of this list are busy (especially the most knowledgeable) many will only read a message if the subject line catches their attention.  A subject that only says "help" will not get much attention.

Fourth, Consider setting your emailer to post in "text only" without fancy fonts.  My experience has been that some of the most knowledgeable readers of this list use text only email readers for their convenience.  If I want them to read my message, I try to adapt to my intended audience.

Fifth, remember that some of the best answers you will get will be the shortest, with a quick command, website or something.  I personally always appreciate the answer R.T.F.M.  (Read the fine manual) as long as someone tells me WHICH "fine" manual I should read

Sixth, If you ask a follow up question or add to a thread, consider deleting any quoted text that does not pertain to your next question.  Again, remember the busy reader.  If you can help them get quickly to your question, they are more likely to spend some time on your question.

Seventh, consider "bottom posting" - putting your response below any relevant quoted text.  This idea gets a lot of discussion and I do not want to rehash it in any detail.  The reason usually given is that it makes it easier for the reader to understand the background and your new comment or question.  While that may not make sense to some members of the list, my personal observation is that the most knowledgeable contributers to the list follow this convention.  Again, if I want my emails to be answered, I adapt to what my readers want to see.

Eighth,try to stay on topic. As you will see if you read this list for long, discussions can tend to ramble quite a bit.  (The current flame war is extreme by any standards)  While the list is quite tolerant, it is possible to develop a personal reputation for not having anything relevant to say.  If you get this reputation, some of your on-topic questions may not get read.

Finally, consider being grateful, generous and kind in your comments.  There has been much made recently of the "Code of Conduct" for this list and it probably says to be nice.  But from a purely self interest point of view, remember that many of the most knowledgeable readers will simply ignore anyone that they think is overly rude.  

-- PE

Some post scripts:
#1  I hope this is helpful and not too overly presumptuous of me. If I have offended with this post, I beg forgiveness.
#2  Though this may not appear to be "Technical Support"  I think that ideas on how to make effective use of the list is "On Topic." 
#3  While this post discusses some of the "Rules" I am not trying to be a "net cop"  Far from it, only suggesting why a self interested reader might find those rules to be a "Good Idea"®

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