Opinion: If you don't like answering questions, leave the forums

Over the years, I have long periods where I avoid Q&A forums. Lately, I've been spending a bit of time back in some forums. And once again, I've seen the sorts of behavior that make me think about leaving again.

Here's a simple message: If you don't like answering questions in Q&A forums, then don't. Leave. You might think it's all about you and your attempts to gain reputation in the forums. It's not.

It's about the people who need help.

There are a few personality types that I really want to call out:

The "you didn't search well enough before asking the question" type.

These people will berate others for asking questions that have been asked before. Get over it. People will ask the same questions again and again. Not every one of them is a search whiz. And who cares anyway? Just answer their question and let them get on with their lives. If you don't want to do that, just stop doing it.

Worse, I've seen examples lately where questions are closed as duplicates, and the person who jumped into to close it quickly, has totally misunderstood that it's really not actually a duplicate.

The "you're doing a dumb thing; I'm really clever but you should go back to school" type.

These people are more intent on trying to make themselves look clever, belittling the questioner, and basically telling them they're stupid for what they're trying to do. Yet in 99% of cases, they don't give them an answer to their question, or point them in the right direction. Just give the questioner a break; do a bit extra work in showing them what they should be doing.

The "I'm so bored with answering questions that I really can't be bothered" type.

These people will often have compiled a massive FAQ, and the answer to every question is that people will find the answer (somewhere) in the FAQ. If you have the answers so easily at hand, just copy and paste it in, to help the questioner. Don't make them play Where's Wally to find the answer.

Look, if you aren't spending time in the forums with a genuine desire to help people, thank you for your previous efforts but might be time for you to just take a break.

And one for the forum people too: Is it really necessary to remove human interaction and warmth from the responses? When I finish a response with something like "Hope this helps" as I normally would when talking to a human, invariably one of the rules enforcers edits my post and removes that comment. Really? I can see why many people find the forums pretty toxic.



4 thoughts on “Opinion: If you don't like answering questions, leave the forums”

  1. Oh, I agree so much with the last paragraph. StackOverflow has been bombing me with triage requests and approvals lately. So many of them are nit-picking grammar "improvements", that have achieved nothing at all.

  2. I disagree with the second point, at least partially. If the OP is clearly doing something wrong, they should be told. Sure, it should be said tactfully, without belittling them, but it should still be said. If they ask "how can I parse HTML using regular expressions", giving them a regex that would maybe work sometimes won't help them see what's wrong with this approach, and isn't doing them a service in the long run. And of course, they should be pointed to the right direction. Just answering "don't do that, it's dumb" isn't helpful, obviously.

    1. Agreed. But there are many ways to let the person know that they're heading down the wrong path. The ones that I have the most issue with are the ones that belittle the OP and then don't give them clear directions on where to head and how.



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