현명하게 질문하는 방법

Eric Steven Raymond

Thyrsus Enterprises

<esr@thyrsus.com>    

Rick Moen

 <respond-auto@linuxmafia.com>

Copyright © 2001,2006,2014 Eric S. Raymond, Rick Moen


Link to Original Post


Translated by. WooHyung Jeon <wh@withjeon.com>

Original Post Version : 3.10 / Translated Post Version : 3.10.01-190820


목차

  • 번역
  • 주의
  • 개관
  • 질문 하기 전에
  • 질문을 할 때
    • 포럼을 신중히 선택할 것
    • 스택 오버플로우
    • 웹과 IRC 포럼
    • 두 번째 단계로서, 프로젝트의 메일링 리스트 활용할 것
    • 의미있고, 구체적인 제목 헤더를 사용할 것
    • 답변하게 수월하게 할 것
    • 명확하고, 문법적으로, 맞춤법적으로 올바른 언어로 쓸 것
    • 연락 가능한, 그리고 표준 양식으로 질문을 보낼 것
    • 문제에 대해 구체적이면서, 충분한 정보를 제공할 것
    • 양은 정밀함이 아니다
    • 당신이 버그를 찾았다고 주장하려고 서두르지 말 것
    • 비굴하게 군다고 너의 숙제가 대체되지 않는다
    • 문제의 증상을 서술할 뿐, 추측하지 말 것
    • 그 문제의 증상을 시간순서대로 서술할 것
    • 목표를 서술할 뿐, 단계를 서술하지 말 것
    • 사람들에게 본인의 개인 이메일로 답장할 것을 요구하지 말 것
    • 질문사항에 대해 명쾌히 터 놓을 것
    • 코드에 관해 질문할 때
    • 숙제 문제를 게시하지 말 것
    • 의미 없는 문의를 제거할 것
    • 아무리 급해도, 질문에 “긴급” 등의 표현을 달지 말 것
    • 공손함은 해가 되지 않는다, 오히려 도움이 될 때가 있다.
    • 해결에 대한 간결한 노트를 덧붙일것
  • 답변을 해석하는 방법
    • RTFM과 STFW: 당신이 진지하게 말아먹었다고 말하는 방법
    • 그래도 이해가 안된다면…
    • 무례함을 상대하기
  • 루저같이 반응하지 않기 위해
  • 묻지 말아야 할 질문
  • 좋은 질문과 나쁜 질문들
  • 답변을 받을 수 없을 경우
  • 건설적인 방향으로 질문에 답변하는 방법
  • 관련 자료
  • 감사의 말씀

번역

번역: Brazilo-PortugueseChinese (Traditional)CzechDutchEstonianFrenchGeorgianGermanGreekHindiHungarianIndonesionJapaneseLithuanianPolishPortugueseRussianSpanishUkrainianUzbek 카피,미러, 번역 또는 발췌를 희망하는 경우, 나의 저작권 원칙을 참조하기 바랍니다.

주의

많은 프로젝트 웹사이트에서 이 문서를 ‘도움을 받는 방법’과 같은 란에 링크합니다. 그것은 괜찮고, 우리가 의도했던 사용이기도 합니다 – 하지만 당신이 그런 링크를 걸고 있는 웹마스터라면, 부디 링크 주위에 해당 문서가 이 프로젝트의 문의 페이지가 아님을 적절히 명시해주시기 바랍니다!

그렇게 하지 않게되면, 이 문서를 발행했다는 것 만으로, 곧, 지구상의 모든 기술적 문제를 해결하겠다는 의사 표시로 받아들이는 멍청이들에게 끊임없이 질문을 받게 될 것이라는 점을 깨닫게 되었습니다.

만일 이 글을 읽고 있는 당신이 어떤 도움이 필요하고 이 글의 작성자로부터 그 도움을 직접적으로 받을 수 있을 거라고 느껴진다면, 당신이 바로 내가 얘기하는 멍청이들 중 하나입니다. 우리에게 묻지 마세요. 우리는 그냥 무시할겁니다. 우리는 이 글을 당신이 다루고 있는 하드웨어나 소프트웨어에 대해서 잘 알고 있는 사람들로부터 도움을 받기 위한 방법을 알려주기 위해서 작성하였고, 99.9% 확률로 우리는 그 사람들이 아닙니다. 우리들 중 특정한 한 명이 당신이 마주한 문제에 대한 전문가라는 것을 확실히 알고 있지 않는 이상, 우릴 내버려 두세요. 그러면 모두가 행복해질 수 있습니다.

개관

해커들의 세상에서, 당신의 기술적 질문에 대한 답변의 종류는 대답해주기 위한 난이도만큼이나 당신이 질문한 방식에 따라 좌우됩니다. 이 가이드는 만족스러운 답변을 받을 확률이 높아지기 위한 방법들을 가이드할 것입니다.

오픈 소스가 널리 사용됨에 따라, 해커에게 받는 답변에 버금가는 좋은 답변을 숙련된 사용자에게서 받을 때가 종종 있습니다. 이것은 좋은 일입니다; 유저는 신규 사용자들이 종종 겪게되는 그런 실패들에 대해 조금 더 관대한 경향이 있습니다. 그렇지만, 그런 숙련된 사용자에게서도 마찬가지로 아래에서 다룰 해커들을 대하는 방식으로 마주하는 것이 유용한 답번을 끌어낼 수 있는 좋은 방법이기도 합니다.

우선, 해커들은 어렵거나 혹은 생각하게 만들고 좋은 질문들을 하는 것을 좋아한다는 점을 이해해야 합니다. 그렇지 않았다면 우린 여기에 없을 것입니다. 만약 당신이 우리에게 흥미롭고 연구할만한 질문을 한다면 도리어 우리가 당신에게 감사할 것입니다; 좋은 질문은 자극제이자 선물입니다. 좋은 질문은 우리가 더 깊은 이해를 하도록 돕거나, 혹은 종종 알아차리지 못했던 문제를 발견, 아니면 다르게 생각했던 문제들을 드러나게 합니다. 해커들 사이에서는, “좋은 질문이야!”가 아주 강한고 진심어린 칭찬입니다.

그럼에도 불구하고, 해커들은 단순한 질문에 적대적이거나 거만하다는 명성을 갖고 있습니다. 간혹 우리가 신규 사용자에게 무뚝뚝하거나 무심한 것처럼 보일 수 있습니다. 하지만 그것은 사실이 아닙니다.

우리는 생각할 의지조차 없어보이거나 혹은 질문하기 전에 스스로 해야할 숙제들조차 하지 않는 사람들에게 적대적이라는 점은 당당하게 말할 수 있습니다.그럼 사람들은 시간만 잡아먹고 – 받기만 할 뿐 돌려주지 않고, 더 흥미로운 질문이나 더 대답할 가치 있는 다른 사람의 질문에 쓸 시간을 낭비하게 만듭니다. 우린 이런 사람들을 가리켜 “looser(루저)”(역사적인 이유로 간혹 “lusers(컴맹)”로 적기도 함)라고 부릅니다.

우리는 세상에 많은 사람들이 우리가 작성한 소프트웨어를 단지 사용하기만 원할 뿐 기술적 디테일을 배우는데는 관심 없다는 것을 압니다. 대부분 사람들에게는 컴퓨터는 전적으로 도구이고 끝을 위한 수단입니다; 그들은 더 중요한 일이 있고 먹고 살기 위해 살아갑니다. 우리는 모두가 우리를 매료시킨 기술적인 부분에 대해서 관심을 갖기를 기대하지는 않는다는 점을 인정합니다. 그럼에도 불구하고, 우리의 답변 스타일은 그러한 관심을 실제로 가지고 있는 사람과 마주한 문제를 해결하기 위해 적극적으로 참여할 의지가 있는 사람들에게 맞춰져 있습니다. 그 부분은 바뀌지 않을 것입니다. 그리고 바뀌어서도 안됩니다; 그랬다가는, 우리가 최고로 잘 하는 분야에 있어서 비효율적이 될테니까요.

우리는 (대부분) 봉사자들입니다. 우리는 바쁜 시간을 쪼개 질문에 답하고, 그런 질문들의 양에 압도당하는 일도 생깁니다. 따라서 질문들을 잔인하리만치 필터링하는 수 밖에 없습니다. 특별히, 위너들의 질문에 더 효율적으로 대답해주기 위해서 루저같아 보이는 사람들의 질문을 내다버립니다.

만약 이게 거들먹거리는 것처럼 보이고, 잘난체나 하는것처럼 보이고, 거만 떠는 것처럼 보인다면, 당신의 추정을 확인해보도록 하죠. 우리는 여러분이 우리를 경외시 떠받들기를 바라는 것이 아닙니다 – 사실상, 우리 중 대부분은 당신을 우리와 동등하게 사랑하고 우리 문화에 환영하는 것이 가장 좋습니다. 당신이 그런 것들을 가능하게 하도록 최소한의 노력만이라도 해준다면 말이죠. 하지만 스스로도 돕지 못하는 자들을 우리가 도우려 시도하는것은 쉽게 말해 효율적이지 않습니다. 잘 모르는 것은 괜찮지만, 바보같이 구는 것은 용납할 수 없죠.

따라서, 우리의 이목을 끌 정도로 기술적으로 이미 능숙할 필요는 없지만, 능숙함으로 이끌 수 있는 태도를 보이는 것은 필요합니다. 그런 태도들은 – 집중하고, 사려깊고, 관찰하고, 문제를 해결하는 과정에 능동적으로 참여할 의지들이 해당합니다. 만일 당신이 이런 종류의 안목을 지니고 살 수 없다면, 해커들에게 당신을 도와달라고 요청할 것이 아니라 상업적인 고객 지원 서비스의 직원에게 비용을 지불할 것을 권합니다.

만약 우리에게 도움을 요청하기로 결심했다면, 당신은 루저가 아니길 바라는 것입니다. 루저같아 보이고 싶지도 않구요. 빠르고 반응성 있는 답변을 받는 최고의 방법은 스마트하고, 확신있고, 단서도 가지고 있는 사람이지만 어쩌다 보니 하나의 특정한 문제에 대해서만큼은 도움이 필요하게 된 것처럼 질문하는 것입니다.

(이 가이드를 개선하기 위한 연락을 환영합니다. 제안을 다음 메일 중 하나로 보내주세요esr@thyrsus.com or respond-auto@linuxmafia.com. 하지만 이 문서가 네티켓에 대한 가이로서 제작된 것이 아니라는 점을 반드시 알아두시기 바랍니다. 그리고 기술 포럼에서 유용한 답변을 끄러내기 위한 것과 관련되지 않은 제안은 일반적으로 거절한다는 것을 알려드립니다.)

질문하기 전에

이메일이나, 뉴스그룹, 웹사이트 채팅 게시판에 기술적 질문을 묻기 전에 다음을 따르시기 바랍니다:

  1. 질문을 게시하려는 포럼의 이전 게시물 혹은 메일링 리스트의 이전 게시물 등에서 검색을 통해 답을 찾기 위해 시도할 것.
  2. 인터넷 검색을 통해 답을 찾기 위해 시도할 것.
  3. 매뉴얼을 읽음으로써 답을 찾기 위해 시도할 것.
  4. FAQ항목을 읽음으로써 답을 찾기 위해 시도할 것.
  5. 점검이나 실험을 통해 답을 찾기 위해 시도할 것.
  6. 숙련된 친구에게 물어봄으로써 답을 찾기 위해 시도할 것.
  7. 스스로 프로그래머라면, 소스 코드를 읽어봄으로써 답을 찾기 위해 시도할 것.

질문을 할 때는, 이런 것들을 먼저 해봤음을 명시하기 바랍니다; 이런 명시 과정은 사람들에게 당신이 타인의 시간만 뺏고, 게으른 사람은 아니라는 점을 명확히 해줍니다. 더 나아가, 이런 작업들을 하면서 무엇을 배웠는지를 명시하십시오. 우리는 답변을 통해서 배울 수 있을 것으로 보이는 사람들에게 답변하기를 더 좋아합니다.

당신이 마주한 에러 메시지같은 것들을 이용해 구글 검색하는 요령을 사용하시기 바랍니다. (구글 웹페이지 뿐만 아니라, 구글 그룹스에서도 검색해볼 것). 이 작업은 수정관련 문서에 직접적으로 연결되거나 혹은 질문에 대한 답이 있는 메일링 리스트와 연결될 가능성이 있습니다. 그렇지 않더라도, 도움을 요청하는 이메일이나 뉴스에 질문을 등록할 때 “구글에서 이런 검색어로 검색해보았지만, 관련 있어보이는 결과가 없었다” 정도의 문구가 첨가되는 것도 어떤 검색 결과가 제외되는지 알려줄 수 있다는 점에서 좋습니다. 뿐만 아니라, 아마도 당신과 같은 문제였을지 모를 문제를 겪고 있는 다른 사람들이 이미 검색해봤다고 명시한 유사 검색어를 통해 해당 게시글에 연결되고 해결을 그 글에서 해낼 수 있다는 점에서 또 도움이 됩니다.

느긋해지세요. 복잡한 문제를 몇 초의 구글링을 통해 해결할 수 있을 거라고 기대하지 마세요. FAQ 항목을 읽고 이해하고, 편히 앉아서, 침착한 이후, 전문가에게 접근하기 전에 문제에 몇가지 고민을 해보시기 바랍니다. 우릴 믿으세요. 우린 당신이 얼마나 많이 일고 고민했는지 당신의 질문을 보면 알 수 있고 당신이 충분히 준비된 채로 온다면 더욱 더 기꺼이 도울 것입니다. 당신의 첫 검색 결과에 해결책이 없다고(혹은 충분치 않다고) 당장 질문의 무기고를 열어젖히고 즉각 질문해대지 마시기 바랍니다.

질문을 준비하세요. 충분히 심사숙고하세요. 허접하게 들리는 질문들은 허접한 답변을 받거나 혹은 아예 답변을 받지 못할 수도 있습니다. 도움을 받기 전 노력과 심사숙고가 많이 있었다는 점이 드러나면 드러날수록 실질적으로 도움을 받을 확률이 늘어납니다.

틀린 질문을 할 수 있다는 점을 인지하십시오. 잘못된 가정을 기반으로한 질문을 하게되면, 아무개 해커는 “멍청한 질문이네…”라는 생각을 하면서 의미 없는 주저리주저리스러운 답변을 할 가능성이 높습니다. 당신이 필요로 하는 것이 아니라 물어본 부분에 대한 답변을 받은 경험으로 부터 무언갈 배우길 기대하면서요.

당신이 답변을 받을 자격이 있다고 생각하지 마세요. 아닙니다; 결론적으로 당신은 서비스를 지불하고 사용중인 것이 아닙니다. 만일 답변을 받게 된다면, 구체적이고 흥미롭고 생각을 하게 만드는 질문 – 특히, 단지 다른 사람의 지식을 수동적으로 요하는 것이 아니라 커뮤니티의 경험에 기여할 가능성을 내재하는 질문을 했기 때문에 답변을 받은 것입니다.

반면에, 당신이 문제를 해결해나가는 과정에서 다른 사람을 도울 능력이 있거나 의지가 있음을 분명히 하는 것도 좋은 출발입니다. “관련된 링크라도 제공할 수 있나요?”, “제 예시에서 잘못된 부분이 뭔가요?”, 그리고 “추가로 어떤 사이트를 확인했다면 좋았을까요?”는 “내가 그대로 타이핑 하면 해결될 정확한 커맨드를 알려주세요”보다 답변을 받을 가능성이 높습니다. 왜냐하면, 누군가 당신에게 제대로된 링크라도 제공함으로써 당신은 스스로의 해결 과정을 완성해낼 진정한 의지가 있다는 것을 분명히 했기 때문이죠.

질문을 할 때

포럼을 신중히 선택할 것

질문을 할 곳을 신중히 선택하십시오. 아래의 행동들을 하게되면 당신은 무시당하거나 루저 취급을 당할 것입니다.

  • 주제와 벗어난 포럼에 질문을 등록하는 경우
  • 심도 깊은 기술적 질문을 하는 포럼에서 아주 기초적인 질문을 하거나 혹은 그 반대의 경우
  • 서로 다른 뉴스그룹에 교차 포스팅을 심하게 하는 경우
  • 지인이 아니거나 개인적으로 당신의 문제를 해결할 책임이 없는 사람에게 개인 메일을 게제하는 경우

해커는 해커들 사이의 소통 채널을 관련 없는 질문들로부터 보호하기 위해 부적절한 주제로 올라온 질문을 무시합니다. 이런 무시가 당신에게 발생하기를 바라진 않겠죠.

따라서, 우선 적절한 포럼을 찾아야 합니다. 다시 말하지만, 구글과 다른 온라인 검색 엔진을 친구처럼 활용하기 바랍니다. 당신에게 어려움을 안겨주는 소프트웨어나 하드웨어와 관련된 웹페이지와 가장 근접한 곳을 찾는데 활용하시기 바랍니다. 보통 FAQ(자주 묻는 질문)의 링크가 있거나 프로젝트 메일링 리스트 혹은 과거목록에 접근할 수 있습니다. 이런 메일링 리스트는 해결책을 찾지 못했을 때(찾은 FAQ링크를 읽었음에도 불구하고) 도움을 받기 위한 최후의 수단입니다. 프로젝트 페이지는 버그 보고 절차를 서술한 페이지도 링크되어 있을 확률이 큽니다. 그렇다고 한다면, 그 절차를 따르시기 바랍니다.

잘 알지 못하는 사람이나 포럼에 이메일을 발송하는 것은 가장 잘못되기 쉬운 방법입니다. 예를 들어, 정보를 게시하는 웹페이지의 저자가 당신의 무료 상담원이 되어줄거라 가정하지 마십시오. 당신의 질문이 환영받을 수도 있다는 낙관적인 생각은 하지 마시기 바랍니다. 불확실하다면, 다른 곳에 보내거나 가급적 보내는 것 자체를 삼가기 바랍니다.

웹 포럼, 뉴스그룹, 메일링 리스트를 선택할 때 이름만을 보고 너무 신뢰하지 마십시오; FAQ나 공지사항을 통해 당신의 질문이 주제에 맞는지 확인하기 바랍니다. 기존 트래픽들을 질문을 게제하기 전에 읽어봄으로써 이 곳에서는 어떻게 일이 진행되는지 느껴보시길 바랍니다. 사실, 그 곳에서도 게제하기 전에 문제와 관련된 키워드로 검색해보는 것이 아주 좋은 생각입니다. 답을 찾을지도 모르고 그렇지 않더라도 더 좋은 질문을 할 수 있도록 도와줄 것입니다.

접근할 수 있는 모든 도움 채널에 가서 떠들어대지 마십시오. 그것은 마치 고함을 질러대며 사람을 짜증나게 하는 것과 유사합니다. 적절하게 절차를 밟아 나가세요.

당신의 질문 주제가 무엇인지 명확히 아시기 바랍니다! 가장 고전적인 실수 중의 하나가 바로 여러 플랫폼에서 사용 가능한 프로그래밍 언어/라이브러리/도구에 전념하는 포럼에 가서 Unix나 Windows 프로그래밍 환경에 대한 질문을 하는 것입니다. 이게 왜 어리석은 실수인지 이해할 수 없다면, 이해할 때 까지는 어디에도 질문을 게제하지 않는 것이 최선입니다.

일반적으로, 동일한 질문이더라도 사적인 것보다 잘 선택된 공개 포럼에서 유용한 답변을 받을 가능성이 더 높습니다. 여기엔 다양한 이유가 있습니다. 우선, 단순히 잠재적 답변 가능자의 수 자체가 많다는 데 있습니다. 다른 이유로는, 포럼 유저의 수가 많다는 것입니다; 해커들은 소수를 돕는 질문보다 다수를 가르쳐줄 수 있는 질문에 답변하는 것을 선호합니다.

여러분도 예상할 수 있겠지만 숙련된 해커나 유명한 소프트웨어의 저자들은 이미 적절한 규모를 뛰어넘는 부적절한 메시지를 받고 있습니다. 이 홍수에 보탬으로써, 낙타의 등을 부러뜨리는 마지막 짚단과 같은 극단적인 경우가 바로 당신이 될 수도 있습니다. 꽤나 자주, 유명 프로젝트에 기여하고 있던 분들이 개인 개정으로 참을 수 없는 이메일 트래픽을 받는 바람에 정신적 스트레스로 인해 프로젝트를 내려놓은 경우가 있습니다.

스택 오버플로우

검색을 하고 나서 스택 익스체인지에 질문하십시오.

최근 몇 년간, 스택 익스체인지는 기술적 분야 뿐만 아니라 다양한 분야의 답변을 얻을 수 있는 주요 자원으로서 크게 성장하였고, 심지어 다양한 오픈소스 프로젝트의 선호받는 포럼 중 하나이기도 합니다.

스택익스체인지를 찾기 전에 구글 검색부터 하세요; 구글은 실시간으로 스택 익스체인지까지 색인합니다. 다른 사람이 이미 유사한 질문을 했을 가능성이 굉장히 높고 그 경우 스택 익스체인지는 검색 결과 최상단에 자리하게 됩니다. 구글을 통해 별다른 결과를 얻지 못한 경우, 스택 익스체인지를 방문하여 다시 한번 더 관련된 검색어로 검색을 진행하시기 바랍니다.(아래 참조). 태그를 활용한 검색은 결과를 좁히는데 도움을 줍니다.

아직도 답을 찾지 못한 경우, 가장 주제와 관련된 하나의 사이트에 당신의 질문을 게제합니다. 특히, 코드와 관련하여 양식을 갖추는데 도움이 되는 도구를 사용하고 질문과 관련있는 태그를 추가히십시오(특히 프로그래밍 언어 이름, 운영 체제, 그리고 어려움을 겪는 라이브러리 등). 댓글에서 추가 정보를 요청하는 경우, 작성한 포스트를 해당 요구사항을 포함할 수 있도록 편집하십시오. 답변이 유용했다면, ‘위 방향 화살표’를 눌러 추천해주십시오; 해당 답변이 해결책을 제시했다면, 추천 화살표 아래의 체크 버튼을 눌러 정확한 답변으로 승인해주십시오.

스택 익스체인지는 100개가 넘는 사이트로 성장했지만, 아래에 가장 도움이 될 확률이 높은 후보들을 뽑았습니다:

  • ‘Super User’는 일반 사용자의 컴퓨터 환경과 관련된 질문에 적합합니다. 만일 당신의 질문이 네트워크 연결을 통해서만 사용하는 코드나 프로그램에 관련된 것이 아닌 경우, 아마도 여기에 해당할 것입니다.
  • ‘Stack Overflow’는 프로그래밍에 관련된 질문에 적합합니다.
  • ‘Server Fault’는 서버와 네트워크 관리와 관련된 질문에 적합합니다.

여러 프로젝트들이 각자의 사이트를 가지고 있습니다. 예를 들어, 안드로이드, 우분투, 텍/레이텍, 셰어포인트 등입니다. 최신 리스트는 스택 익스체인지를 통해 확인하시기 바랍니다.

웹과 IRC 포럼

지역 사용자 그룹, 혹은 당신이 사용하고 있는 배포판은 아마도 유저들이 도움을 받을 수 있는 웹 포럼이나 IRC 채널을 홍보하고 있을 것입니다.( 비 영어권 국가들은 뉴비 포럼이 메일링 리스트처럼 활용될 가능성이 큽니다.) 이 곳들은 특히, 당신이 상대적으로 간단하거나 흔한 문제에 봉착했다고 여겨질 경우 질문하기에 좋은 첫 장소입니다. 알려진 IRC 채널은 질문하기 위해 공개된 장소이고, 실시간으로 답변을 받는 경우가 자주 있습니다.

사실, 문제가 되고 있는 배포판(최근에 흔한만큼)의 포럼/리스트를 해당 프로그램의 포럼/리스트보다 먼저 질문하는 것이 나은 생각입니다. 프로젝트의 해커들은 아마도 “우리 빌드를 사용해”라고 할 것입니다.

어느 웹 포럼에 질문하든 그 전에, 그 포럼에 검색 기능이 있는지 확인하기 바랍니다. 그렇다고 한다면, 문제와 관련된 한 두가지의 검색어를 검색해보기 바랍니다; 아마 도움이 될 수도 있습니다. 사전에 일반 검색을 시도했다면(했어야 하지만), 포럼에서도 어쨌든 검색해보기 바랍니다; 당신이 사용한 검색 엔진이 아마도 이 포럼들까지 모두 최근에 색이해두진 않았을지도 모릅니다.

프로젝트들 사이에서 유저 지원은 웹 포럼이나 IRC를 활용하는 경향이 증가하고 있으며, 이 것은 이메일을 개발 트래픽에 더 집중하면서 병행되고 있습니다. 따라서, 프로젝트 특화 지원이 필요한 경우는 그런 채널을 유심히 살펴보시기 바랍니다.

IRC에서는 시작부터 긴 형식의 문제 서술을 늘어놓는 것을 피해야 합니다; 일부 사용자는 이것을 채널 도배로 받아들입니다. 채널의 대화를 시작하기 위해 한 줄 정도의 문제 서술을 하는 것이 가장 좋은 방법입니다.

두 번째 단계로서, 프로젝트의 메일링 리스트 활용할 것

프로젝트가 개발 관련 메일링 리스트를 사용하는 경우, 메일링 리스트에 질문을 하되, 누가 가장 최적화된 답변을 할 수 있을지 예상이 되더라도 개인 개발자에게 이메일을 보내지는 마십시오. 프로젝트 문서를 확인하고 홈페이지 등에서 프로젝트와 관련된 메일링 리스트 주소를 확인한 후 그것을 사용하시기 바랍니다. 아래는 몇 가지 이 방법의 장점입니다.

  • 한 명의 개발자에게 충분히 좋은 질문이라면, 전체 그룹에게도 가치있는 질문입니다. 반대로, 공개 리스트에 하기엔 너무 멍청한 질문이라고 생각된다는 것이, 해당 개인 개발자를 괴롭히게 되는 정당한 변명이 아닙니다.
  • 리스트에 질문을 하는 것은 개발자들에게 전해집니다. 특정한 개발자 개인(특히, 그가 프로젝트 리더라면)은 당신의 질문에 대답해주기엔 너무 바쁠 수 있습니다.
  • 대부분의 메일링 리스트는 아카이브(오랜 보관을 위해 저장됨)되고, 그런 아카이브들은 검색 엔진을 위해 색인됩니다. 만일 당신이 메일링 리스트에 질문을 하고, 대답이 달렸다면, 미래의 같은 질문자는 당신의 물음을 찾을 수 있고 다시 묻지 않고도 웹에서 답을 찾을 수 있게 됩니다.
  • 만약 특정 질문이 반복된다면, 개발자는 혼란을 줄이기 위해서 그런 정보를 활용해 문서를 개선시킬 수도 있습니다. 하지만 질문이 사적으로 제기되는 경우, 누구도 어떤 질문들이 얼마나 제기되는지 큰 그림을 볼 수 없게 됩니다.

만약 프로젝트가 “유저”와 “개발자”(혹은 “해커”) 메일링 리스트 또는 웹 포럼을 동시에 활용하는 경우, 코드를 해킹하는 사유가 아니라면 “사용자(유저)” 리스트/포럼에 질문하기 바랍니다. 개발자 리스트에서 당신이 환영받을 것으로 예상하지 마십시오, 차라리 그들은 당신의 질문을 개발자 트래픽에 쓸 데 없는 방해 소음 정도로 여길겁니다.

하지만, 만일 당신의 질문이 확실히 사소하지 않다고 확신하거나, “사용자” 리스트/포럼에서 며칠 동안 답이 달리지 않는 경우라면, “개발자” 리스트/포럼을 시도해도 좋습니다. 그렇다 하더라도, 최근 글들을 살펴보거나 아카이브된 메시지를 며칠치 읽어보기를 권장합니다. 이는, 포스팅 하기 전 그들의 문화나 습관을 익히기 위함입니다.(사실 이 방법은 어떤 사적인 혹은 준-사적인 리스트에 있어서도 좋은 조언입니다.)

만일 프로젝트의 메일링 리스트 주소를 찾지 못하겠거나, 프로젝트 관리자의 주소밖에 없을 때에는 관리자에게 작성하시면 됩니다. 하지만 그런 경우라도, 메일링 리스트가 없나 보다라고 단정하지 마십시오. 반드시 이메일에 메일링 리스트를 찾고자 하였으나 찾지 못하였음을 명시하고 어떤 것들을 시도했는지 적기 바랍니다. 또한 당신의 메시지가 다른 사람들에게 재전송됨에 어떤 이의도 없음을 밝히십시오. (많은 사람들이 어떤 비밀도 적히지 않더라도, 사적 이메일은 사적으로 남아야 한다고 믿습니다. 재전송을 허락함으로써 상대가 당신의 이메일을 어떻게 다루어야 할지 선택지를 갖게 됩니다.)

의미있고, 구체적인 제목 헤더를 사용할 것

On mailing lists, newsgroups or Web forums, the subject header is your golden opportunity to attract qualified experts’ attention in around 50 characters or fewer. Don’t waste it on babble like “Please help me” (let alone “PLEASE HELP ME!!!!”; messages with subjects like that get discarded by reflex). Don’t try to impress us with the depth of your anguish; use the space for a super-concise problem description instead.

One good convention for subject headers, used by many tech support organizations, is “object – deviation”. The “object” part specifies what thing or group of things is having a problem, and the “deviation” part describes the deviation from expected behavior.Stupid:

HELP! Video doesn’t work properly on my laptop!Smart:

X.org 6.8.1 misshapen mouse cursor, Fooware MV1005 vid. chipsetSmarter:

X.org 6.8.1 mouse cursor on Fooware MV1005 vid. chipset – is misshapen

The process of writing an “object-deviation” description will help you organize your thinking about the problem in more detail. What is affected? Just the mouse cursor or other graphics too? Is this specific to the X.org version of X? To version 6.8.1? Is this specific to Fooware video chipsets? To model MV1005? A hacker who sees the result can immediately understand what it is that you are having a problem with and the problem you are having, at a glance.

More generally, imagine looking at the index of an archive of questions, with just the subject lines showing. Make your subject line reflect your question well enough that the next person searching the archive with a question similar to yours will be able to follow the thread to an answer rather than posting the question again.

If you ask a question in a reply, be sure to change the subject line to indicate that you’re asking a question. A Subject line that looks like “Re: test” or “Re: new bug” is less likely to attract useful amounts of attention. Also, pare quotation of previous messages to the minimum consistent with cluing in new readers.

Do not simply hit reply to a list message in order to start an entirely new thread. This will limit your audience. Some mail readers, like mutt, allow the user to sort by thread and then hide messages in a thread by folding the thread. Folks who do that will never see your message.

Changing the subject is not sufficient. Mutt, and probably other mail readers, looks at other information in the e-mail’s headers to assign it to a thread, not the subject line. Instead start an entirely new e-mail.

On Web forums the rules of good practice are slightly different, because messages are usually much more tightly bound to specific discussion threads and often invisible outside those threads. Changing the subject when asking a question in reply is not essential. Not all forums even allow separate subject lines on replies, and nearly nobody reads them when they do. However, asking a question in a reply is a dubious practice in itself, because it will only be seen by those who are watching this thread. So, unless you are sure you want to ask only the people currently active in the thread, start a new one.

Make it easy to reply

Finishing your query with “Please send your reply to… ” makes it quite unlikely you will get an answer. If you can’t be bothered to take even the few seconds required to set up a correct Reply-To header in your mail agent, we can’t be bothered to take even a few seconds to think about your problem. If your mail program doesn’t permit this, get a better mail program. If your operating system doesn’t support any e-mail programs that permit this, get a better operating system.

In Web forums, asking for a reply by e-mail is outright rude, unless you believe the information may be sensitive (and somebody will, for some unknown reason, let you but not the whole forum know it). If you want an e-mail copy when somebody replies in the thread, request that the Web forum send it; this feature is supported almost everywhere under options like “watch this thread”, “send e-mail on answers”, etc.

Write in clear, grammatical, correctly-spelled language

We’ve found by experience that people who are careless and sloppy writers are usually also careless and sloppy at thinking and coding (often enough to bet on, anyway). Answering questions for careless and sloppy thinkers is not rewarding; we’d rather spend our time elsewhere.

So expressing your question clearly and well is important. If you can’t be bothered to do that, we can’t be bothered to pay attention. Spend the extra effort to polish your language. It doesn’t have to be stiff or formal — in fact, hacker culture values informal, slangy and humorous language used with precision. But it has to be precise; there has to be some indication that you’re thinking and paying attention.

Spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. Don’t confuse “its” with “it’s”, “loose” with “lose”, or “discrete” with “discreet”. Don’t TYPE IN ALL CAPS; this is read as shouting and considered rude. (All-smalls is only slightly less annoying, as it’s difficult to read. Alan Cox can get away with it, but you can’t.)

More generally, if you write like a semi-literate boob you will very likely be ignored. So don’t use instant-messaging shortcuts. Spelling “you” as “u” makes you look like a semi-literate boob to save two entire keystrokes. Worse: writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r is the absolute kiss of death and guarantees you will receive nothing but stony silence (or, at best, a heaping helping of scorn and sarcasm) in return.

If you are asking questions in a forum that does not use your native language, you will get a limited amount of slack for spelling and grammar errors — but no extra slack at all for laziness (and yes, we can usually spot that difference). Also, unless you know what your respondent’s languages are, write in English. Busy hackers tend to simply flush questions in languages they don’t understand, and English is the working language of the Internet. By writing in English you minimize your chances that your question will be discarded unread.

If you are writing in English but it is a second language for you, it is good form to alert potential respondents to potential language difficulties and options for getting around them. Examples:

  • English is not my native language; please excuse typing errors.
  • If you speak $LANGUAGE, please email/PM me; I may need assistance translating my question.
  • I am familiar with the technical terms, but some slang expressions and idioms are difficult for me.
  • I’ve posted my question in $LANGUAGE and English. I’ll be glad to translate responses, if you only use one or the other.

Send questions in accessible, standard formats

If you make your question artificially hard to read, it is more likely to be passed over in favor of one that isn’t. So:

  • Send plain text mail, not HTML. (It’s not hard to turn off HTML.)
  • MIME attachments are usually OK, but only if they are real content (such as an attached source file or patch), and not merely boilerplate generated by your mail client (such as another copy of your message).
  • Don’t send e-mail in which entire paragraphs are single multiply-wrapped lines. (This makes it too difficult to reply to just part of the message.) Assume that your respondents will be reading mail on 80-character-wide text displays and set your line wrap accordingly, to something less than 80.
  • However, do not wrap data (such as log file dumps or session transcripts) at any fixed column width. Data should be included as-is, so respondents can have confidence that they are seeing what you saw.
  • Don’t send MIME Quoted-Printable encoding to an English-language forum. This encoding can be necessary when you’re posting in a language ASCII doesn’t cover, but many e-mail agents don’t support it. When they break, all those =20 glyphs scattered through the text are ugly and distracting — or may actively sabotage the semantics of your text.
  • Never, ever expect hackers to be able to read closed proprietary document formats like Microsoft Word or Excel. Most hackers react to these about as well as you would to having a pile of steaming pig manure dumped on your doorstep. Even when they can cope, they resent having to do so.
  • If you’re sending e-mail from a Windows machine, turn off Microsoft’s problematic “Smart Quotes” feature (From Tools > AutoCorrect Options, clear the smart quotes checkbox under AutoFormat As You Type.). This is so you’ll avoid sprinkling garbage characters through your mail.
  • In Web forums, do not abuse “smiley” and “HTML” features (when they are present). A smiley or two is usually OK, but colored fancy text tends to make people think you are lame. Seriously overusing smileys and color and fonts will make you come off like a giggly teenage girl, which is not generally a good idea unless you are more interested in sex than answers.

If you’re using a graphical-user-interface mail client such as Netscape Messenger, MS Outlook, or their ilk, beware that it may violate these rules when used with its default settings. Most such clients have a menu-based “View Source” command. Use this on something in your sent-mail folder, verifying sending of plain text without unnecessary attached crud.

Be precise and informative about your problem

  • Describe the symptoms of your problem or bug carefully and clearly.
  • Describe the environment in which it occurs (machine, OS, application, whatever). Provide your vendor’s distribution and release level (e.g.: “Fedora Core 7”, “Slackware 9.1”, etc.).
  • Describe the research you did to try and understand the problem before you asked the question.
  • Describe the diagnostic steps you took to try and pin down the problem yourself before you asked the question.
  • Describe any possibly relevant recent changes in your computer or software configuration.
  • If at all possible, provide a way to reproduce the problem in a controlled environment.

Do the best you can to anticipate the questions a hacker will ask, and answer them in advance in your request for help.

Giving hackers the ability to reproduce the problem in a controlled environment is especially important if you are reporting something you think is a bug in code. When you do this, your odds of getting a useful answer and the speed with which you are likely to get that answer both improve tremendously.

Simon Tatham has written an excellent essay entitled How to Report Bugs Effectively. I strongly recommend that you read it.

Volume is not precision

You need to be precise and informative. This end is not served by simply dumping huge volumes of code or data into a help request. If you have a large, complicated test case that is breaking a program, try to trim it and make it as small as possible.

This is useful for at least three reasons. One: being seen to invest effort in simplifying the question makes it more likely you’ll get an answer, Two: simplifying the question makes it more likely you’ll get a useful answer. Three: In the process of refining your bug report, you may develop a fix or workaround yourself.

Don’t rush to claim that you have found a bug

When you are having problems with a piece of software, don’t claim you have found a bug unless you are very, very sure of your ground. Hint: unless you can provide a source-code patch that fixes the problem, or a regression test against a previous version that demonstrates incorrect behavior, you are probably not sure enough. This applies to webpages and documentation, too; if you have found a documentation “bug”, you should supply replacement text and which pages it should go on.

Remember, there are many other users that are not experiencing your problem. Otherwise you would have learned about it while reading the documentation and searching the Web (you did do that before complaining, didn’t you?). This means that very probably it is you who are doing something wrong, not the software.

The people who wrote the software work very hard to make it work as well as possible. If you claim you have found a bug, you’ll be impugning their competence, which may offend some of them even if you are correct. It’s especially undiplomatic to yell “bug” in the Subject line.

When asking your question, it is best to write as though you assume you are doing something wrong, even if you are privately pretty sure you have found an actual bug. If there really is a bug, you will hear about it in the answer. Play it so the maintainers will want to apologize to you if the bug is real, rather than so that you will owe them an apology if you have messed up.

Grovelling is not a substitute for doing your homework

Some people who get that they shouldn’t behave rudely or arrogantly, demanding an answer, retreat to the opposite extreme of grovelling. “I know I’m just a pathetic newbie loser, but…”. This is distracting and unhelpful. It’s especially annoying when it’s coupled with vagueness about the actual problem.

Don’t waste your time, or ours, on crude primate politics. Instead, present the background facts and your question as clearly as you can. That is a better way to position yourself than by grovelling.

Sometimes Web forums have separate places for newbie questions. If you feel you do have a newbie question, just go there. But don’t grovel there either.

Describe the problem’s symptoms, not your guesses

It’s not useful to tell hackers what you think is causing your problem. (If your diagnostic theories were such hot stuff, would you be consulting others for help?) So, make sure you’re telling them the raw symptoms of what goes wrong, rather than your interpretations and theories. Let them do the interpretation and diagnosis. If you feel it’s important to state your guess, clearly label it as such and describe why that answer isn’t working for you.Stupid:

I’m getting back-to-back SIG11 errors on kernel compiles, and suspect a hairline crack on one of the motherboard traces. What’s the best way to check for those?Smart:

My home-built K6/233 on an FIC-PA2007 motherboard (VIA Apollo VP2 chipset) with 256MB Corsair PC133 SDRAM starts getting frequent SIG11 errors about 20 minutes after power-on during the course of kernel compiles, but never in the first 20 minutes. Rebooting doesn’t restart the clock, but powering down overnight does. Swapping out all RAM didn’t help. The relevant part of a typical compile session log follows.

Since the preceding point seems to be a tough one for many people to grasp, here’s a phrase to remind you: “All diagnosticians are from Missouri.” That US state’s official motto is “Show me” (earned in 1899, when Congressman Willard D. Vandiver said “I come from a country that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri. You’ve got to show me.”) In diagnosticians’ case, it’s not a matter of skepticism, but rather a literal, functional need to see whatever is as close as possible to the same raw evidence that you see, rather than your surmises and summaries. Show us.

Describe your problem’s symptoms in chronological order

The clues most useful in figuring out something that went wrong often lie in the events immediately prior. So, your account should describe precisely what you did, and what the machine and software did, leading up to the blowup. In the case of command-line processes, having a session log (e.g., using the script utility) and quoting the relevant twenty or so lines is very useful.

If the program that blew up on you has diagnostic options (such as -v for verbose), try to select options that will add useful debugging information to the transcript. Remember that more is not necessarily better; try to choose a debug level that will inform rather than drowning the reader in junk.

If your account ends up being long (more than about four paragraphs), it might be useful to succinctly state the problem up top, then follow with the chronological tale. That way, hackers will know what to watch for in reading your account.

Describe the goal, not the step

If you are trying to find out how to do something (as opposed to reporting a bug), begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on.

Often, people who need technical help have a high-level goal in mind and get stuck on what they think is one particular path towards the goal. They come for help with the step, but don’t realize that the path is wrong. It can take substantial effort to get past this.Stupid:

How do I get the color-picker on the FooDraw program to take a hexadecimal RGB value?Smart:

I’m trying to replace the color table on an image with values of my choosing. Right now the only way I can see to do this is by editing each table slot, but I can’t get FooDraw’s color picker to take a hexadecimal RGB value.

The second version of the question is smart. It allows an answer that suggests a tool better suited to the task.

Don’t ask people to reply by private e-mail

Hackers believe solving problems should be a public, transparent process during which a first try at an answer can and should be corrected if someone more knowledgeable notices that it is incomplete or incorrect. Also, helpers get some of their reward for being respondents from being seen to be competent and knowledgeable by their peers.

When you ask for a private reply, you are disrupting both the process and the reward. Don’t do this. It’s the respondent’schoice whether to reply privately — and if he or she does, it’s usually because he or she thinks the question is too ill-formed or obvious to be interesting to others.

There is one limited exception to this rule. If you think the question is such that you are likely to get many answers that are all closely similar, then the magic words are “e-mail me and I’ll summarize the answers for the group”. It is courteous to try and save the mailing list or newsgroup a flood of substantially identical postings — but you have to keep the promise to summarize.

Be explicit about your question

Open-ended questions tend to be perceived as open-ended time sinks. Those people most likely to be able to give you a useful answer are also the busiest people (if only because they take on the most work themselves). People like that are allergic to open-ended time sinks, thus they tend to be allergic to open-ended questions.

You are more likely to get a useful response if you are explicit about what you want respondents to do (provide pointers, send code, check your patch, whatever). This will focus their effort and implicitly put an upper bound on the time and energy a respondent must allocate to helping you. This is good.

To understand the world the experts live in, think of expertise as an abundant resource and time to respond as a scarce one. The less of a time commitment you implicitly ask for, the more likely you are to get an answer from someone really good and really busy.

So it is useful to frame your question to minimize the time commitment required for an expert to field it — but this is often not the same thing as simplifying the question. Thus, for example, “Would you give me a pointer to a good explanation of X?” is usually a smarter question than “Would you explain X, please?”. If you have some malfunctioning code, it is usually smarter to ask for someone to explain what’s wrong with it than it is to ask someone to fix it.

When asking about code

Don’t ask others to debug your broken code without giving a hint what sort of problem they should be searching for. Posting a few hundred lines of code, saying “it doesn’t work”, will get you ignored. Posting a dozen lines of code, saying “after line 7 I was expecting to see <x>, but <y> occurred instead” is much more likely to get you a response.

The most effective way to be precise about a code problem is to provide a minimal bug-demonstrating test case. What’s a minimal test case? It’s an illustration of the problem; just enough code to exhibit the undesirable behavior and no more. How do you make a minimal test case? If you know what line or section of code is producing the problematic behavior, make a copy of it and add just enough supporting code to produce a complete example (i.e. enough that the source is acceptable to the compiler/interpreter/whatever application processes it). If you can’t narrow it down to a particular section, make a copy of the source and start removing chunks that don’t affect the problematic behavior. The smaller your minimal test case is, the better (see the section called “Volume is not precision”).

Generating a really small minimal test case will not always be possible, but trying to is good discipline. It may help you learn what you need to solve the problem on your own — and even when it doesn’t, hackers like to see that you have tried. It will make them more cooperative.

If you simply want a code review, say as much up front, and be sure to mention what areas you think might particularly need review and why.

Don’t post homework questions

Hackers are good at spotting homework questions; most of us have done them ourselves. Those questions are for you to work out, so that you will learn from the experience. It is OK to ask for hints, but not for entire solutions.

If you suspect you have been passed a homework question, but can’t solve it anyway, try asking in a user group forum or (as a last resort) in a “user” list/forum of a project. While the hackers will spot it, some of the advanced users may at least give you a hint.

Prune pointless queries

Resist the temptation to close your request for help with semantically-null questions like “Can anyone help me?” or “Is there an answer?” First: if you’ve written your problem description halfway competently, such tacked-on questions are at best superfluous. Second: because they are superfluous, hackers find them annoying — and are likely to return logically impeccable but dismissive answers like “Yes, you can be helped” and “No, there is no help for you.”

In general, asking yes-or-no questions is a good thing to avoid unless you want a yes-or-no answer.

Don’t flag your question as “Urgent”, even if it is for you

That’s your problem, not ours. Claiming urgency is very likely to be counter-productive: most hackers will simply delete such messages as rude and selfish attempts to elicit immediate and special attention. Furthermore, the word ‘Urgent’ (and other similar attempts to grab attention in the subject line) often triggers spam filters – your intended recipients might never see it at all!

There is one semi-exception. It can be worth mentioning if you’re using the program in some high-profile place, one that the hackers will get excited about; in such a case, if you’re under time pressure, and you say so politely, people may get interested enough to answer faster.

This is a very risky thing to do, however, because the hackers’ metric for what is exciting probably differs from yours. Posting from the International Space Station would qualify, for example, but posting on behalf of a feel-good charitable or political cause would almost certainly not. In fact, posting “Urgent: Help me save the fuzzy baby seals!” will reliably get you shunned or flamed even by hackers who think fuzzy baby seals are important.

If you find this mysterious, re-read the rest of this how-to repeatedly until you understand it before posting anything at all.

Courtesy never hurts, and sometimes helps

Be courteous. Use “Please” and “Thanks for your attention” or “Thanks for your consideration”. Make it clear you appreciate the time people spend helping you for free.

To be honest, this isn’t as important as (and cannot substitute for) being grammatical, clear, precise and descriptive, avoiding proprietary formats etc.; hackers in general would rather get somewhat brusque but technically sharp bug reports than polite vagueness. (If this puzzles you, remember that we value a question by what it teaches us.)

However, if you’ve got your technical ducks in a row, politeness does increase your chances of getting a useful answer.

(We must note that the only serious objection we’ve received from veteran hackers to this HOWTO is with respect to our previous recommendation to use “Thanks in advance”. Some hackers feel this connotes an intention not to thank anybody afterwards. Our recommendation is to either say “Thanks in advance” first and thank respondents afterwards, or express courtesy in a different way, such as by saying “Thanks for your attention” or “Thanks for your consideration”.)

Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Send a note after the problem has been solved to all who helped you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help. If the problem attracted general interest in a mailing list or newsgroup, it’s appropriate to post the followup there.

Optimally, the reply should be to the thread started by the original question posting, and should have ‘FIXED’, ‘RESOLVED’ or an equally obvious tag in the subject line. On mailing lists with fast turnaround, a potential respondent who sees a thread about “Problem X” ending with “Problem X – FIXED” knows not to waste his/her time even reading the thread (unless (s)he personally finds Problem X interesting) and can therefore use that time solving a different problem.

Your followup doesn’t have to be long and involved; a simple “Howdy — it was a failed network cable! Thanks, everyone. – Bill” would be better than nothing. In fact, a short and sweet summary is better than a long dissertation unless the solution has real technical depth. Say what action solved the problem, but you need not replay the whole troubleshooting sequence.

For problems with some depth, it is appropriate to post a summary of the troubleshooting history. Describe your final problem statement. Describe what worked as a solution, and indicate avoidable blind alleys after that. The blind alleys should come after the correct solution and other summary material, rather than turning the follow-up into a detective story. Name the names of people who helped you; you’ll make friends that way.

Besides being courteous and informative, this sort of followup will help others searching the archive of the mailing-list/newsgroup/forum to know exactly which solution helped you and thus may also help them.

Last, and not least, this sort of followup helps everybody who assisted feel a satisfying sense of closure about the problem. If you are not a techie or hacker yourself, trust us that this feeling is very important to the gurus and experts you tapped for help. Problem narratives that trail off into unresolved nothingness are frustrating things; hackers itch to see them resolved. The goodwill that scratching that itch earns you will be very, very helpful to you next time you need to pose a question.

Consider how you might be able to prevent others from having the same problem in the future. Ask yourself if a documentation or FAQ patch would help, and if the answer is yes send that patch to the maintainer.

Among hackers, this sort of good followup behavior is actually more important than conventional politeness. It’s how you get a reputation for playing well with others, which can be a very valuable asset.

How To Interpret Answers

RTFM and STFW: How To Tell You’ve Seriously Screwed Up

There is an ancient and hallowed tradition: if you get a reply that reads “RTFM”, the person who sent it thinks you should have Read The Fucking Manual. He or she is almost certainly right. Go read it.

RTFM has a younger relative. If you get a reply that reads “STFW”, the person who sent it thinks you should have Searched The Fucking Web. He or she is almost certainly right. Go search it. (The milder version of this is when you are told “Google is your friend!”)

In Web forums, you may also be told to search the forum archives. In fact, someone may even be so kind as to provide a pointer to the previous thread where this problem was solved. But do not rely on this consideration; do your archive-searching before asking.

Often, the person telling you to do a search has the manual or the web page with the information you need open, and is looking at it as he or she types. These replies mean that the responder thinks (a) the information you need is easy to find, and (b) you will learn more if you seek out the information than if you have it spoon-fed to you.

You shouldn’t be offended by this; by hacker standards, your respondent is showing you a rough kind of respect simply by not ignoring you. You should instead be thankful for this grandmotherly kindness.

If you don’t understand…

If you don’t understand the answer, do not immediately bounce back a demand for clarification. Use the same tools that you used to try and answer your original question (manuals, FAQs, the Web, skilled friends) to understand the answer. Then, if you still need to ask for clarification, exhibit what you have learned.

For example, suppose I tell you: “It sounds like you’ve got a stuck zentry; you’ll need to clear it.” Then: here’s a bad followup question: “What’s a zentry?” Here’s a good followup question: “OK, I read the man page and zentries are only mentioned under the -z and -p switches. Neither of them says anything about clearing zentries. Is it one of these or am I missing something here?”

Dealing with rudeness

Much of what looks like rudeness in hacker circles is not intended to give offense. Rather, it’s the product of the direct, cut-through-the-bullshit communications style that is natural to people who are more concerned about solving problems than making others feel warm and fuzzy.

When you perceive rudeness, try to react calmly. If someone is really acting out, it is very likely a senior person on the list or newsgroup or forum will call him or her on it. If that doesn’t happen and you lose your temper, it is likely that the person you lose it at was behaving within the hacker community’s norms and you will be considered at fault. This will hurt your chances of getting the information or help you want.

On the other hand, you will occasionally run across rudeness and posturing that is quite gratuitous. The flip-side of the above is that it is acceptable form to slam real offenders quite hard, dissecting their misbehavior with a sharp verbal scalpel. Be very, very sure of your ground before you try this, however. The line between correcting an incivility and starting a pointless flamewar is thin enough that hackers themselves not infrequently blunder across it; if you are a newbie or an outsider, your chances of avoiding such a blunder are low. If you’re after information rather than entertainment, it’s better to keep your fingers off the keyboard than to risk this.

(Some people assert that many hackers have a mild form of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and are actually missing some of the brain circuitry that lubricates “normal” human social interaction. This may or may not be true. If you are not a hacker yourself, it may help you cope with our eccentricities if you think of us as being brain-damaged. Go right ahead. We won’t care; we like being whatever it is we are, and generally have a healthy skepticism about clinical labels.)

Jeff Bigler’s observations about tact filters are also relevant and worth reading.

In the next section, we’ll talk about a different issue; the kind of “rudeness” you’ll see when you misbehave.

On Not Reacting Like A Loser

Odds are you’ll screw up a few times on hacker community forums — in ways detailed in this article, or similar. And you’ll be told exactly how you screwed up, possibly with colourful asides. In public.

When this happens, the worst thing you can do is whine about the experience, claim to have been verbally assaulted, demand apologies, scream, hold your breath, threaten lawsuits, complain to people’s employers, leave the toilet seat up, etc. Instead, here’s what you do:

Get over it. It’s normal. In fact, it’s healthy and appropriate.

Community standards do not maintain themselves: They’re maintained by people actively applying them, visibly, in public. Don’t whine that all criticism should have been conveyed via private e-mail: That’s not how it works. Nor is it useful to insist you’ve been personally insulted when someone comments that one of your claims was wrong, or that his views differ. Those are loser attitudes.

There have been hacker forums where, out of some misguided sense of hyper-courtesy, participants are banned from posting any fault-finding with another’s posts, and told “Don’t say anything if you’re unwilling to help the user.” The resulting departure of clueful participants to elsewhere causes them to descend into meaningless babble and become useless as technical forums.

Exaggeratedly “friendly” (in that fashion) or useful: Pick one.

Remember: When that hacker tells you that you’ve screwed up, and (no matter how gruffly) tells you not to do it again, he’s acting out of concern for (1) you and (2) his community. It would be much easier for him to ignore you and filter you out of his life. If you can’t manage to be grateful, at least have a little dignity, don’t whine, and don’t expect to be treated like a fragile doll just because you’re a newcomer with a theatrically hypersensitive soul and delusions of entitlement.

Sometimes people will attack you personally, flame without an apparent reason, etc., even if you don’t screw up (or have only screwed up in their imagination). In this case, complaining is the way to really screw up.

These flamers are either lamers who don’t have a clue but believe themselves to be experts, or would-be psychologists testing whether you’ll screw up. The other readers either ignore them, or find ways to deal with them on their own. The flamers’ behavior creates problems for themselves, which don’t have to concern you.

Don’t let yourself be drawn into a flamewar, either. Most flames are best ignored — after you’ve checked whether they are really flames, not pointers to the ways in which you have screwed up, and not cleverly ciphered answers to your real question (this happens as well).

Questions Not To Ask

Here are some classic stupid questions, and what hackers are thinking when they don’t answer them.Q: Where can I find program or resource X?Q: How can I use X to do Y?Q: How can I configure my shell prompt?Q: Can I convert an AcmeCorp document into a TeX file using the Bass-o-matic file converter?Q: My {program, configuration, SQL statement} doesn’t workQ: I’m having problems with my Windows machine. Can you help?Q: My program doesn’t work. I think system facility X is broken.Q: I’m having problems installing Linux or X. Can you help?Q: How can I crack root/steal channel-ops privileges/read someone’s e-mail?

Q:Where can I find program or resource X?
A:The same place I’d find it, fool — at the other end of a web search. Ghod, doesn’t everybody know how to use Googleyet?
Q:How can I use X to do Y?
A:If what you want is to do Y, you should ask that question without pre-supposing the use of a method that may not be appropriate. Questions of this form often indicate a person who is not merely ignorant about X, but confused about what problem Y they are solving and too fixated on the details of their particular situation. It is generally best to ignore such people until they define their problem better.
Q:How can I configure my shell prompt?
A:If you’re smart enough to ask this question, you’re smart enough to RTFM and find out yourself.
Q:Can I convert an AcmeCorp document into a TeX file using the Bass-o-matic file converter?
A:Try it and see. If you did that, you’d (a) learn the answer, and (b) stop wasting my time.
Q:My {program, configuration, SQL statement} doesn’t work
A:This is not a question, and I’m not interested in playing Twenty Questions to pry your actual question out of you — I have better things to do. On seeing something like this, my reaction is normally of one of the following:do you have anything else to add to that?oh, that’s too bad, I hope you get it fixed.and this has exactly what to do with me?
Q:I’m having problems with my Windows machine. Can you help?
A:Yes. Throw out that Microsoft trash and install an open-source operating system like Linux or BSD.Note: you can ask questions related to Windows machines if they are about a program that does have an official Windows build, or interacts with Windows machines (i.e., Samba). Just don’t be surprised by the reply that the problem is with Windows and not the program, because Windows is so broken in general that this is very often the case.
Q:My program doesn’t work. I think system facility X is broken.
A:While it is possible that you are the first person to notice an obvious deficiency in system calls and libraries heavily used by hundreds or thousands of people, it is rather more likely that you are utterly clueless. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; when you make a claim like this one, you must back it up with clear and exhaustive documentation of the failure case.
Q:I’m having problems installing Linux or X. Can you help?
A:No. I’d need hands-on access to your machine to troubleshoot this. Go ask your local Linux user group for hands-on help. (You can find a list of user groups here.)Note: questions about installing Linux may be appropriate if you’re on a forum or mailing list about a particular distribution, and the problem is with that distro; or on local user groups forums. In this case, be sure to describe the exact details of the failure. But do careful searching first, with “linux” and all suspicious pieces of hardware.
Q:How can I crack root/steal channel-ops privileges/read someone’s e-mail?
A:You’re a lowlife for wanting to do such things and a moron for asking a hacker to help you.

Good and Bad Questions

Finally, I’m going to illustrate how to ask questions in a smart way by example; pairs of questions about the same problem, one asked in a stupid way and one in a smart way.Stupid: Where can I find out stuff about the Foonly Flurbamatic?

This question just begs for “STFW” as a reply.Smart: I used Google to try to find “Foonly Flurbamatic 2600” on the Web, but I got no useful hits. Can I get a pointer to programming information on this device?

This one has already STFWed, and sounds like there might be a real problem.Stupid: I can’t get the code from project foo to compile. Why is it broken?

The querent assumes that somebody else screwed up. Arrogant git…Smart: The code from project foo doesn’t compile under Nulix version 6.2. I’ve read the FAQ, but it doesn’t have anything in it about Nulix-related problems. Here’s a transcript of my compilation attempt; is it something I did?

The querent has specified the environment, read the FAQ, is showing the error, and is not assuming his problems are someone else’s fault. This one might be worth some attention.Stupid: I’m having problems with my motherboard. Can anybody help?

J. Random Hacker’s response to this is likely to be “Right. Do you need burping and diapering, too?” followed by a punch of the delete key.Smart: I tried X, Y, and Z on the S2464 motherboard. When that didn’t work, I tried A, B, and C. Note the curious symptom when I tried C. Obviously the florbish is grommicking, but the results aren’t what one might expect. What are the usual causes of grommicking on Athlon MP motherboards? Anybody got ideas for more tests I can run to pin down the problem?

This person, on the other hand, seems worthy of an answer. He/she has exhibited problem-solving intelligence rather than passively waiting for an answer to drop from on high.

In the last question, notice the subtle but important difference between demanding “Give me an answer” and “Please help me figure out what additional diagnostics I can run to achieve enlightenment.”

In fact, the form of that last question is closely based on a real incident that happened in August 2001 on the linux-kernel mailing list (lkml). I (Eric) was the one asking the question that time. I was seeing mysterious lockups on a Tyan S2462 motherboard. The list members supplied the critical information I needed to solve them.

By asking the question in the way I did, I gave people something to chew on; I made it easy and attractive for them to get involved. I demonstrated respect for my peers’ ability and invited them to consult with me as a peer. I also demonstrated respect for the value of their time by telling them the blind alleys I had already run down.

Afterwards, when I thanked everyone and remarked how well the process had worked, an lkml member observed that he thought it had worked not because I’m a “name” on that list, but because I asked the question in the proper form.

Hackers are in some ways a very ruthless meritocracy; I’m certain he was right, and that if I had behaved like a sponge I would have been flamed or ignored no matter who I was. His suggestion that I write up the whole incident as instruction to others led directly to the composition of this guide.

If You Can’t Get An Answer

If you can’t get an answer, please don’t take it personally that we don’t feel we can help you. Sometimes the members of the asked group may simply not know the answer. No response is not the same as being ignored, though admittedly it’s hard to spot the difference from outside.

In general, simply re-posting your question is a bad idea. This will be seen as pointlessly annoying. Have patience: the person with your answer may be in a different time-zone and asleep. Or it may be that your question wasn’t well-formed to begin with.

There are other sources of help you can go to, often sources better adapted to a novice’s needs.

There are many online and local user groups who are enthusiasts about the software, even though they may never have written any software themselves. These groups often form so that people can help each other and help new users.

There are also plenty of commercial companies you can contract with for help, both large and small. Don’t be dismayed at the idea of having to pay for a bit of help! After all, if your car engine blows a head gasket, chances are you would take it to a repair shop and pay to get it fixed. Even if the software didn’t cost you anything, you can’t expect that support to always come for free.

For popular software like Linux, there are at least 10,000 users per developer. It’s just not possible for one person to handle the support calls from over 10,000 users. Remember that even if you have to pay for support, you are still paying much less than if you had to buy the software as well (and support for closed-source software is usually more expensive and less competent than support for open-source software).

How To Answer Questions in a Helpful Way

Be gentle. Problem-related stress can make people seem rude or stupid even when they’re not.

Reply to a first offender off-line. There is no need of public humiliation for someone who may have made an honest mistake. A real newbie may not know how to search archives or where the FAQ is stored or posted.

If you don’t know for sure, say so! A wrong but authoritative-sounding answer is worse than none at all. Don’t point anyone down a wrong path simply because it’s fun to sound like an expert. Be humble and honest; set a good example for both the querent and your peers.

If you can’t help, don’t hinder. Don’t make jokes about procedures that could trash the user’s setup — the poor sap might interpret these as instructions.

Ask probing questions to elicit more details. If you’re good at this, the querent will learn something — and so might you. Try to turn the bad question into a good one; remember we were all newbies once.

While muttering RTFM is sometimes justified when replying to someone who is just a lazy slob, a pointer to documentation (even if it’s just a suggestion to google for a key phrase) is better.

If you’re going to answer the question at all, give good value. Don’t suggest kludgy workarounds when somebody is using the wrong tool or approach. Suggest good tools. Reframe the question.

Answer the actual question! If the querent has been so thorough as to do his or her research and has included in the query that X, Y, Z, A, B, and C have already been tried without good result, it is supremely unhelpful to respond with “Try A or B,”or with a link to something that only says, “Try X, Y, Z, A, B, or C.”.

Help your community learn from the question. When you field a good question, ask yourself “How would the relevant documentation or FAQ have to change so that nobody has to answer this again?” Then send a patch to the document maintainer.

If you did research to answer the question, demonstrate your skills rather than writing as though you pulled the answer out of your butt. Answering one good question is like feeding a hungry person one meal, but teaching them research skills by example is showing them how to grow food for a lifetime.

관련 자료

만일 PC, Unix, 인터넷등이 어떻게 작동하는지 기초가 궁금한 분들은 아래 페이지를 참조하시기 바랍니다.

유닉스와 인터넷 기초 (The Unix and Internet Fundamentals HOWTO)

만약 당신이 소프트웨어를 제작하거나, 소프트웨어를 위한 패치를 작성하는 경우 다음의 가이드라인을 따를 것을 검토하시기 바랍니다.

소프트웨어 배포 실전(Software Release Practice HOWTO).

감사의 말씀

Evelyn Mitchell은 “좋은 답변하는 방법”섹션에 영감을 주었고, 몇가지 멍청한 질문의 예시를 제공하였습니다. Mikhail Ramendik은 개선에 도움될 귀중한 제안들을 해주었습니다.

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