PSA: make it easier to help you

Could you be specific in how you would make this post more humble/warm? I’m afraid that I’m failing to see the issue.

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I have to disagree. A short straight to the point instructions are the best. Nobody (meaning me) will read long text, just bullet points and bolded text. I suggest that we will make a link to nicer longer version and keep this one as short as possible. Then people who won’t mind reading long text can click one extra time and find the longer and friendlier blog post about the topic.

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This is my main concern too, and the reason why I have been trying to keep this wiki as short as possible.

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Nobody (meaning me) will read long text, just bullet points and bolded text.

Ah, I meant in discussions/question threads in general but I guess that applies to this too.

I can understand that you wouldn’t want to read that, but then again, I hope that we wouldn’t have to direct you to this page either because you know how things work (here). Also, until you revise your post it’s basically on hiatus so you have all the time in the world to read a bit of text, if you are really in such a hurry.

A short straight to the point instructions are the best.

I assume this is the source of our disagreement. If my goal was to get something resolved as fast as possible I’d agree, but in this case I think it plays second fiddle.

My thought process goes something like this:
If you post a “bad” question, you probably either

  1. are too lazy to do it right (I won’t care about you right now)
  2. don’t know how to do it right, most likely because you are new here. I’m mostly concerned with these people.

So, you have a problem you don’t have an answer to and come to this forum, maybe even muster up the courage to do so if you are young or don’t feel comfortable in such a setting. You don’t know what you are doing so your post gets the not-good-enough stamp and you get sent here.

Then I think it’s good to have explained to you

  • Hello and welcome, first of all.
  • We’d like to help you but you need to help us to do so.
  • Don’t worry, this is normal.
  • We don’t mean to be rude or have anything against you, still we need you to revise your post.

Keep in mind, this page is the first impression mostly new users get from the Julia Discourse. This is why I think

people who won’t mind reading long text can click one extra time and find the longer and friendlier blog post about the topic.

this is the wrong way to go and catering to the wrong audience. People who are discussing here and want things to go streamlined, quick and simple are not the ones who’ll get sent here. For those who will be sent here, being extra friendly and welcoming trumps getting the information out as quickly as possible. They’ll learn soon enough but a first impression sticks.

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I am questioning the implicit assumption in your argument that linking to this page can be construed as impolite, rude, or offensive.

Getting a few friendly words is always nice in a new community. But the very act of being helped by strangers who are, in most cases, donating their own time to help should be understood as a friendly gesture to begin with.

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Hi Tapas :wave:

Just to reiterate, I fully support the content of your post. I think you give some good practical advice that would help people with questions make both their lives and the lives of those trying to help better. No issue with the content. It’s great :+1:

It is just something about the tone that feels ever so slightly off to my overly sensitive ears. Hard to put my finger on it. It is not bad by any means, but your comment here:

But the very act of being helped by strangers who are, in most cases, donating their own time to help should be understood as a friendly gesture to begin with.

also sets my senses tingling slightly. It sounds like you’re saying that dedicating your time to answering questions already breaches a “friendly enough” threshold so you’ve done your job.

The scenario I have in my mind is:

  • Someone hears about Julia, downloads it, tries “1+1” and then goes a step further and gets stuck. They come here looking for help.

For these people, this forum is their first touch with the Julia community and you may (I suspect often the case) be the first Julia expert they come into contact with. As such, I think there is some additional responsibility there as a community steward. Maybe even something as simple as what Karajan suggested with a warm greeting or something might help with the tone. Maybe I am looking for empathy?

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I belong to a similar community managed by RStudio and they have a pinned “Welcome to the RStudio community” post. I’m going to copy it, because I believe some people might refer to something like this.


**Getting help**
If you need help, your job is to make it as easy as possible for others to help you. If you’re having problems with R code the most important thing to do is create a minimal reproducible example, or reprex for short. If you’ve never heard of reprexes before, please start at http://www.tidyverse.org/help/#reprex 488.

If you have code that runs but doesn’t give the right answer, do your best to clearly state what you expected to see. A quick sketch can often be hugely helpful.

Even if you don’t know exactly what you want, a reprex is still helpful - you can use it to sketch out your data and give helpers a running start.

Sometimes it can be hard to make a good reprex. That’s ok! Don’t let it stop you from asking a question — just be prepared to work on feedback on your reprex before you get substantive help on your problem.

**Giving help**
When giving help, your job is to put yourself in the shoes of the person having the problem. It’s really frustrating when something goes wrong, and it can be hard to ask help. A little empathy goes a long way!

Don’t think that because you’re new to R that you can’t help answering questions. You might feel like you don’t know much about R in general, but you may know enough to answer one question. And even if you don’t know the answer, you can help out by making a better reprex.

It can be frustrating to answer the same problem that you’ve already seen hundreds of times before. Remember: just because it isn't new to you, it doesn’t mean that it’s not new to other people. If you're tired of talking about X, sit this one out or think strategically about how to make it less of a problem. Please don’t take out your frustration on the person asking the question.

**Accepting help**
Please remember to mark the answer, which solves your particular challenge. It makes it a lot easier for future help seekers to quickly identify the correct answer in what potentially can be a long thread with numerous iterations of the challenge. This will make the forum much more attractive for future users and the more we are to help, the better.

The moderators in that community almost always respond with “Please provide a reprex”, and the tone, as far as I can tell, is usually helpful and friendly. I don’t hang out there as much as in here, but I think pinning a welcome post would be helpful to set up expectations.

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That is great :+1:

The common word in that :point_up: and my last response is “empathy”. In addition to guidance on “Getting help”, we might also need some guidance “Giving help”.

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But I do agree with the general sentiment from @Tamas_Papp, which is: “Make it easy for the community to help you, because we’re not paid to do this”. I don’t think that’s particularly rude and I do see questions posted here that vague and unclear, or require a ton of work to answer.

I don’t know if there’s really a “solution” for this, because you also have to take into account that we come from different languages and cultures. I know from experience that a German giving you street directions is completely different from a Colombia or and American. And those cultural differences also transpire in public forums.

Anyway, I do appreciate all the times I asked for help and gotten a response. And I’ve learned a lot just by hanging out here and reading posts. This is a great, welcoming community.

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I don’t think of giving help here as a job to get done with — if I did not want to do it, I could just stop answering questions here at any point.

But yes, I think that being polite and helpful, and of course adhering to the community standards is sufficient.

People should feel free to go beyond this, but I don’t believe that this should be required. Also, it is no accident that the community standards tell you to “be concise”. Most of the discussions here are highly technical, and I think that there are trade-offs between being very warm and welcoming and getting something solved quickly. @Karajan suggests that newcomers would prefer the former; and while I am sure that some people do, I am not convinced though about this in general.

I think that @alejandromerchan raises an important point about cultural differences. I imagine that there are individual differences, too, in what people expect and are prepared to provide. As long as everyone is civil, respecting these differences is also part of being inclusive.

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I really like the tone of the PSA, and think it strikes the right balance of helpfulness and conciseness. I agree that terseness can occasionally come across as unfriendly, or ‘tone-deaf’, but I definitely do not sense that being the case here.

Perhaps one could add a ‘Welcome’ or ‘We apologize for the inconvenience’ at the top, but that’s about it.

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Just my two cents:

First, being efficient is in my opinion important. This is a community of (almost exclusively) engineers and scientists so I personally would totally accept a little bit less friendliness in favour of effectiveness :wink: of course both do not exclude each other per se…

Second, I really love this place here and I think that the tone is perfectly fine and quite friendly given the thoughts above.

The only moments I felt that the tone was a bit more harsh than usual were responses to posts where users put something like “Not working” in the title and then post a non-formatted block of code without asking anything. We are still humans and I totally agree with people kind of freaking out when someone is looking for help and don’t even invest half a minute to describe their own problem.

That being said, I like this PSA and I would have never thought that this or referring to this is considered to be “rude” in any kind of sense, really. I don’t want to be inpolite, but I think we have more important problems to spend our time on than on such a detail quibble… maybe I am wrong, at least it’s in “meta” :wink:

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Hm… do we agree on the premise that most people how get sent here are not regulars, maybe even joined recently or are here the first time? Because if that’s the case I don’t really think this has to be true:

Most first time posts seem to be of the “I can’t install this package” or “please help with this error” type; the technical discussion you’ll have with regulars who know how this place works and what people are like here (and will appreciate the conciseness because it moves things forward). So you can be both welcoming (and slow) to new-comers and concise and direct (and fast) to people who’ve been around.

In general, I feel like I imagine very different people being sent to this page.
To me it seems (and please correct me if I’m wrong) you guys are thinking about: almost exclusively adults, maybe students or PhDs or being employed as engineers etc., more or less fluent in English, well versed in technical discussions, and comfortable around strangers (in this kind of setting). This seems to be the demography of this Discourse, more or less. But I think these people need the least help with their questions.
I think about pretty much everybody not in that category:
Younger people, people who have to rely on Google Translator to ask questions, people who are starting out with programming or technical computing, people who feel uncomfortable having to ask questions or maybe are afraid of being ridiculed for their perceived ignorance.
Especially for these people I don’t think

holds. Probably not rude, but maybe intimidating, discouraging, distant. On a rational level I agree of course, but on an emotional level (which in this case is the important one) this can come across much differently.

I think Eric hit it on the head when talking about empathy.
For example, just these pieces from the RStudio piece change the tone significantly, IMO:

Sometimes it can be hard to make a good reprex. That’s ok! Don’t let it stop you from asking a question […]

And to be honest, I’m quite surprised by the pushback against being friendlier to people, especially those who are not yet a core of this community? Do you really feel being nicer is such a burdon on the individual people or hinders answering questions so much?

To me, the tone makes much of the community and sets it apart from a mechanical question-answer site. But then again, people might have different expectations of a forum like this.

This came up as one point in a discussion about the general tone on Discourse. Not sure if it makes sense to post the slack link here in case people want to read that thread?

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One simple improvement I’d suggest: changing the title from “PSA: make it easier to help you” to “PSA: Help us to help you!” The latter 1) says that we want to help, 2) invites the person asking for help to put themself in the answerer’s shoes, and 3) emphasizes that we are participating in a community with reciprocal obligations to be helpful and empathetic to each other.

Another change: I’d suggest rewriting the first paragraph to read something like:

Welcome to the Julia Discourse! People in this community are very enthusiastic about helping each other, whether you are a beginning programmer or an experienced Julian. When asking for help, please follow these simple tips–they make it much easier for others to help you, and make it much more likely you’ll get a quick and useful answer:

Only 40 characters longer, but it changes the framing from “fellow experts, here’s something you can copy and paste into a response to a n00b” to “you are welcome as part of this community, we want to help, but we need a little help to do that.”

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I think that at this point in the discussion it would be best if people who felt this way would speak up themselves. Again, all I see is that many newbies :heart: this page; you suggest that they are the minority, which is of course possible but we don’t have any data on this, not even anecdotal.

Also, I have to admit that I have a very hard time bending my mind around the idea that being referred to this page is somehow intimidating or discouraging. In most discussions, people just do what is suggested (quote their code, provide an MWE, a stacktrace, etc), then the community helps them find a solution when one is feasible, or report an issue. I even see some people making a PR that resolves the problem within a day. I consider that amazing.

FWIW, I find the idea that newbies showing up here with questions are overly sensitive and primarily in need of empathy (instead of technical solutions) somewhat patronizing. I think that they are adventurous spirits exploring a new territory, and just need a bit of technical help and orientation along the way.

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I would suggest we break off the first post from the rest. There is a lot of discussion in which the visitors who are here to read the wiki might or might not be interested. It detracts (distracts) from the intent of the wiki.

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This post is a really excellent resource. I do agree it would be a nicety to rephrase the introduction ever so slightly at the cost of an extra sentence or two. (I also agree with a few comments that suggest the jargon “PSA” is confusing, I think that could just be removed from the title.)

How would people express their discomfort though if they did have any? There’s really no way to represent emotional response on discourse other than posting a message in words and that’s a fair effort. So having a :heart: as the only low-effort response guarantees an extremely biased sample.

What you have here is some feedback from longer term members of the community that they think this post could be made to appear friendlier to newbies with certain personality types. Do with that what you will :smiley:

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I don’t think anyone’s saying that it’s bad to refer people to this page. On the contrary, everyone seems to agree it is an excellent, useful, helpful resource. The only quibbles are about the tone—which might seem like a secondary concern, but I think is really important in a post like this, which will be seen mostly by newcomers to Julia who are already confused about something or other. And as Julia grows, those people will increasingly be newcomers to programming, rather than early adopters emigrating from another programming language. What better time to do a little editorial fine-tuning to make sure they feel welcome?

Who says having an adventurous spirit, a need for concise technical help, and a desire for empathy are mutually exclusive? :wink:

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For context, a beginner’s perspective: A year ago I stopped asking questions on this forum because I felt bad that I wasn’t good enough at programming. I was mainly having difficulty formatting my code into a MWE since I was using a different version of Julia and my packages couldn’t easily be loaded into JuliaBox. I felt scolded, especially when lots of veterans would “like” posts where I was being chastised. I appreciate this thread as a means to reconcile interpersonal relations between beginners and veterans.

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I think it’s nice to be able search for posts that start with “PSA”, so I’d like for that to remain in the title. It’s very convenient, and I don’t see the harm.