A few weeks ago, I tweeted:
General service announcement: it is written “jQuery” not “Jquery” or “JQuery”… even if it comes first in a sentence!!!! ∞
Then Saturday I put out a stronger tweet, and caught some stronger feedback for it:
Test: “If you want jQuery help, which misspelling will greatly hurt your chances: a) Jquery b) JQuery c) jquery d) All of the above. ∞
At the end of the day, does it really matter how someone writes the name “jQuery”? Does it make them a better or worse programmer based on how they type it out?
Let me clarify that I have never failed to answer a question on Stack Overflow (Where I like to hang out and answer jQuery questions) because the asker typed jQuery with incorrect capitalization. I would never fail to respond to an email because the asker wrote it as Jquery or JQuery. I would hate to be that petty an individual, and I think that is the feeling some people were picking up from my tweets.
However, I can say I notice it and it bothers me when people seeking help don’t type out the library name correctly. It really is a small thing, and maybe it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. It got me thinking about things that might negatively affect a request for help, and I came up with a list of six suggestions. I hope these suggestions are helpful when you need to ask for help with open source software.
Asking for Help
If you need help with an open source project, you will often be dealing with people that 1) don’t have a lot of time and 2) must use the time they have wisely. With that in mind, here are few suggestions that might help you get answers easier:
- Take the time to make sure your question makes sense. Complete sentences, clear code examples, and links to a page demonstrating the problem all go a long way in ensuring a quality answer.
- Run spell-check before sending your question. There are at least two reasons there would be a lot of spelling errors in a question: 1) English is not the native tongue of the person requesting help 2) The person requesting help didn’t take the time ensure a quality question. Most applications have spell check. If they don’t, you can copy and paste your question to an application that does have spell check. Reason #1 is understandable and should be overlooked; reason #2 is what will stand out most to someone reading your question. It may affect that person’s decision to answer you.
- Getting back to my original statement regarding Jquery, JQuery and jquery. Some libraries have really weird spelling or capitalizations, some are more straight forward. Write the library/plugin name correctly when asking for help with it! jQuery should be very easy, but so many people get it wrong. It is like the names iPad and iPhone: the first letter is lowercase! For another example, the popular blogging platform is WordPress, not Wordpress or Word Press.
- At the very least, run a Google/Yahoo/Bing search (pick one) with some of the words from the question you plan on asking. I almost always take time to run a few searches to answer a question myself before asking on Stack Overflow or emailing someone for help. It is just common courtesy to spend some of your time before asking for the time of someone else.
- If you find the answer yourself after asking for help, be sure to let the person know you no longer need their help. Sometimes emails will sit around until there is time to answer them while in the mean time you find the answer somewhere else. It might reduce your chance of getting future emails answered if the person who takes the time to answer your question finds out they wasted their time.
- Be respectful and kind. If an open source project is screwing up your project, you have a few choices 1) use a different project 2) pay for help 3) Ask kindly for help from the project. Notice I didn’t put “4) Demand help for free.” On a very positive note, I have to say every request I have gotten for help on the few small projects I maintain have been both respectful and kind. This is really important!
What It All Means
The bottom line is this: If it appears to someone reading your question that you have not put any time into either solving the problem yourself or writing a decent request for help, they will be less likely to put any time into answering it.
Remember, it isn’t always about just getting an answer. Sometimes its about getting the right person to answer your question. For instance, there are tons of programmers answering questions on Stack Overflow, but not all of them have equal qualifications and skill. Put in the effort up front when asking the question. It will be worth it when you get a solid answer!
Do you have any tips to add? If so, please let me know about them in the comments!