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Dealing with Difficult Forum Users - The Flip Side

Earlier I talked about dealing with the difficult forum user from the perspective of providing help.  Now let us look at from the flip side of the coin.  You are asking for help and you aren't getting what you want or need.

The first thing you have to realize is that the people who are out there willing to help do it voluntarily.  They are giving of themselves to the community for free.  There are many other things that they could be doing instead, like spending time with family and friends, or learning and developing skills to keep current with changing technologies and career development.  With this simple knowledge, you can combat the difficult forum user.

The first thing, when asking for help with a problem, post the question or problem in the appropriate forum and state the problem you are having explicitly.  Be concise yet detailed enough to be sure that anyone from the novice to the guru can understand the problem.  Doing this gives those who may respond to your question or request for help with a clear understanding of the problem at hand.  A big no-no is posting your question/problem in multiple forums on a single site.  This fragments the possible responses, and you may get multiple responses that say the same thing from different people.

Second, you need to provide as much background information as possible as well.  This means DDL for your tables (CREATE TABLE statements), sample data for the tables (Usually in the form of a INSERT ... SELECT ... UNION ALL SELECT ... statements), expected results based on the sample data, and most importantly your code that you have developed so far.  The sample data should be sufficient to show the issues and provide a decent sample for testing.  Also, the people who are willing to help are more willing if all they have to do is cut, paste, and execute the DDL and INSERT statements to create a test environment.  Remember, the more work you do up front, the more likely you will get well tested results in return.  Although some people will take the time to format poorly provided data, some people will just skip your post entirely.

Third, if you are pointed to Books Online, articles, other threads on the Forum; please take the time to read and research.  If you have problems finding the information in Books Online, come back and say so but be sure to provide information on what you were able to find, or ask what you should look under in Books Online.  With the articles and other threads on the Forum, read them and if you still have questions, ask for clarification.  The worst thing you can do is to ignore the advice.  If it was suggested, there is usually a reason.  I can tell you from experience, it is not to mean, but to help you learn where and how to look for information.  It may still not make sense, but you should hopefully be able to ask more detailed questions that help you clarify your knowledge and understanding.

Fourth, provide feedback to the community.  Wether you solve the issue yourself or use the information or code provided by someone, tell us.  If the solution is of your own devising, show us.  It may help others with a similar problem.  Also, it gives us a chance to see what you did, and perhaps help you improve it as well.

Finally, maintain your cool.  You may get some snide or obnoxious responses.  Let them go.  By maintaining a professional manner, you will demonstrate strength of character.  In addition, you may also earn additional good will from others.

Hopefully this helps when asking for questions or for help.  See you all on Forums!


Posted by Steve Jones on 5 April 2009

Excellent! Goes nicely with my editorial for Mon (4/6)

Posted by Lynn Pettis on 5 April 2009

And to think, no coordination either.  I just thought it appropriate to look at the flip side of the coin.

Posted by Roy Ernest on 6 April 2009

I usually have a problem understanding the questions put by an OP. Probably because they are way over my head... hehehehehe

Posted by Florian Reischl on 6 April 2009

You hit the nail on the head!

Am I allowed to refer people to this?

Posted by Lynn Pettis on 6 April 2009

flo, go right ahead.  That is one of the reasons I put it out here, for people to read.


Posted by Grant Fritchey on 6 April 2009

Another great post from Saint Lynn. Well done.

Posted by RBarryYoung on 6 April 2009

Another great post, Lynn!

Posted by Steve Jones on 6 April 2009

I'll get this in the newsletter as well since I think it sums things up nicely.

Posted by Jochen Vleming on 7 April 2009

Nice post,

although it seems obvious, a lot of people don't understand the way a forum works.

Posted by Howard Perry on 7 April 2009

Good articles Lynn.  IMHO, tt is especially important to emphasise that people are giving of their time and knowledge, which they could expend elsewhere.   Equally it's important to note that answers are not guaranteed to be correct and must be tested by the person posting the original query, before putting into production for example.  Thus one could say that any advice given is "unsupported".

Posted by Grumpy DBA on 7 April 2009

Well done, Lynn.

I am one of those people who do not post questions because I typically find someone else has run into the issue I am confronted with and post it in one of the forums.  The time, effort and patience exercised by those who answer and re-answer the questions is exceptional, I think I have found the answers to my issues at least 98-99% of the time.  I truly appreciate the help provided in these forums.

Posted by Lee Hoffner on 7 April 2009

I would add something to this primer:

If your boss is breathing down your neck for you to get this problem solved in the next 30 minutes, we may be able to help you. *But*, we hasten to point out that you may have a bigger problem at work than just some poorly performing SQL...


Posted by Cameron on 7 April 2009

I find the fourth point most important: provide a solution when one is found.  I don't know how many times I have read through a thread about an issue I am trying to solve, only to have the original poster end with, "Oh, I found the problem...", and not post their solution.  This is of no help to the community and can be infuriating.  Thanks for a great article Lynn!

Posted by mgambino on 7 April 2009

On many occasions I have found answers to my questions here because someone had already taken the time to help with a similar issue. Please know that it is VERY MUCH appreciated !

I hope to someday soon be in a position to help others here as I have been helped.

Thanks again.

Posted by JohnG on 8 April 2009

Well said.  I'd like to add one other thing that the poster should do BEFORE posting the question:  Search the forum(s) first.  Often someone else has encountered the same or similar problem and the analysis and/or solutions are already on the forum.

I often respond to a current post with a link to the answer/solution that was given before.

Posted by Joe Celko on 8 April 2009

The only things I would add are:

1) Follow standards in the DDL and don't go for needless dialect.  In particular clear data element names are a big help.

2) Do not post HOW you have decided to do this job; post WHAT you want done.  What posters will get instead from most replies is a kludge to get rid of them.  If this was a woodworking newsgroup and someone posted "What is the best kind of rocks to pound screws into fine furniture?" are you really helping them when you say "Granite! Use big hunks of granite!"  I am the guy who replies with "Your question is bad.  Don't you know about screwdrivers?"  And I like to remind them that it takes six years to become a Journeyman Union Carpenter in New York State.  Not Master, Journeyman.

Posted by Lynn Pettis on 8 April 2009

Unfortunately Joe, you and I will have to agree to disagree.  If you are using MS SQL Server, use T-SQL and what is available in that system.  If you are using ORACLE, use PL/SQL and what is available in that system.  Same with MySQL, or PostgreSQL, DB2, Informix, InterBase, etc.

Use the capabilities of the SQL engine you are using to maximize the performance of your system.

Posted by Steven E. Williams on 8 April 2009

As others have noted, I too have found many answers to issues by searching the forums. I have yet to post concerning a problem as someone else has typically already encountered it and a solution has been offered. And the speed with which posts are generally answered in this location is astonishing, people provide help very quickly usually.

To all of you who share so freely of your knowledge and experience a big thank you.

Posted by Jeff Moden on 16 April 2009

Sage advice from the Saint of SQLServerCentral.com.  Well done, Lynn.

I agree with what part of Joe said... don't tell us you "want to use a cursor to...".  Tell us the business task you're trying to solve, instead.  Chances are, you'll get some excellent suggestions, maybe even some code, that you never even considered.

Posted by Lynn Pettis on 16 April 2009

Jeff, you are right on the aspect of WHAT you want, not HOW you want to solve the problem.  I have to agree with Joe on that part.

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