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design technology

How to Ask a Tech Question So You Get the Answer You Need

ask a tech question
Help!

I run a largish WordPress group on Facebook (WordPress Designers with 2500+ members) with two fellow admins. Although our focus is design, we get a lot of questions that require some technical/coding answers.

One thing I’ve noticed is how much faster members will receive useful answers if they know how to ask the question.

There are many people willing to help but don’t understand your problem. Half of getting to the right solution is framing the question correctly.

So here are my tips for asking a technical question about a web design, so that you get an answer that’s quick and accurate.

1. Help Yourself

Do the Google thing. Learn enough about what’s going on with your situation, and how your website is set up, that you can frame the question. Try to learn whether the problem has to do with your theme, your plugins, your CSS stylesheet, your host, or what-have-you.

If you are attempting to work as a professional web designer, learn HTML and CSS. You should know enough about the code to be able to try to fix the problem yourself. Reach out for help when you are truly stuck.

Programmers have a thing called rubber duck debugging: explain your problem, line-by-line, to the duck as if it knows nothing about coding; sometimes a solution comes to you as you try to explain the problem.

2. Find the Right Forum

There are countless places to ask a tech question. On Facebook alone, there are dozens of WordPress groups. There’s one for beginners, intermediate users, and advanced coders. There are groups about specific aspects of creating a WordPress site: one for plugins, one for hosting, one for security, one for page speed optimization. There are WordPress groups in many languages and for narrow geographical regions. There are even groups for specific WordPress themes and frameworks.

Outside of Facebook, there are multiple channels in Reddit, Stack Exchange, WordPress.org, etc.

Most of these groups try to keep conversation focused to their niche. They are trying to build a community around a particular topic or theme. Questions that are inappropriate for a stated niche, or in a language the admins don’t understand, are often discouraged in a highly-focused group.

3. Read the Group Descriptions and Rules

Respect the community by understanding it and following the stated guidelines.

4. Tell Us Your Goal and What You Already Tried

You already know what you’ve tried, and the context of your problem, and what you’re hoping to achieve. Someone trying to help you solve the problem won’t know these things unless you tell them. If you tell us you’ve already tried A, B, and C, and the results were D, we can save a lot of time suggesting solutions. We can also get further clues as to what the cause may be.

Another benefit to explaining what you’ve already tried is that the person helping you gets a sense of your level of competency in coding, configuration, what have you. This helps them word the answer to match your skill level.

Finally, people just want to see that you’ve already put some effort into it.

5. Give Us a Link

If a site is live, giving us a link right off the bat allows us to look at the code. This saves us the trouble of asking for a link.

If a site is not live, try giving us a snippet of code in your question if you think it’s relevant.

6. Give Us Screenshots

If you are trying to achieve something in your front-end design, providing a screenshot of the area in question is super helpful too. Make sure that your question is as clear as possible with visuals. This is especially useful if you don’t know the industry-standard term for that doohicky.

To take a screenshot on the Mac, press Cmd+Shift+4, then drag out a rectangle around the area. The image will appear on the Desktop.

There are a variety of tools available on the PC to take screenshots, such as Snagit. One popular Chrome browser extension is Capture Webpage Screenshot – FireShot.

7. Be Respectful At All Times

It’s best to assume that if you’re not getting the answer you need, you haven’t asked the question right yet. Don’t be a jerk to someone if their free advice wasn’t helpful. 🙂


Finally, don’t spam multiple forums at once with the same question. If you pick the best forum for your question and frame your question the right way, you will probable get help soon enough.

And if you do get good help (or even before you need it), stick around and give back to the community. People are more willing to go out of their way for someone who is also giving and helpful.

Good luck!

By Dawn Pedersen

Science advocate, web designer, educator, artist, and mommy.

10 replies on “How to Ask a Tech Question So You Get the Answer You Need”

This seems clear, very useful and respectful.
I wonder if designers/coders have really good eyesight. Grey text is difficult for my tired eyes to read.

This is so right on point! I work for a web host company and the main problem is that users do not provide the full details or info so we can be efficient and 50% of the time is actually spent on getting the info from them drop by drop until we are able to see the full picture.

I would add that us programmers live a world of far too much information. We are used to it, we like it even, so you trying extra hard to give us 300% TOO MUCH information about the problem will help get it fixed that much faster. What programmers need from you to help fix things is as much CONTEXT as you have. Invite our addled brains into your specific world and problem, and we’d love to help as much as we can. Overwhelm us with all your information that relates to the issue. We can take it. It is what we’re good at, we spend our lives sifting through mountains of data to find the truth. If you give us too much info, we’ll politely let you know. 90% of the time you won’t be able to overload us, and we appreciate the care and attention you gave the issue, like you actually want help solving it.

For Windows users, there’s also a built in screenshot program called the “Snipping Tool” if you need to capture something that’s not in Chrome and don’t want to pay for Snagit (I love Snagit, though, it’s great for all kinds of projects).

Here’s the how-to from Microsoft on how to use the Snipping tool:
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/use-snipping-tool-capture-screen-shots

This takes a separate installation and may make files that are too large for sharing, but if you want to capture a sequence of events this is a free screen capture gif maker:
http://wptavern.com/how-to-use-licecap-to-record-and-turn-screen-captures-into-animated-gifs

Unfortunately from my experience: the more detailed my question the less replies I get!

If I write any more than 6 lines I usually don’t get ANY reply.
So adding to the question some of the steps you suggest seems to be counterproductive. I’ve asked on WordPress.org around 45 questions, only 7 of which were resolved, over 30 never received a single reply! These are either very technical, or I had included a list of steps I had tried already… 🙁

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