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"Finding Answers in Newsgroups" 
  05/15/2002

Finding answers in newsgroups

Learning to program? Or perhaps you are having trouble with Linux. With almost any type of question, there is a corresponding newsgroup with hundreds of people willing and able to help. The only problem is finding the appropriate group that can help and following the guidelines set up for that community. While it would be impossible to list the guidelines for all groups, there are some general purpose ideas you can use for most of them.

To begin, you will need to locate the group that is most appropriate for the topic you are interested in. While there are some topics that have only a single group, there are many  topics that have multiple groups and choosing the right one can be the difference between a quick and precise answer and none at all. For instance, if you are learning Linux, you would not be wise to spend time in a group that deals with newbie questions when you are interested in dealing with kernel development. If you were to post your question in the wrong group, you might receive a great deal of insulting replies (or flames) to your post. Therefore, it’s important to spend a small amount of time reading and researching groups before posting. This leads us directly to the next topic.

Now that you have found your appropriate forum, and read a few posts, you may think you are ready to post your own question. However, you should take a moment to get a little more familiar with the group. There are FAQs and HOWTOs for most groups and you would be very wise to read them carefully. Often, the question you have has already been asked and answered and then listed for everyone to read. This keeps the groups from being inundated with the same requests and allows everyone to focus on new topics.

Now that you have read the HOWTOs and FAQs, you can finally get down to writing your own post. One of the things that are helpful for others reading your post is to list everything that you have done. For example, suppose you are posting in a Visual Basic group about trying to get use DirectX in VB.NET. You could mention that you already searched the Microsoft Developer Network and have read about the topic at xyz web site. You can even list specific information such as the lines of code that are giving you problems. Just remember to keep your post to the point and easy to follow so that others in the group will be more likely to help you.

Another thing to avoid is the use of slang in your posts. Avoid using abbreviations as well, because “u" and “bcuz" aren’t really that much small than “you" and “because". This will help the reader to follow the post, and making their job easier is the key to getting responses to your problem. If the reader has to spend several minutes simply deciphering what you are trying to say, they are likely to move to the next message without responding. It’s worth mentioning that you should also avoid “ALL CAPITALS" as this is considered shouting and people will often respond in an unfriendly way to this.

Once you have posted, wait for a response. Avoid repeatedly asking the question or posting in multiple newsgroups. Everyone that reads the post already knows you are in need of help. Reminding them too often will not help you get an answer to your problem and will probably cause you more grief in the long run. After you have found the problem, or another individual has helped you with it, you should post a final message letting everyone know what finally resulted in fixing it. The others in the group will benefit from it and the people that help will appreciate some acknowledgement and even a simple “thank you".

 - by Clayton Crooks

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