Anatomy of a Good Question

General Ramblings comments edit

Another thing we learned in my peer mentoring class was that there are such things as stupid questions.

That sounds bad, but let's look at that: what constitutes a stupid question? Well, if you flip it around, what constitutes a good question? A good question is one in which the person asking the question has really thought the question through, they've tried to answer it themselves, and they have a good grasp on what they're asking - they've put some effort into the formulation of the question. So, then, a stupid question is when the person asking doesn't think at all about the question, they just blast it out there.

What shows me that you've thought about a question? That's different for different people, but when you ask me a question, especially if it involves me having to stop what I'm doing to answer, here's what I want to know: - Priority: Is this super-urgent, or are you just asking out of curiosity? If it's not crisis level and I'm busy, maybe you should save it for later. - Time To Answer: How long do you think it's going to take me to answer? More than two or three minutes (from the time you start asking the question to the time I finish answering) and you might want to block off some time in Outlook. - Concise Description of Problem: Can you ask the question in one or two sentences (including enough context to make the problem understandable)? If not, stop and think through what you're asking. - What You Expect: What are you looking for from me? Advice? A technical direction? Just someone to vent to? - Who Else You Asked: If you asked other people the question first, are they still working on it? Did they give you any additional information? - What You've Done: What have you done already to try to answer the question yourself? - When You Need It: Do I have to answer right now or can I get back to you?

Much of this goes hand in hand with the use of correct communication protocol. If you bug a person too much and/or in the wrong fashion, you're not going to get a great response.

I'll also throw out two more tips, specifically for people asking me questions: - Do not start your question with "I have a quick question." I'll determine if it's quick or not based on the amount of time you think you need. Instead, try "I have a one-minute question" or "I have a two-minute question." Make sure your time estimate is accurate - don't say you have a two-minute question if it's a fifteen-minute question. Don't tell me you need one minute when you really need five. - Do not show up and drop your laptop on my desk. I know you may want me to review some code or look at something. The fact that you had to bring your laptop over already tells me you're over the one-or-two-minute limit on drop-in questions and you need to schedule some time in Outlook. Nothing is more frustrating than "*bam* Hey, can you look at this?" Seriously.

I think I'm going to try this out on a larger scale. If folks at work have questions, I'm happy to answer them, as long as they're good questions.

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