Why should I care about good questions?
Sometimes you need to get an answer to a question and you may be in a hurry to get an accurate and helpful response, or you may have little resources to pay for an answer to that question. No matter what the reason is, bad questions result in bad answers and good questions result in good answers. It’s as simple as that. I have clients who hire me to get constant consulting support for their projects and if I charge 100 USD/hour, it will become expensive if you start asking bad questions. A bad question can end up in you wasting these 100 USD completely.
But what is a good question? How do you manage to make it easier for someone to answer? There are a few principles you have to consider for this.
Good question principles
Pretend you are asking this question to Bill Gates
What if you could make Bill Gates answer any question you want for free, knowing he is extremely busy? Would you take the risk to do it quickly? Would you take the time to be as accurate as possible, giving clear details? Would you take the risk to make grammatical errors? Do you think Bill Gates won’t be able to see the lack of effort and the huge disrespect for his time if you do it wrong? If you don’t like Bill Gates, pretend that you are asking the question to the most important person in the world. You are free to choose who that person is.
Pretend that you have only one unique opportunity to ask the question
This is the same as point 1, but I need to give a lot of weight to this concept. If you are receiving the answer for free, you need to respect people’s time. And if you are paying for someone to answer the question, you need to respect your wallet. If you have only one chance to ask a question, and if you fail, the question will never be answered, what kind of methodology would you use to be completely sure you are doing it right?
Show what you have done
Do you know how valuable it is to explain what you have done to answer the question yourself? Wait… have you even tried to answer it yourself? Did you google it? Did you try a few solutions? If you didn’t, well try at least for a few minutes. In some cases, you will find the answer, in other cases you will just get material to ask a better question. The worst thing you can do, is to see a problem, and without even thinking about it, immediately getting someone for help. This is a recipe for a bad question.
Do your best to use good grammar
Ok, I know I’m not an English native and I make mistakes myself, and making a few grammar errors is not so terrible. But if you want a good answer, or any answer at all, do your best. Just do your best. Read your question again before sending it to be sure that what you did is the best that you can do.
A question without context is generally impossible to understand. Introduce your problem. What are you trying to achieve? Why are you trying to achieve it? Write all this in the beginning of your message. Be specific. Remember people cannot read your mind, so assume the other person doesn’t know anything about your context.
Add necessary documentation
Are you referencing a document? Attach it. Is this a technical question related to coding? Add your code. Is this question related to a simulation model? Attach the simulation model. Is there data involved? Show the data. Don’t assume the person who will answer your question has all the documentation, or remembers it.
So, let’s see different questions with different quality levels. Let’s assume you are preparing rice and your rice ends up moisty and sticky. You need to know what you are doing wrong. Let’s also assume I need to answer the question immediately without asking for clarification.
Extremely bad question
Hi, I’m doing food and it doesn’t work. Tell me why?
Believe me or not, this kind of question happens all the time. Talking about food assuming I know that the food is rice. Telling me it doesn’t work assuming I know exactly what they did. This is a zero-effort question that generally deserves to be ignored.
To answer this question, I have to do some research on websites with recipes, cooking courses, cooking blogs and videos and cooking books with good reviews. It will take me several hours to answer this question and the information that I will provide will be probably useless to the person asking.
Very bad question
Hi, I am doing rice and it’s not turning out as planned. What should I do?
Same as before, but at least they talk about rice. But no information whatsoever. I have to guess what the problem is and how they are cooking the rice. The most I can do here, is to do some research on rice-cooking courses, blogs, books. Too much information for a problem that is extremely easy to solve if I had all the information.
Hi, my rice works but I can’t make it nicely done and good consistency.
This is an example of an email that was quickly written without any consideration of the grammar and without re-reading it. It will take me 15 minutes or more to understand what the question is about. Then I will try to guess, because I have no idea. I will end up doing the same thing I did in the previous example wasting many hours finding rice-related content.
Hi, I tried to do the rice according to my specifications and it ended up being moisty. What do you think the problem is?
Finally! some information. But did this person attach the specifications? If not, how could I know what he is doing? At least I get info about the rice being moisty and I can answer that two cups of water must be used for one cup of rice. But what kind of rice are they using? Maybe it’s another type of rice that requires different amount of water. So, my answer might be misleading and end up being not only a lot of wasted time, but also, I might end up being blamed by a new error in the rice.
Hi, I have been trying to cook rice without success. I am using the recipe available at the following website: https://www.greatrice.com and they say I should use 2 cups of water for 1 cup of rice and I did that in 2 different opportunities. The rice ends up being moisty and not tasty at all. I am using normal water for the sink that I boil in my water heater (I am attaching the specifications of my water heater if needed). I purchased sticky rice from the sushi store in front of my house (www.stickyrice.com). They sell only one type of rice that is clearly shown in their website. I also tried to use different amounts of water getting different bad results. I also use my electric kitchen at low temperature for 20 minutes. Please see attached a picture of the rice before and after cooking.
Maybe even more details can be added to this message, but among all the information, I can immediately pinpoint the problem: using sticky rice instead of normal rice. I spent 1 minute reading the email and one minute answering the email. Only 2 minutes spent compared to several hours in the very bad question example. Why? Because there was effort put in the question. The person who wrote the question followed all the 6 points that I propose to ask a good question and it’s going to pay off. The answer will be fast and cheap. So, why would you ask your questions in any different way? Seriously… why would you?
The concept is really simple, but will you make the effort?
- If you want free answers, do it
- If you want to save money, do it even more
- If you need a quick answer… DO IT!!!
- If you have infinite money to pay for answers, you are not in a hurry, you think your time is too precious to waste it in asking questions and you don’t care about getting the best possible answers… then you wouldn’t be reading this… so just do it!