When I was working for a very large company, we had an intranet site where any employee could document any procedure (for those of you who know IBM I'm referring to Connections). With 400,000+ employees around the world, this could be very hard to use.

I had been reprimanded for asking too many questions so I tried only using the documentation without consulting anyone.

I had to install MS Office on one computer and get the licensing for it, but I messed things up because the documentation I was following was for a different country. There was nothing indicating it was for a different country and to this day I'm not sure what I could have done differently.

What can I do to make sure that my questions are appropriate and not to frequent?


1 Answer 1


I suggest you start by using a technique called Rubber Duck Problem Solving. The idea is that you ask yourself the question you are going to ask someone else first. You try and answer your question, usually by asking yourself the important questions about the details. Then try to find the answer to the questions you asked and did not know. This process helps you solve your own problems many times, and reduces the amount of time you need to take from others when you do have to consult them.

Jeff Atwood wrote about this topic on Coding Horror in 2012

The critical part of rubber duck problem solving is to totally commit to asking a thorough, detailed question of this imaginary person or inanimate object. Yes, even if you end up throwing the question away because you eventually realize that you made some dumb mistake. The effort of walking an imaginary someone through your problem, step by step and in some detail, is what will often lead you to your answer. But if you aren't willing to put the effort into fully explaining the problem and how you've attacked it, you can't reap the benefits of thinking deeply about your own problem before you ask others to.

And then when asking the question provide the following information:

  • Describe what's happening in sufficient detail that we can follow along. Provide the necessary background for us to understand what's going on, even if we aren't experts in your particular area.
  • Tell us why you need to know the answer. What led you here? Is it idle curiosity or somehow blocking you on a project? We don't require your whole life story, just give us some basic context for the problem.
  • Share any research you did towards solving your problem, and what you found, if anything. And if you didn't do any research – should you even be asking?
  • Ultimately, this is about fairness: if you're going to ask us to spend our valuable time helping you, it's only fair that you put in a reasonable amount of your valuable time into crafting a decent question. Help us help you!

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