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Guidelines for students and helpers

  1. Sep 12, 2012 #1


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    The guidelines below will help you avoid some common obstacles to getting help.

    Executive Summary
    1. Choose an appropriate thread title.
    2. Use the homework template.
    3. Reproduce the problem statement accurately.
    4. Show us that you've thought about the problem.
    5. Do not simply post images of the problem statement or your work.
    6. Don't post poor images.
    7. Make your post easy to read and follow.

    1. Choose an appropriate thread title.
      When you request help, the thread title is the first thing potential helpers will see, so you want to choose a good one to draw the attention of homework helpers with the relevant knowledge and experience. The title should convey the area of study involved and the nature of the problem. Non-descriptive thread titles can earn you a warning or infraction.

      Single word titles, like Circuit, are too broad and vague. Titles like Help needed! or Check this for me say nothing about the actual content or expertise required. Begging for help (Help me please!!!) or immediate assistance (Urgent!!!) don't come across well: such threads may be ignored entirely by some as a matter of principle.

    2. Use the homework template.
      Physics Forums requires the use for the homework template because it provides a structure to help you organize your thoughts, include necessary information, make your request clear to the helpers. If you don't have enough to fill out the template, you shouldn't be posting yet.

    3. Reproduce the problem statement accurately.
      Type the problem statement exactly as worded. If you're only asking about one part of a long problem, it may not be necessary to type up the entire problem, but you need to ensure you've provided the proper context for the sub-problem. If you paraphrase or summarize, make sure you're not changing the meaning or omitting important information. It's very frustrating trying to help with a problem only to discover that critical information is missing.

      In addition to the typed version, you may want to attach a scan or electronic copy of the problem statement. Please do not do this instead of typing up the statement. Posting image, while convenient for you, can be troublesome for others, especially if they're trying to view the thread on a phone or tablet. Enhance your chances of getting replies by helping out the helpers.

    4. Show us that you've thought about the problem.
      The forum rules require that you show an attempt at solving the problem on your own for several reasons. First, we're not here to do your homework for you. You're the one taking the class, so you need to do the work. Second, we need to see where you're getting stuck so we know how to help you. Third, you'll learn more by making a bona fide attempt at solving the problem, and then asking specific, targeted questions to clear up points of confusion. Finally, we want you to develop learning skills you need to succeed in all of your classes. You have to be able to get past the "I have no clue" phase on your own.

      Note that we're not necessarily looking for you to offer a partial solution to the problem; we want to know what you're thinking so we can identify and clear up any misconceptions or points of confusion.

      Here are some suggestions to avoid common mistakes:

      • Don't simply write "I have no clue," "I have no idea where to start," or "I'm completely lost." These phrases often indicate a student hasn't put much effort into reading and understanding their textbook and notes. The helpers aren't here to answer your questions so you don't have to read your book. We get that some people say this even though they've put in the effort. If this is you, please heed the next bit of advice.

      • Don't say "I tried for hours and didn't get anywhere." This is really no better than saying "I have no clue." It tells us absolutely nothing about where you're getting stuck. If you tried for hours, you must have some thoughts about the problem. What are they? Show us what you tried and explain why you think it was wrong. Better yet, identify what's confusing you and ask specific questions to help you figure things out. Provide a meaningful response to avoid wasting everyone's time. The helpers should't have to draw out information from you that you could have and should have offered in the first place.

      • Don't say "I tried X but I got the wrong answer. What did I do wrong?" Quite often, the approach sounds correct, but the problem lies in the execution. Even if you tell us the answer you got, it is little help in figuring out where your attempt went awry. We can't help you find these mistakes without seeing your work in detail. Also, sometimes what you mean by X and what the helper thinks X means are different. Again, seeing the details of your work will remove this ambiguity.

    5. Do not simply post images of the problem statement or your work.
      Please make the effort to type up the problem statement and your work. Ask yourself "If I can't be bothered to spend my time typing it, why should they be bothered to spend their time reading it, much less responding to it?" Use images for supporting figures. You may, of course, attach an electronic copy of the problem statement in addition to the typed version. Indeed, if it's a complicated or long problem, you probably should, but you should always provide a typed version as well.

      We get that posting images may be convenient for you, but you should recognize that it's actually one of the most effective ways of getting your thread ignored. People often post images that are too big, too small, rotated, upside down, out of focus, too dim, or of otherwise poor quality. Your handwriting, moreover, may not be as easy to read as you think it is. Even when images are readable, they often make viewing and responding to a thread very inconvenient, particularly on a mobile device. Moreover, they're a hindrance to the helpers as portions of the problem statement or your work can't easily be quoted.

      Still not convinced? Think about it from the perspective of the helpers. There are a lot of people looking for help. Student 1 takes a minute to post a dim, blurry, and sideways image taken with a phone while Student 2 spends five minutes to type up and present the same work clearly. Who appears to value your time and help more, Student 1 or Student 2? Whom would you rather help?

    6. Don't post poor images.
      When you do include an image with your post, please make sure it's in focus, oriented the right way, well lit, etc. It seems like this should be obvious, but experience has shown that people frequently post laughably poor images. Add images as attachments to the post. Don't host it externally. That way they will remain on PF indefinitely, and your thread will remain useful to future visitors.

    7. Make your post easy to read and follow.
      You're more likely to get responses if prospective helpers don't have to decipher what you wrote, so here are some suggestions:

      • Format your post. Use paragraphs and separate them with blank lines. Take advantage of the forum's typesetting features, and use LaTeX for mathematics. (There's a good tutorial on LaTeX here.) But don't use large, bold, or colored type to draw attention to your question. We can read the normal font just fine.

      • Follow standard conventions when writing mathematical expressions. In particular, use parentheses where necessary. Don't make us have to guess what you really meant to say.

      • Use proper English. Please use proper grammatical structure, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling to express your ideas as clearly as possible and to maintain the quality of the posts on the forum. Grammatical and spelling errors littering a post can be quite distracting and make it hard to read, and in the worst case, these errors can obscure the meaning of what you wanted to say. Don't use of txt-speak, which many find grating, and properly punctuate contractions. "Im here where r u?" might be appropriate when texting your friend, but it's not acceptable on Physics Forums.

        Like it or not, the way you write influences how people see you, and it can affect the willingness of others to help you. Many of the people helping out here are professors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals, so presenting yourself as literate and educated are not things to be avoided. You're more likely to get responses when take the time to craft a well written post.

      • Proofread. Despite your best efforts, mistakes will inevitably slip through — a typo here, a missing tag there. It never hurts to check over what you wrote for errors and to fix them. It's a very good habit to get into in general (and can help you avoid embarrassing yourself).

        Preview your post before submitting it. Make sure it looks the way you expect. Fix obvious errors, like broken tags. After you submit your post, reread it one more time in its entirety to see it makes sense, especially if you did a lot of editing while composing your post.

        If you find a mistake, click on the Edit button which appears in the bottom left corner of your post. The ability to edit a post is temporary, so don't put it off. Avoid replying to your own post with corrections because some helpers might skip over your thread when it looks like someone has already replied.

    On helping with questions
    Any and all assistance given to homework assignments or textbook style exercises should be given only after the questioner has shown some effort in solving the problem. If no attempt is made, please report the post. Optionally, ask the questioner to show some attempt before providing assistance. Under no circumstances should complete solutions be provided, whether or not an attempt has been made.

    Also, please recognize that sometimes students need time to think about a problem. Resist the urge to offer additional hints or to reveal more steps just because students doesn't respond to a post as quickly as you think they should. Similarly, if students respond too quickly claiming they don't understand the advice given, they probably haven't really thought about it. Give them time to think about what was said.

    Additional Resources

    Full Forum Rules: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/physics-forums-global-guidelines.414380/
    LaTeX FAQ: https://www.physicsforums.com/help/latexhelp/
    Troubleshooting FAQ: https://www.physicsforums.com/help/noanswer/
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2015
  2. jcsd
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