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Insights Very Little Excuse To Ask A Question Cold - Comments

  1. Aug 12, 2014 #1
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2017 #2


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    Interesting article. Makes some good points. I actually found PhysicsForums, because I was searching for an answer to something on Google, and it pointed to me to one of the forums here.
  4. Apr 28, 2017 #3

    Fervent Freyja

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    There are people in this world that exist with cognitive limitations, such as autism, mental health issues, or learning difficulties- they are also likely to post these questions that annoy others. There are also many that haven't had the opportunity to make it through primary or middle education. And remember, many posting are minors and may not have been taught how to find information yet. They don't deserve to be beaten down on the first post they make on here. English may not even be their native language, and they may simply not understand how to find information. I'm not saying that most of them aren't just being lazy, I agree most should know better, but there are going to be many that post simple questions that fall into the above categories. To respond the way that I've seen on here to people like that, before assessing why they are asking such elementary questions and don't fall into the above categories, is incredibly cruel.

    I'm happy for you all that don't have to deal with those problems.

    At least they are showing a small interest in science. People should look at those sort of posts as an opportunity to teach them how to be more independent and help them, instead of personally attacking and yelling at them. There is such a thing as being firm but kind.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2017
  5. Apr 28, 2017 #4


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    It's also inappropriate. The right thing to do when you see an ill-formed or substandard post is to report it and let us mentors handle it; anything else nearly always turns into more work for us.
  6. Apr 28, 2017 #5


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    You make valid points, and please believe me, the Mentors try to be understanding and deal gently with special cases like those.

    It takes some experience and some guesswork to figure out why a new poster is showing no effort, but we do try to handle such cases in a constructive way, and we have definitely adjusted our response with some users as we find out that they are dealing with some learning disabilities.

    Pretty much every user, no matter what their ability starting out here, can benefit from learning to do more research on their own before posting a great thread start (with lots of details, links to previous reading, specific questions based on that reading, etc.). One of our biggest goals here is to help folks learn how to learn (no matter what their level or ability). :smile:
  7. Apr 28, 2017 #6

    Fervent Freyja

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    I agree that there are some great role models on here. I especially love to see members going into detail for a poster, that can be very encouraging and inspiring for young people. I think a lot of the time people post questions in order to get some interaction, because it's not always so easy in RL to discuss these topics without being judged and it can be difficult to find people that can even discuss it with. Simply put, if posters had the social support in RL then they wouldn't be on here seeking help or interaction. I know most members don't behave that way, but all it takes is just a handful to behave that way towards new posters to scare away that poster and probably deters other members from posting at all, from fear of the same negative reaction. And I hate to think of some person with those limitations being unable to cope with the harsh reaction! My little brother asked me questions all the time that would have been mocked by his peers, I would flip out if I saw somebody treat him that way!
  8. Apr 29, 2017 #7


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    This is one of the reasons that since December I only try to help via private conversations every now and then. (The moderators are invited to monitor my messages, if they care for that, so they can see I am not breaching any of their rules.)

    When I read about "getting an infraction or two for being a jerk" in point #6 of the original "insight", I was appalled.
  9. Apr 29, 2017 #8
    We all know what @ZapperZ is talking about. However it's not a mere annoyance - it's a really, really important point in this day & age. So much so that I believe PF would be helping a lot of young people out by developing a systematic response, in addition to ad hoc mentor interventions.

    Specifically, there ought to be a topic or sub-topic inside the Help section that addresses ZZ's concerns as well as the related concerns raised by others in this thread. Currently, when I look, I don't find anything that pertains.

    Inside the Help section, the Global Guidelines have a lot to say - but nothing on this point. There is a help topic titled "How to post," but it is quite brief & says nothing about doing research before posting a question. We have another, somewhat more in-depth help topic titled "Why did nobody answer my post?"; however it pertains mostly to homework questions, not general questions. The fifth bullet down in that topic actually does pertain - it is subheaded Did you research the problem first yourself? - but (a) it has what appears to be a https://www.physicsforums.com/blog.php?b=3588 [Broken] to an old blog post by ZapperZ (so this should be fixed); and (b) it is buried too far down to be easy to notice. And regardless, certainly a topic titled "Why did nobody answer my post" is not the first place that persons new to PhysicsForum are going to look before posting for their very first time.

    Getting back to the issue itself: What ZZ has identified is not only a very common problem for this forum, but a common problem in the world in general: Even disregarding the question of whether English is a native language for someone, or whether they have a learning challenge or some other issue, it's widely acknowledged that many young persons aren't being taught how to do research in the Internet age - even when they are enrolled in, or have graduated from, a school & college that supposedly teaches such things. (I am reading a book now, The Death of Expertise, that includes an entire chapter on the failure of higher education in this regard.) So it would be doing a real favor to everyone, most especially young people in this category, if PhysicsForum made a couple of small changes to address this concern.

    Mods & people with more experience on the forum than I have will probably think of things I haven't. But for starters, here are two suggestions:

    (1) Create a separate help topic on "your first post" or some such. It should be crafted so that (a) persons who already know how do to research can scan it quickly and say "OK, I already know that" and move on without being offended; (b) it gently acknowledges the potential for learning/language/social support issues and gives whatever initial support PF mods consider would be appropriate in such situations (which may be very limited or very specific; I really don't know; mods can decide), and lastly (c) it gives specific advice to those who don't have learning/language challenges, but who don't really know how to do research, on why you need to make an initial stab at it rather than post a wide-open "I have no clue" style of question; with perhaps a link to an appropriate resource for the basics on student-level research & critical thinking. In other words, a topic that handles the concerns ZZ and others are talking about, in a supportive, non-belligerent "welcome, here's how we do things here & why" manner.

    (2) Optional: Modify the automated routine for new members such that when they go to make their first post, the system detects whether they have visited the above help topic; and if they haven't, directs them to do so. If the help topic itself isn't burdensome to read, this ought not to be discouraging; only a brief check to make sure a person's new-member ducks are in a row. I don't remember my own experience as a new member other than that I did get an automated message congratulating me for having actually visited the help section early on. I'm suggesting just to increment this a tiny bit. If there are other initial topics that new members should also be sure to read prior to their first post, they could be included in this automatic check as well.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  10. Apr 29, 2017 #9
    A related aspect to my post above, suggesting a help topic for "Your first post" or something similar -

    Many posters, when starting off a thread, give sufficient context just by the detailed manner in which they ask a question or raise a topic; the level of detail alone is enough to suggest that the OP is saying/asking something reasonable, and also enough that others know how to respond.

    But a big problem with naive thread-starters is not only has the OP shown no sign of doing even basic research on the question, but also they very often provide almost no context for why they're asking. Which makes it even harder for people to respond than it already is - it's tough to know what to recommend when you don't know why someone is asking.

    Fortunately it's easy to learn how to provide enough context for people to respond. So the help topic I am suggesting could also have some other tips for "good posts for beginners" - e.g not just "Do at least basic research before posting your question" but also "and say why you are asking it"; maybe with some good example of starting posts in threads. And I'm also starting to think that this should somehow have a connection to "no speculative theories" etc. So some slight reworking of links & hierarchy might be useful at some point (later on maybe). I'd be volunteer for w/ what would probably be a team effort; however I am very junior here so it may not be appropriate.
  11. Apr 29, 2017 #10


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    I too have wished that posters should be familiar with a "PF Manual" chock full of good advice about how to be a good PF citizen. But then, I remember reality that RTFM is obsolete advice. There's no way we could force people to read it without scaring them away.

    But I really like @UsableThought 's idea (quoted below) about a "your first post" popup. But to have its contents actually read and considered, it has to be very very short. No more screen real estate than the quoted paragraph below (half a screenfull on a phone), and with about half as many words. Use Facebook as a guide to modern habits. If you write more than two sentences in a post, it appears truncated on Faceblook with a "more" hyperlink. If your Facebook post requires a "more" click to be viewed, that guarantees almost nobody will view it. So here's the challenge @UsableThought , propose a wording for that "first post" advice, short enough to be actually read and absorbed.

    Perhaps more practical would be a reminder (max 140 characters) that pops up every time a new thread is created by anyone. Such as "Say what research you have done. Explain the context. Say why you are asking this question."

    Related: It can take skillfully nuanced use of language to navigate the narrow real estate between:
    1. The OP explaining what his/her current understanding is to provide context.
    2. The PF prohibition against personal theories.
    Finally, it needs to be said that although we strive to do better, PF rocks as it is.:cool:
  12. Apr 29, 2017 #11


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    And include links or references.
  13. Apr 29, 2017 #12


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    Come to think of it. PF already has the feature to suggest guidance on a new thread. But it is used only in the title, but not the body.

  14. Apr 29, 2017 #13


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    I don't understand. (I had thought you'd abandoned PF, but it seems something else is going on?)

    Again, I don't understand. I thought point #6 was reasonable, since it's talking about posters who demand instant answers and act as if SAs are their personal slaves. For such people, I think "jerk" is a reasonable description.
  15. Apr 29, 2017 #14

    Fervent Freyja

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    I'm appalled at having to be a tattletale. I really don't want to have to report an established member, especially when it's clear in their posting patterns that they are bullies. I cannot stand when somebody does it to me, instead of coming to me about it.

    So that's why you've not been on much!

    I don't think they care about moderating your PM's, unless you piss off somebody and they share it with staff or something...

    I can tell you that Greg and staff don't play games, if you threaten to go away then they aren't going to beg you back, no matter how much you've contributed (or how quiet the topology and higher mathematics forums have been for the last few months...) I've gotten upset and stopped posting, nobody seems to notice. I don't like this, I don't think people should be viewed as disposable, especially on a human interactive forum!

    @anorlunda, a beginner tutorial/prompt sounds like a good idea! I think that it would be easier to assess if they have more profile information, that way we can be sure that the person doesn't have those cognitive limitations or is like just 10 years old before coming down hard on them. I'm all for a little roughness, but only if they can handle it.
  16. Apr 30, 2017 #15


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    Mentor's don't have access to private conversations, so the only way we could moderate them is if someone reports them.

    May I ask why you're appalled at the thought of someone receiving an infraction for being a jerk?
  17. Apr 30, 2017 #16
    In hopes of establishing a useful distinction, I think there are two ways to evaluate language such as "being a jerk":

    1) As a normal human response - hurt leading to judgement - when someone is hostile to us, or to someone else in a way we feel is unfair, etc. ("Boy what a JERK that guy was!")

    2) In addition to the above, as a piece of self-talk that it helps to be aware of in ourselves - especially if we are in a position of responsibility. The alternative is to unwittingly allow our self-talk and our feelings of hurt/irritation control our actions; in which case we are likely to be less flexible/helpful to jerks and non-jerks alike. Whereas cultivating sangfroid, equanimity, coolness under fire, whatever you want to call it, makes us more effective at dealing w/ both ourselves & those pesky human beings around us who are so difficult.

    Of course there are degrees to everything; language is full of nuance. Personally, I agree with the gist of ZapperZ's Insights article, and this includes #6. Here it is again in full:
    My interpretation of what ZZ is saying here is that it's simply a common-sense caution: If you behave like a jerk (e.g. demanding an instant answer and not realizing you are turning people off; escalating these demands even as people try politely to tell you to first do some research; etc.), then you will likely create irritation & hurt feelings in those trying to help you. The whole thing spirals downward very fast, and boom, the thread is locked or you are banned; and probably still blaming those who tried to help you. "What jerks they all were!"

    My own deeply engrained response to prickly interactions is to defend myself a bit too briskly - i.e. to behave a bit too much like a jerk. Fortunately there's the Edit button. Sometimes I wish real life had an Edit button too.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2017
  18. Apr 30, 2017 #17


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    OK, so the next step should be for us to propose the wording of a guidance prompt for @Greg Bernhardt put into the body of the create thread editor. @Fervent Freyja suggested profile-dependent text, but I think that's too hard. Static text could be our first attempt. The main criterion is that it must be very short, perhaps a target of 140 characters. It should read like a bullet list with no scrolling required

    The homework forum already has its own template in the create thread. So we are discussing the non-homework forums.

    Below is my proposal (163 characters). I invite others to propose their own wording. (Post your entire wording, not incremental changes.) We can vote via likes.

    Explain the context of your question.
    Say why you are asking it.
    Say what research you have done.
    Give links or references.
    Use the upload button for pictures.

    No Homework here.
  19. Apr 30, 2017 #18
    On the "create thread" interface we do have this on the sidebar. Everyone see's it right?

  20. Apr 30, 2017 #19


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    My 2ct.:

    I think that nails it. After all there are real people involved - on both ends of the line! To me it is very much about respect, not to say mainly, and this is a symmetric property. If someone posts, e.g. only a photo and leaves basically everything open, I simply won't answer even if I could. Why to spend more energy on a response than a poster did on the question? Of course this holds the other way around, too. Sometimes we face clearly young kids with questions that appear naive. So what? Or even adults who doesn't know better. We must not complain about the politics in our days, if we treated people badly who try to extend their horizons. We all should be lucky that there are students (or grown-ups) who really try to learn something and benefit from PF. And there are manifold ways to benefit from PF. All that is really needed is some respect - on both sides.
  21. Apr 30, 2017 #20


    Staff: Mentor

    No, I don't see it. It must be platform dependent. I mostly use my IIpad for PF. It shows this, (no sidebars on any PF pages.)


    @Greg Bernhardt , do you get reports showing the percent of posts originating on desktops / tablets / phones?
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