Even Posting in Forums Requires Etiquette

Posted in: Technical Track


Etiquette — as if we do not have enough rules for dining, dress, meetings, corporate and opening doors for ladies!

From time to time, I browse forums which are mainly SQL Server related. I check on threads, and reply to some if I have something to add. I have to say that forums are an excellent way to enhance your knowledge about any product; people come with different and new problems and scenarios and you have to read more about subject or build a proof of concept to be able to contribute.

Forums aren’t always tightly regulated or moderated — sometimes they are, but in general people are free to post whatever they think as long as it is not overly offensive. Compared to some newspapers where they have moderation over comments, the forums (including MSDN) do not do much of that. In my personal experience, I have seen many times that a forum post can slip to a non-productive direction and this can discourage some people posting or even contributing to discussions.

I’ve included some points about forums, that I’ve learned through personal experience:

  • Forums are not intended for product support.

From time to time, someone poses a question and stresses how urgent the matter is — their business is down, and they need help. My advice to them is to simply open a case with your vendor if it is that urgent, as the time spent to get answers on forums can cost you much more than getting vendor product. For critical issues, you do not want to get advice on forums but rather from experienced vendor support. Remember that the people who answer you, do it for free and they may be busy supporting their own environment or have personal arrangements. Do not pester them for a quicker reply!

  • Forums are not to answer your homework or interview questions.

Asking, “How can I do that?” without even trying is not appealing. Yes, we all struggle sometimes but we have to try. I would find it much better if you outline an approach or an idea and ask for advice.

Also, do not bring your interview questions to the forums and ask for answer. I have seen this personally because I interview people from time to time; we give them some questions and they go on forums asking for answers, whom you think you are cheating? Sorry pal, just yourself!

  • Put in some effort, and do a little research before posting.

This may be relative but if you are asking, “What is the difference between a clustered and a non-clustered index?” then you may not have heard about search engines! Research your topic a bit and if you cannot find answers then you can ask.

In addition, it is common to find repliers quoting other or previous forum posts as they deal with almost exact topic, so you should also search forum topics beforehand.666b0efec6[1]

Same goes for the people who respond — Research your answer, too. If possible, support it with a vendor documentation, blog posts or a whitepaper.

  •  Avoid robotic responses.

Back in the time, MSDN forums would award points for every reply even if you said “Hello” and some people abused that. It makes the thread longer with no value.
I remember one answer specifically where someone would always jump and reply asking this

Please run this query and paste the answer

SERVERPROPERTY(‘ProductVersion’) , SERVERPROPERTY(‘ProductLevel’) ,

Many times, the poster would have already included the information in his original post declaring he has SQL 200X , SPX, Edition X with X CPU cores and X GB of memory!

  • Not everyone is a Guru, so try to avoid getting personal.

This applies to those who post, and respond to questions. Regardless if the question looks novice, it is still worth the answer. No matter how a reply may look, it is still a contribution (Obviously restrictions apply.)

On MSDN T-SQL forum , for example, a known figure is famous for his bullish replies , criticizing posters and contributors for their questions, approach or answers; examples of some of his replies are: “your screwed up design “, “you failed this basic IT standard”, “Your code is also bad”, “I would fire you for this coding” …etc. It’s vicious!

  • Avoid a very generic/vague title.

Try to avoid titles like, “Problem with SQL server,” “Someone help me with this issue,” “An urgent question,” or “TSQL query help.” Potential responders usually prefer to have a glimpse about the topic from the title — Someone browsing forums may find issue relevant to his/her experience if the title is more descriptive.

  •   Please – no more spaghetti posts.

How about some formatting? Posting few hundred words all in one paragraph is a turn-off, hurts eye, hard to read and hard to get back to when I need more details.
Use spacing and get relevant information together. You can start with a brief about your topology, technology used, versions et al. Follow that with your situation, problem you are facing, your attempted resolutions and then ask what we can do for you.0910_scarpettas-spaghetti-recipe-2_036[1]

If your post has a HUGE code snippet, then it is preferred to attach it as a query file. Use a reputed fileshare provide like SKydrive (soon to be OneDrive,) Google Drive or DropBox.

In addition, please – CAPS makes me nervous!

  • Format your code

MSDN forums for example, has a nice code formatter – use it! It makes the post easier to read. If the forum does not have a code formatter then you can format it elsewhere. Here is a nice code formatter I use frequently: https://www.dpriver.com/pp/sqlformat.htm

  • Stop those cheeky edits.

If you post an answer then people add to your answer or discuss it then you go and edit your earlier one to look better or more sophisticated then that is rather a cheating. It makes subsequent answers look weird and irrelevant. As long as it is not rude, there is no harm in a less than optimal answer, just try harder next time.

  •  Include a disclaimer if you work for a certain company.

If someone asks for a recommendation for a third party tool, and you work for a vendor of one of those tools, it is OK to tout your product! But ensure that you disclose that you work for the vendor.

  • Follow up on your posts.

Dead blog posts clog the forum, and can send more valuable posts down the stack. It is quite common that people ask for more details, so you should followup and reply. If an answer satisfies you, then mark it as answer. Ir helps those who have similar situation, and pays back to those who contributed.blessu[1] If you found an answer on your own, post it and mark it as an answer.

How about you? If you could change ONE thing in forums, what would it be?

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