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Maximising EE Success - Posting questions like a Professional and Acting like one

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Introduction

EE means Experts Exchange and you will find me using it as an abbreviation all along this article. As an Expert on EE, I have found myself on the both sides of the river – answering questions and seeking answers. However this guide is inclined more towards the person asking a question. It gives a general idea of how the website and its Experts work.

When posting a question, it's necessary to put it up in such a way that it will generate a proper response - the actual answer which you would wish to see, or at least something into that direction. It feels really good to get email saying “A possible solution has been posted to your question”. However, the good feeling is washed away soon if you find out that it's only someone asking for more details which you had missed in the question.


"Most questions receive a response within 42 minutes"
I bet you saw this tag line while signing up with Experts Exchange (while searching for that difficult answer where google too failed to help). Yes, that is true but this number is calculated by taking the average of all times when the first comment was posted to a question on EE. It does not say that your question will be answered within 42 minutes.

Of course, there are many questions that have been answered when the first comment was posted within a few minutes (and it was selected as the accepted solution) . It has been my experience that most of my questions have always received their first response within ten minutes, let alone forty two. However, unclear or difficult questions might take much longer for an Expert to start posting.


Guidelines for posting a question

Experts Exchange offers all the details that need to be taken care of while posting a new question on the Help Pages. Ask questions like a pro is a wonderful Article that shows you how to post your questions efficiently, so I am not going to elaborate on that.

Please visit these pages and also vote for the author. It helps the person writing the masterpiece to know that his submission was indeed read. And in general a "Yes" vote will result in some more points for the author (with exception of the Community Support zones). It may just be a way of expressing your applaud for a author's work, but points do matter for Experts.


Use a meaningful title to describe your question

Experts have the privilege of using advanced tools to browse “Questions Awaiting Answers”, in which they are able to view your question title. If the title is descriptive, a helping Expert will look at your question quickly, in case he thinks he has the answer. The title is also send as part of a notification email for new questions, if configured by the Expert's question filter conditions. Hence the title should be on the spot in a few words.

On the other side there have been questions with titles like paste is not showing and with only "while copying the paste buttons is dim" as text in the question body. Look at the passion with which people are ready to help you here. They just need a trigger and will probably answer your question correctly. Imagine the situation in which you have posted your question in the exact way they understand. You will surely get your answer in much less time. This is even more important in high-traffic zones.


Visualize your question

What you put into your question is all the Experts see. They need to mentally visualize your situation. In case your explanation is not clear, they may get a wrong idea of what you want to put forward. This will cause more grief to you and them as well. Post screenshots of what you are seeing, but do not post the whole screen just to show a single word.

Here are two good articles on Experts Exchange showing how to do that:
    How to make screen grabs and post them to EE
    More Tips and Tricks for Posting Screen Grabs on EE

If you feel it appropriate, you can also post a video to a video sharing site in your question and mention the link to it in your question. If you are dealing with a Windows blue screens (or a system BIOS) where it is not possible to take a screenshot, you can take a picture with a digital camera or your smart phone, too.
[Editor Note: The beta EE site (beta.experts-exchange.com) introduces a Screencast feature with cutting capability and audio support.]

If your question relates to a network of many computers, make sure you post at least a ASCII network map rather than trying to explain everything in text. I answer network related questions and the first thing I do while answering such questions is to draw a network map myself if none supplied by the author. Most probably you will be asked for one as soon as the question is getting more complex.


Assign the appropriate zone to your question

Experts Exchange is a technology site and the field of computers is also vast and diversified. So it works on the concept of zones. Experts usually monitor only their favorite zones, and will never view all the 1100 questions posted everyday for obvious reasons. If your question is posted in the wrong zone, it will never receive the right assistance. Imagine leaving your car seeking an engine overhaul at the paint division of your Car Company.

Further, if your question gets no response at all in the first 12 hours, an automated call for Experts will be sent out to so-called Designated Experts (DE). This are Experts which have gained enough points to be considered more experienced (and more engaged) in at least one of the zones you have chosen for the question.

If you see you have chosen a wrong zone or forgotten an important one, you can call a Moderator with Request Attention, or ask a Zone Advisor (preferred; a list of ZAs for each zone is visible on the zone landing page, the email address is MemberName@experts-exchange.com). But as both Moderators and Zone Advisors are volunteers (like the Experts, too), you should contact them only if really necessary. If you are getting your answers, the zones are ok, no matter if they fit in any manner.


Editing your question, adding details

As long as you have not received any comment, you are able to edit your question. This is to prefer over adding a comment with more details or corrections. Once a comment has been posted, it is not possible to edit your Question. Post a comment alerting other Experts to the fact that you made an error, or left out important details.

Why should you edit your question if feasible, and not just post a comment? Experts often use customized filters for getting an overview over yet unanswered questions, and might include a "comment count = 0". A comment usually means an Expert has already contributed to the question, and hence it is not necessary for another Expert to care about it. At least this applies to basic questions. For the same reason a "ping" comment does not help at all to get more attention (see The Request Attention Button for what to do instead).
As mentioned earlier, Experts work with tools called “Filters” where the number of Comments posted to a question is also a part of the question details supplied to them. Below is a view of the "Question Filter" that I happen to use just now.
Filters - Expert ToolsNote: Comments are not editable once posted, so make sure you have a thorough look (and spell check) before hitting "Submit". If comments would be editable, this would conflict with the high-speed communication involved in most cases. Imagine somebody posts an answer, and you remove information related to that answer - there is no reference anymore, and the thread gets useless for others. If there is sensitive information you do not like to remain, ask a Moderator:


Having posted unwanted (sensitive) details

If you posted something sensitive (like your static IP address or public domain names, which you do not wish to reveal to the forum), alert a moderator to carry out the desired request by posting a Question in the “Community Support Zone” with the necessary details. You will need to click the "Request Attention button" in the question body to do this. More details regarding it are in the section below.

However, it's better to think about what you post before you do - questions, comments, articles are all subject to be scanned and cached (!) by Search Engines, and hence revealed to a broad audience even outside of EE. Removing posted info is a lot of work for the volunteering Moderators, and success of removing from e.g. Google Cache is visible only after at least one week or more.


The Request Attention button
Request Attention ButtonI have noticed many people who post questions click the “Request Attention” button in the question body for the wrong reasons. Most think that this button is to attract the attention of the Experts to have another look at the question. It is NOT. Instead, it summons a Moderator, which will have a look into the question. Appropriate cases for requesting attention are
 
behavioral issues, like violation of the Member Agreement (for example soliciting for payment), some rough conversation, insulting or the like.
no attention at all for at least 12 hours. Remember, Experts are all around the world, and might not respond within hours, so you might want to wait at least 24 hours.
doubt about the zones you chose, not receiving appropriate answers or any at all for that reason
Points do not carry a cash value

Experts work here to help you out of their passion just like any other forum, albeit in a more disciplined manner. Though you may have paid a monetary consideration to access this site, Experts receive no monetary reward for the points they earn here. Your fee is solely used for improving the site, introducing new features, and so on. Please keep that in mind if you do not get comments in time, or are not satisfied with the answers given.


Experts are people just like you

Expect Experts to be fellow partners as you would do in other forums. Every Expert has a life (like you do) and devotes some time slice of his life (and routine) to EE. He may be out to lunch, on vacation, busy or asleep. Experts come from many different countries - it may be 10.00 AM at one place for one Expert and 10.00 PM for another.

It may happen that an Expert has lost contact with your question. It is not that they are being rude but email does fail at times, and the notification for a new comment is hence missing. If some time has gone by since the last comment, Experts might have unsubscribed to clean up their open question list.

In such a case, visit the Experts profile (by clicking his Expert name in a comment made by him), and if you are lucky you may find his email address listed there. Drop a line relating to your question and maybe he would follow up. It may also happen that the Expert has found that you are getting better help from other Experts and opted not to monitor your question further. Note that Moderators do not have means to notify a specific member by email, so asking them is useless.


Expert Ranks

Premium Skin (which is the default) displays an image on the left side in each comment, maybe with a shield and EE Rank - the so-called EEple. The EEple is a means to visualize an Expert without having to supply a real-life photo.
Ranks are based on points the Expert has gained by answering questions, so the higher the Rank, the more trustworthy and reliable the advices provided should be considered. For example, a Master has earned at least 50000 points in this topic area (or the one the topic area is part of).
Ranks are gained in this order (from lowest to highest):
   No rank defined • Master • Guru • Wizard • Sage • Genius • Savant • Elite • Technocrat • Legend.
EEple and Member Rank Displayed
Leave your ego at the door

While posting at EE, it may happen that an Expert has posted something which may sound abusive to you. Do not take it to heart and post a comment seeking a clarification quoting the exact text. You will most probably be provided with the correct intent that was there. If you still feel offended, you have the “Request Attention” button to safeguard your interests.

To err is human and the same applies to the Experts here. Not every person posting comments is an expert in the topic regarding your question. He may be a new member, wrong, or misunderstood what you had in mind. Usually you will find some other Expert correcting him, or presenting alternatives. If you feel that he is wrong, post a polite comment to that effect; if you feel you can't stay calm and polite, not posting a comment will be a better idea.


Closing your questions is necessary

EE works on a "Question and Answer" format. If you do not close your question after a certain number of days (or your question does not receive a comment), you may need to delete your question, close it giving full or partial points, or post a comment to clarify, ask for details or the like to keep the question active. If you do neither, you might get locked out of asking new questions until you've done. To keep the site clean and effective, it is necessary to follow such a policy.

The idea is that many people seeking help at EE do not post a question in the first place. The search feature and the vast database of "Previously Asked Questions" at EE helps them get their answers without even asking for them. Imagine the huge number of "Unanswered Questions" just showing in the Search results. It wouldn't be productive at all - they search for solutions, not comments or unapproved suggestions. If it helped you, it might help others.

The intention of the Question Lockout feature is abused if the question author simply closes an unresolved or deletes a (partially) solved question, just to get the privilege of asking more questions. Usually, there is someone who will see and report that behavior to a Moderator, which tend to be very clear about what they expect from you.


Awarding Points

All right, you got your answer. Award the points like a good judge. Do not go on the name of the Expert. You may find mine “grtraders” unappealing too. Keep in mind that depending on your question, the answers proposed (comments posted) will be more of a guideline to solve the problem rather than the actual answer (Programming questions are an exception here).

Sometimes you need to accept that a question can only be resolved in parts, or not at all. If an Expert’s comment did help you arrive at the solution (or fix most of your problem), you should assign the points to that Expert with an appropriate Grade.

If you think more Experts’ comments were valid solutions, split the points by accepting multiple comments as your answer. It may not always be possible to replicate your situation and so the exact solution has not been provided. If you feel only parts are resolved, you do not need to assign full points - what you do not spend is refunded to your point account.


Grades Matter

When accepting a solution to your question, you'll have to assign a Grade to the question. When you close your question, the points you offered are multiplied by a factor dependent on the Grade you give:
 
A uses a factor of 4 - very good
B uses a factor of 3 - helped, but needed some more work
C uses a factor of 2 - helped a bit only, but kind of off-topic
Please be judicious and assign a Grade to the question decisively. Do not assign a B or a C Grade unless you strongly feel that the answer deserves that grade. In particular a C Grade is likely bringing some objection from the receiving Expert, as most prefer to not get any Grade at all instead of a C.


Grading Comments

[Editor Note: Section changed on 23th May 2010.]
Grading comments should allow the receiving Experts to understand your decision (if necessary to clarify). Until the first week of May 2010, they were not visible to the public, only the Author and Experts with accepted/assisted answers could see them. Nowadays, grading comments are shown as an own comment type called "Author Closing Comment", inserted at the chronologically correct position in its thread. This is also applied for questions in the past.
Grading comments are a good place for a few words of gratitude, which is always welcome.


References
Member profile of the number one Expert at EE - angelIII
Help Page of Experts Exchange


Final comments

May it interest you this is one of the few articles I have written on Experts Exchange. You may find links to the others at My Member Profile Page. Scroll to the “Skills / Accomplishments Section” to view them all.

Was the read worth it? May I request you, the reader, to kindly click the small blue "Yes" button at the end of this article, where it states "Was this article helpful?", if you really did find it helpful. A "No" is also welcome, so that at least I will know that you got through the stuff I wrote.

Please post comments, so that I may improve on it further. Your input will help me to improve and benefit all future readers.

Ravi.
40
Comment
10 Comments
LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:Jason C. Levine
grtraders,

Excellent article, thank you for writing it.
0
LVL 1

Expert Comment

by:modus_operandi
grtraders,

Super article, and should be required reading for all new Members!

modus_operandi
EE Admin
0

Administrative Comment

by:_alias99
grtraders,

Great article!  I've voted 'yes' above.
0
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LVL 2

Expert Comment

by:Jeffrey Smith
Thanks for the inside view ...
0
LVL 73

Expert Comment

by:Qlemo
Good news:
Grading comments are now no longer hidden from the public. They are shown as an own Author Closing Comment, inserted chronologically correct.
0
LVL 18

Author Comment

by:Ravi Agrawal
Thanks for the update.

Ravi.
0
 

Administrative Comment

by:Qlemo
I have changed the section about grading comments to reflect the visibility change introduced recently.

Qlemo
Page Editor
0

Expert Comment

by:shadowbreeze
Very helpful!  I wish I could award points for this as well!
0
LVL 18

Author Comment

by:Ravi Agrawal
@shadowbreeze

Your helpful has earned me 50 points. Thanks for that.

You, expressing the desire to award points is a lot more precious to me than your ability to give points.

Ravi.
0
LVL 20

Expert Comment

by:Iain MacMillan
good info, nice read, very informative, and 'points' awarded.

:)
0

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