How to get the maximum return on your forum question?


This post is a more generalized version of the Wiki article I initially posted for asking questions in the FIM/MIM Forum.


[EDIT] To allow continuous improvement of this topic and integration of community feedback, the current post has been published on TNWiki too: https://aka.ms/asktherightquestion


Abstract

Whether you’re a first time user or a long-time expert, when you post a question to a forum, you expect an answer that is quick, to-the-point, and preferably customized to your needs.

But in lots of cases it actually takes a while (meaning additional questions and answers back and forth) before the community actually can get to the root cause of the issue.

I would like to provide you with practical hints and tips, and background information of them, to get the maximum result from your postings on the forum, with the minimum of effort.

If you ask the right question, the right way, you’ll get your answer much faster.

Introduction

What do you expect if you post a question on a forum? A quick answer, solving the issue you’re struggling with, in a timely fashion? However, the reality looks often different:

  • Most of the questions posted in the forum require some knowledge of your environment. To understand your question, people need background information.
  • In many cases the initial question does not provide sufficient data to start helping.

What is the most efficient way to allow the community to help you?

The key to the quick solution is how you present the question.

In this article, I will give you suggestions and recommendations that will help you to get the most out of this forum.

Gathering the right data

As a first step, you should gather all data that is related and relevant to your question. What the right data is depends on the type of answer you expect. A general, more high-level question in conjunction with the architecture and the design requires a different approach than a practical question to troubleshoot an issue. When troubleshooting your setup:

  • Take time to gather detailed data before you post
  • Provide concise, basic information about your environment
  • Describe error conditions in detail

Even for more general architectural questions, take a moment and ask yourself:

  • What is the situation you are in now?
  • Where did you start from?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Do you have examples to help outline what you are aiming at?

Choose the right forum

Based on the core technology and platform, pick the correct forum to post your question on.

Only when you talk to the correct audience, you can assure to get an answer.
To rephrase this, by posting on the wrong forum you shoot yourself in the foot from the start.

First choice, which general category of question?

For a list of platforms on MSDN/TechNet : check this overview: List of forums by Languages, categories, and field of discussions
Besides TN/MSDN, there are also:

Second decision, pick the correct forum…

Important data components

In most cases, there are some core components you should address in your initial question. These components include:

  • Build versions
  • Basic server configuration
  • Backend server configuration
  • Error codes and error conditions

Information on configuration circumstances

In the previous section I’ve discussed components strictly related to the configuration basics of the platform, which you can retrieve in real-time.

It’s clear that the complete infrastructure exists of different parts (independent of the platform you are managing), each depending on each other: the application, the operating system, backend like the SQL server, the .NET framework, and more … It’s a complex balance, even a small change in one of these components, might cause trouble.

Ideally you manage the complete infrastructure yourself. But in my experience, this is rarely the case, as most live setups are managed by a group of people. And, not every member of the team knows the in and outs of every part.

So, when your system starts behaving badly, just suddenly or intermittently, while it has been in operational mode for quite a while, it’s not always easy to determine the root cause.

When you’re troubleshooting your setup, also take a wider look on the technical infrastructure. I can guarantee it is worthwhile to log the changes you make on your system configuration from the very start. Additionally, make sure the events and errors are logged accurately.

Change logs and events logs allow you to answer the following list of questions:

  • Has there been a change to the system configuration recently, like an update/upgrade, hotfixes,…?
  • When exactly does the error condition occur?
  • Are you able to reproduce the error condition?
  • Is the error occurring intermittently?
  • Any particular configuration on your environment, like highly secured networking, server lockdown,…?

You should post this kind of information in your initial post, as it is very helpful.

Optional data parameters

Another important type of information you should provide in your post, is NOT of a technical kind.

It concerns the actions you have done when troubleshooting, before you posted your question.

What kind of steps have you already done to get an answer?

  • Which posts did you already look at?
  • Did you already install certain hotfixes?
  • Which run profiles did you run?
Please Note:
This kind of questions should allow the community to spend time on making progress instead of replying to questions already addressed previously.

System information you should not show at all

It might be obvious, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone posted personal, secret, identifiable data on the web. It would not take too much effort to use it maliciously.

Make sure you mask:

  • Passwords and secrets
  • Personal identifiable information
  • Live machine and domain info
  • Service Account names
  • IP addressing

Architecture and design questions

The forum is an excellent resource if you just need some assistance solving a problem on architectural level. The following list of hints and questions should allow you to provide the basics in your post:

  • Provide some basic data on your setup.
  • What did you implement already?
  • Describe what you actually aiming at. What are you trying to achieve?

Provide as much detail as possible to make your case with examples and/or (anonymized) screenshots.

Summary

When troubleshooting your setup:

  • Take time to gather sufficient and detailed info.
  • Provide basic information on your environment.
  • Be specific, describe the error conditions in detail.

When you need help or an insight on a design issue:

  • Provide some basic data on your setup.
  • Describe what you actually aiming at. What are you trying to achieve?

In both cases provide as much detail as possible to make your case.

Providing examples or (a link to) screenshots, help to understand.

Good luck and see you on the forums!

Comments (5)

  1. I love the detail here, especially “Important data components”

    Too often a question will be so vague that the first 10 attempts at answer will miss, and it’s simply because we don’t know anything about the problem!

  2. pituach says:

    Great post Peter!

    This is the main sentence, I think:
    “The key to the quick solution is how you present the question”.

  3. SYEDSHANU says:

    Very detailed article ,Thanks for sharing Peter Geelen

  4. Pat says:

    Well written. I love it how specific you are. And I agree, the background of situation which is your problem/question is really important. When I read posts or questions I don’t like when they’re short and the author doesn’t explain anything.

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