Email tip: Don’t ask the same question multiple times in different groups


If you have a question and you want to ask multiple people or groups, do not send the question individually to each group. Just send the question once with your recipient list on the To line.

If you send it individually, then each recipient will not know that you asked the question to other groups as well. This in turn creates wasted effort because one group won’t know that another group already answered your question (or has already started researching it).

For example, one person asked the same question on a shell-related discussion group, again on a Windows 2000 discussion group, and a third time on a Windows XP discussion group. I research the problem and responded on the Windows XP discussion group. Meanwhile, one of my colleagues researched the problem and responded on the shell discussion group. (The two answers were the same.) Congratulations, you created twice as much work as necessary. To prevent it from going to a triple, I replied on the Windows 2000 group saying that the issue has been taken care of.

Just because we don’t charge billable hours to your team doesn’t mean that our time is free.

I see a variation of this happening in blog comments as well. Somebody will ask the exact same question to Larry Osterman, Michael Kaplan, and me. Now, first of all, I specifically do not provide technical support (it’s spelled out in the Contact Page), but that doesn’t stop people from trying anyway. Even if you think your question is of general interest and put it into the Suggestion Box, that doesn’t mean that I’ll agree with your assessment, and even if I do, given the historical rate at which I accept topics from the Suggestion Box, you won’t get an answer for around three years.

One particularly insistent person not only sent the question to Larry and me, they even did it after opening a case with Microsoft developer support! (How do I know? Because developer support forwarded the question to my team.)

Comments (28)
  1. Martin Soles says:

    I know the feeling. We have a very similar issue here. A group of individuals will have a meeting. About 30 minutes after it breaks up, we get a lot of extremely similar requests for data reports (these are management and don’t have the time, patience, or desire to gather this themselves). What’s fun is figuring out the slight variations between them to truly discover what the information was really needed for the meeting.

  2. Stephen Jones says:

    People do this all the time on forums. You’ll see the same posting on six different forums. Of course the result is that the discussion is fragmented, plenty of people are so annoyed they don’t respond at all, and the OP has to go to six different places to try and work out the response.

  3. Nathan says:

    Was the experts-exchange.com domain originally non-hyphenated ? I recall one of those funny email forwards about ‘poorly named domains,’ and the "expert’s exchange" domain, expertsexchange.com, was one such listed. I’ll leave the humor as an exercise to the reader.

    (sorry if this is lame, repeated and already answered. Search didn’t hit the few keywords I tried.)

  4. …Sorry I haven’t written much lately, I have plenty on the way. Counting down 3 months until my wedding

  5. dimmik says:

    And imagine the following:

    Someone ask you and "other people" about something.

    Your thoughts: "Ok. I can resolve this. But it will take some time. So, maybe it’s better to wait while other people resolve the problem".

    "Other people" have the same thoughts.

    So, after week or two Someone deside that it’ll be better for him to ask one without making other to know. ;)

    [nothing personal ;)]

  6. Neal says:

    Of course this tip isn’t without its problems.  

    First, there’s always a select group of people who chastise and complain when they see a questions has been crossposted (even to appropriate newsgroups) or asked (of multiple individuals).

    Second, just because someone has asked doesn’t mean that anyone, much less everyone, will (attempt to) answer.  That’s more likely to be true when everyone sees that the question was asked of multiple individuals or groups.  Why should you answer when someone else may have, or may be researching the problem already, or may be known (to you) to be more knowledgeable in the field.

    Third, even the best are sometimes wrong, not to mention busy and thus slow to respond, and some supplement their answers with more value-added commentary than others.  Asking multiple people and thus  getting multiple individual answers, and viewpoints, increases your likelyhood of getting an accurate, well explained, answer in a short amount of time.

    I’ve always been respectful of others time and did much as you say, including asking only when I’d completely exhausted my ability to find an answer myself.  I’ve also been bitten by all the above or seen others get much better results by being less considerate and taking advantage of these.  

    I’ve been on the receiving end of many questions too so I’ve experienced both sides.  I’d rather not learn I’ve wasted my time duplicating another’s efforts, but I won’t hold that against a questioner for the reasons above.  They’re just maximizing their chances of getting a solution and that’s understandable.  

    Now if they’re bothering me with their problem when a simple Google or MSDN search on their very own question would reveal their answer… then I get frustrated.

  7. Adam says:

    Man, two days of grumpy in a row.

    [Sorry, Adam. If you’d like, I’ll send you a copy of the titles of the entries for the next year and you can rearrange them to spread the grumpiness out more evenly. I really can’t be bothered to worry about local grump density, but if it means that much to you, I’ll accept your offer to help. -Raymond]
  8. Cody says:

    [Man, two days of grumpy in a row.

    [Sorry, Adam. If you’d like, I’ll send you a copy of the titles of the entries for the next year and you can rearrange them to spread the grumpiness out more evenly. I really can’t be bothered to worry about local grump density, but if it means that much to you, I’ll accept your offer to help. -Raymond]]

    At least he’s funny even when grumpy!

  9. Cooney says:

    Come on, Adam, coming here and complaining about the grumpy is like going to Paris and complaining about all the wine and cheese.

  10. Rick C says:

    "Local grump density," heh.

    Neal: in the context of Usenet, crossposting is OK, as long as it’s not excessive, because you get one cross-group thread of responses,if people do it right.  THe problem is multiple separate posts to a disjoint set of groups, as opposed to one post to an overlapped set.  There’s no good analogy to web forums, and the analogy to email/mailing lists is weaker.

  11. Cooney says:

    Ahh, yes: SPAM vs. Velveeta

  12. ::Wendy:: says:

    Off-track trivial opinion:  Grumpiness is an under-used emotion in the NW USA.  I know far more people who do grumpiness with finesse amongst my British friends,  especially one Scotish person.  It’s much cheaper than having therapy to stay ‘happy’ and it conveys all sorts of useful information to people around you.  Excellent teasing handle for people who like such high-risk sports

  13. Neal says:

    Yep, I understand usenet and proper crossposting.  I was a heavy user for over a decade.  I also participate in many online forums, answering questions instead of asking (in most) and I’ve been a member of numerous mailing lists over the years.

    In each of these, many if not most users are normal, but there were and are plenty of looney individuals that harass(ed) other users if they don’t agree that the venue(s) chosen are appropriate… and often it’s obvious that the loons haven’t even bothered to read, much less understand, the question.  

    That abusive behavior by a minority often drives others to follow less preferred, less effecient, or less considerate methods of seeking answers to their questions.  Of course sometimes it drives them to follow more proper methods too.

  14. dsn says:

    ooo … if I complain about the grumpiness, do I also get a list of your upcoming posts?  You should be careful about creating perverse incentives ;)

  15. Dog says:

    Congratulations, you created twice as much work as necessary.

    You ignore the fact that people independently research their answers. Just because you and I see a question posted to a particular group doesn’t mean we won’t both research the answer anyway.

  16. Chris J says:

    Dean, I’ve come across some groups where cross-posting is activily discouraged. It’s probably better to, if you are going to cross-post, state why (even if it’s simple statement that goes "Apologies for the cross-post, but I’m not sure where this problem actually lies"). Hopefully in the description of the problem you’ll then put enough information in that posters in both groups understand "why" the crosspost.

    It can go to the other extreme though where a poster will cross-post to any group he finds, even if it doesn’t anything to do with the question. This can end up with cross-group irritation and sniping at the OP drowning out any answers in noise.

    Courtesy really what it comes down to.

  17. Dean Harding says:

    > You ignore the fact that people independently research their answers.

    So you’re saying that it’s OK to post *separately* to different groups, because people don’t *always* independently research their answers?

    Some people, I think, have not realised that Raymond is not talking about posting to different groups full stop — he’s talking about posting *independently* to different groups. So if Person A on Group 1 replies, Person B on Group 2 does not see the reply. He’s not saying "don’t post to more than one group", he’s saying "if you’re going to post to more than one group, do it in one email. That way, each group will see all of the other’s responses."

  18. Igor says:

    "One particularly insistent person not only sent the question to Larry and me, they even did it after opening a case with Microsoft developer support! (How do I know? Because developer support forwarded the question to my team.)"

    Was it Norman, was it Norman? :)

    And more important, has the issue been resolved?

  19. Dog says:

    > That way, each group will see all of the other’s responses

    It doesn’t matter. A) Usenet is WriteOnly anyway; and B) You are ignoring the fact that I am not going to wait to see if Raymond replies in Group A *even if I am reading Group A myself.*

  20. Dewi Morgan says:

    I guess double-posting might be an emergent problem in blogs, but they’re a tricky one – hard to see how you could politely cross-post.

    I guess you could post to blog B with "I asked a similar question in blog A (link)", but that blog-linkage might be seen as ruder than "I have a similar question: blah"

  21. gwwan says:

    so why the hell are you writing about technical things? are you expecting people not to ask technical question to you afterwards?

  22. Tom Morris says:

    I agree with gwan, if you write technical blog entries you shouldn’t be surprised with technical questions (even if you don’t want to hear them)!

    [Suggestions for technical topics ≠ Technical support. -Raymond]
  23. Dean Harding says:

    Who says he doesn’t want technical questions? I think you guyes missed the point…

  24. I fully agree with Raymond, Writing a technical blog entry is NOT technical support or even inviting tech support queries.

    It’s a lot like the family asking "Oh you are into computers, can you fix my DVD player?"

  25. Mike says:

    Sure, so he can write about it but then we can’t ask him about that becouse that would be “technical support”? It’s just stupid.

    Take some responsibility for your actions! Some of us like to ask questions and if you don’t like to answer to them just stop writing your blog.

    [I’m sorry you can’t tell the difference between a topic suggestion and a request for technical support. -Raymond]
  26. Mike says:

    did i ever mention about “topic suggestion” box? Ok i get it, you don’t answer to technical questions unless its from certified microsoft partners with min 5$m annual revenue (i wrote to you once or twice but you didn’t even reply)… Im sorry im poor, uncertified, ISV :(

    [I’m sorry, I though that since it was my blog, I got to choose the topic. -Raymond]
  27. stefan says:

    > [gwwan] "so why the hell are you writing about technical things?"

    > [Mike] "if you don’t like to answer to them just stop writing your blog."

    Let me get this straight… if Raymond writes about technical topics, according to you, he has an *obligation* to answer any and all possible tech questions?  You don’t see a problem with your little rule?

    This blog has been an incredible resource for me over the years, and I, for one, don’t appreciate you putting it in jeopardy by commanding him to stop blogging.  Fortunately, you’re not his manager (http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/archive/2007/05/22/2777876.aspx), so I’m guessing he will not obey your command.

  28. Norman Diamond says:

    I hadn’t read this topic before so just now saw this question:

    Friday, May 11, 2007 1:05 PM by Igor

    "One particularly insistent person not only sent the question to Larry and me, they even did it after opening a case with Microsoft developer support! […]"

    >

    Was it Norman, was it Norman? :)

    To the best of my knowledge I have not opened a case with Microsoft developer support.

    Now, here’s the reason I read this topic today.

    Some weekends I have a few spare hours and do some testing for free.  The effort is mostly wasted because bugs get closed as "won’t fix" (or "not reproduceable" even when reproduceable, etc.).  I’m dumb enough to repeat this effort even without expecting different results.  After one particular bug was closed as "won’t fix", I received e-mail soliciting reports of exactly that kind of bug.  So I replied asking if I should submit a duplicate of that particular bug.  Instead of an answer, I received two more copies of the same e-mail soliciting reports of exactly that kind of bug.  Therefore I came up with an e-mail tip:  Don’t ask the same question multiple times in the same group.

Comments are closed.