This page will describe several tips for getting answers to your questions.


New Ubuntu users often find it difficult to get answers to their questions. The Ubuntu community is made up almost entirely of enthusiasts, and this page will explain how to ask questions in a way that enthusiasts will respond to.


Try to spend time solving a problem yourself before you ask other people for help.
If you follow this common courtesy, then it will not be an imposition when you ask for help.

Don't ask to ask

Example of a bad question

Question: “can I ask my question here?”
Answer: “yes, but I may not be able to answer”

This is the first mistake everyone makes. Ubuntu volunteers are always happy to hear questions, and will point you in the right direction if they can't help you themselves. Every volunteer was new once, and we all asked ludicrously off-topic questions when we didn't know any better. Asking to ask is redundant, and just wastes everyone's time.

It's often impossible to know if you can answer a question until you've seen it. So remember: better to ask one question than two!

Example of a good question

Question: “How do I track down a bug in Firefox?”
Answer: “I don't know, the Firefox bug-reporting guide might have some thoughts.”

Say what you did, what happened, and what should happen

Example of a bad question

Question: “My computer won't start, I think it might be a virus. What do I do?”
Answer: “I have no idea, it could be a million things.”

It's been said that many help requests are like calling a fire department, saying “there is fire here, come!”, then hanging up. In order for someone to help, you need to explain the exact steps you took to trigger the problem, exactly what your computer did, and what you expected it to do.

You should start by describing every click and every button press you took to make the problem happen. If your problem is with a specific program, you should explain everything from when (and how) you opened the program. If your problem is with Ubuntu itself, you should start from when you booted up.

Once you've explained what buttons you pressed, you should explain exactly what happened. Screenshots can be useful here, but you should use The GIMP to draw a circle around the specific area that is wrong, and explain what's wrong in text as well. If the program produces an error message, copy it and paste it into your message. Don't try to summarize the message, as it might be necessary to search for that exact phrase while tracking down the problem.

Once you've explained what happened, you should explain what you expected to happen. Even if it's as simple as "the window shouldn't have closed", you need to get into the habit of spelling it out.

There's no harm in including your own theories about the problem, so long as you explain what that lead you to that conclusion. If you're wrong, then the person helping you will need the above information to find the right answer. If you're right, then they'll need the above information to verify that you're right.

If your problem has started occurring recently, you should say so. For example, problems that started after you upgraded your computer are often a sign that something went wrong during the upgrade.

These rules can be a bit stifling, and you'll gradually learn the times you can afford to skip steps. But for the first few months, you should include as much factual information as possible. Remember: it's easier to skip over irrelevant details than to ask for more information!

Example of a good question

Question: “Ever since I installed a new hard drive, Ubuntu has got stuck while booting up. I press the power button and wait for the Ubuntu logo to appear, and it sits there saying "Routine check of drives: new-disk (/dev/hdb1)". It used to whizz through in about a minute, what do I do?”
Answer: “How long have you left it to boot? Your new disk might just be slow, or it might have a hardware fault. Try leaving your computer to boot for at least 30 minutes, let me know what happens, and we'll go from there.”

Act humble

Example of a bad question

Question: “When will you lot get around to supporting my graphics tablet? It's worked in Windows for years!”
Answer: “I don't know, and if that's your attitude, I don't care.”

Although many Ubuntu users like to be helpful, they don't exist purely to solve your problems. Before you ask a question, think how you would act if you were asking a favour from a friend of yours, and how you would want to be approached if you were giving your spare time.

It's a fact of life that nothing happens unless someone steps up and takes responsibility for it, so you have to be prepared for the answer not to be what you hoped. For example, speciality hardware devices sometimes don't get enough attention, because no-one is interested in volunteering their time to write drivers.

Example of a good question

Question: “Are there any plans to support my graphics tablet in upcoming versions of Ubuntu? I'd be willing to help out with testing.”
Answer: “New hardware is constantly being included in Ubuntu. You can help out by installing alpha versions of new Ubuntu distributions, although you should expect some instability if you do.”

Providing details

When you reach out for assistance and ask a question you will want to provide enough information needed to properly assist you. Generally speaking your Version of Ubuntu is always needed, an exact error message if you are receiving one, and a clear description of your issue will allow your supporters to help you as efficiently as possible. See Checking Your Ubuntu Version

GettingAnswers (last edited 2013-07-14 18:14:28 by localhost)