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Asking Good Questions

I'm asked lots of questions. Writing great answers for all of them would take too long.

I prioritize writing answers I consider interesting or important.

Sometimes I give a short answers or a link. Sometimes I suggest that a friend answer a question. But I still don't answer some questions at all.

My first priority is what I want to answer. Secondarily, I'd like to answer questions that the asker cares more about, puts more effort into, and gets more value from.

Sometimes people ask careless questions. Sometimes they barely care what the answer is. Sometimes they lose interest in the topic a couple days later but don't share this fact. Sometimes they could have easily found the answer with Google, but they don't respect my time. Some questions are dead ends where they have no comment on the answer and no followup questions.

I have limited information about how important a question is to you. You can help with this problem by writing better questions. Here are some things you can do to get more attention:

  • Ask on the Fallible Ideas discussion group or curi forum (this website). Those are my preferred places to take questions and I give them priority. But don't use FI unless you read the guidelines and format your post correctly.
  • State steps you already took to find the answer yourself, and why they didn't work.
  • Write well. Use short, simple words, sentences and paragraphs. Clearly mark quotes. Emphasize key points. Do an editing pass to make it clearer and easier to understand. Keep things organized and limit repetition.
  • Make it really clear what the question actually is.
  • Give specifics. I don't have a solution to "I am sad". That describes millions of different problems. (If you want a very general purpose answer like "Then do problem solving." you can state that you want a general case answer with no specifics.)
  • Mention relevant background knowledge you have. If you ask about altruism, I may suggest you read Ayn Rand. If you've already read her, you should have told me!
  • Say what kind of answer you're looking for. What are you looking for? What sort of information would you consider an adequate answer?
  • Say why you want an answer to this question and what problem it will solve for you. Say why the question is important.
  • Use relevant quotes and make sure they are 100% accurate (use copy/paste) and give the source. E.g. if the question has to do with something I've written, link and quote it.
  • Keep it short. If some detailed information is important for reference, put it in a footnote after the question.
  • If you refer to something, and it's important to your question, then provide a link. For books you generally want to give the Amazon link. If it's long, say which section is relevant and explain what information the reference has and how it relates to the question.
  • Sending money, even just $5, sets your question apart from others.
  • I strongly prefer ebooks over paper. They don't have page numbers and do allow searching for quotes. And if you really want me to look at a book and can't find a free link, then buy me the ebook. But it's usually better to just quote a lot instead.
  • If your question isn't answered, look at it from another angle or make some progress on it, then ask another question. Having a question unanswered is no big deal. It's not a negative response or a rebuke. No answer is neutral. If it's important, just reread this guide and try again after a few days.
  • If you have followup questions or arguments that depend on my answer to the question, especially criticism of my ideas, let me know.
  • If you think I need to address this question for Paths Forward reasons, explain that.
  • If you want me personally to answer, say why. Otherwise write your question in a generic way that other people could answer, too.
  • If you think I'll get value from the question or a followup, tell me what's in it for me.
  • Don't be or act helpless or needy, don't act like you deserve free answers, and don't rush and write carelessly.

If this sounds like too much effort to you, then understand that answering your questions is not my problem. But note that you will benefit from these steps too because they'll guide you to do better thinking. They'll help you understand your problem better, make some problem solving progress, and sometimes answer your own question.


Elliot Temple on December 30, 2016

Messages (9)

a good way to present questions is as a point you got stuck in your own thinking process. you tried to solve W problem, you thought X and Y, you ran into difficulty Z, and the question is how to make progress on W problem. tell that story. you should be looking for help making progress yourself, not for other people to think for you. and you should be putting questions in a context like that so that people have more information about what would be helpful to say.

also, don't ask yes/no questions when you want a useful explanation.


curi at 8:09 PM on May 15, 2019 | #12398 | reply | quote

If you're asking a question anonymously, signal effort and seriousness in some way.

If you post under a name with a reputation, lower effort questions can be OK. I may know context already or know that you follow up on topics. If you have no reputation to rely on, you need to give more info about context, willingness to continue the discussion, etc. Making the question visibly high quality in some way is a good way to accomplish that.

You should build up a positive reputation or make some aspect of your question stand out positively.

If you have a positive reputation, but you're posting this particular question anonymously, you should remember that you look just like a new guy who hasn't read a single FI article and who will never write a second comment. Do something to differentiate yourself from that.


curi at 3:06 PM on August 3, 2020 | #16953 | reply | quote

What is your method for organizing what you're reading?

I read your post on How To Learn From Great Books. I liked it.

Do you have a long list of to read books and knock one at a time? Do you organize books by topics you're interested in? Is it mostly intuition or do you follow a particular methodology? For example, do you decide today you will read only books pertaining Economics, or this week. Or do you mix and match throughout the day whatever catches your interest?

Do you use any software like Evernote or stuff like that?


Periergo at 5:07 PM on August 6, 2020 | #16988 | reply | quote

#16988 If my interests, intuitions or logical planning (like thinking through what's important to read) clashed, I'd see that as a (solvable) problem and try to resolve the conflict. I wouldn't try to use will power or force myself. But I also wouldn't be satisfied with chaos. I want to make substantial ongoing progress on my goals.


curi at 5:59 PM on August 6, 2020 | #16989 | reply | quote

From "How To Learn From Great Books" curi wrote,

> Consider: Do you usually read at least a few hours every week? Have you ever read 12 hours in one day? Have you ever stayed up way past your bedtime to keep reading? Have you read 40 hours in a week? Have you read 500 books? Have you read two full books in one day before? Have you read 25 books in a month before? Have you read 25 books in your life that are over 1,000 pages? Have you ever read a 1,000+ page book in 5 days? 4 days? 3 days? 2 days? 1 day?

1000 Page book in one day!

I was curious and decided to test some things. I took a reading speed and comprehension test. I read at about 350WPM for 100% comprehension. After that I start to lose comprehension.

According to a page I googled, 1 page is approximately 450 words. A 1000 page book would be approximately 450,000 Words.

at 350 wpm, it would take me 1,286 minutes to read. Roughly to do this I would have to read non-stop for **21.4 hours.**

That is pretty crazy.

I tested using a speedreader (shows you 1 word at a time rapidly) and I could keep up to around 540 WPM. I felt like I was comprehending but I did not test it. I assume my reading comprehension was shot to hell going that fast. Also *after a couple of minutes my eyes start to water*, so I am not blinking properly.

At 540WPM with dubious reading comprehension, it would take me approximately 13+ hours to read a 1000 page book in one sitting. wow!

I haven't tested how long I can read for before losing concentration, but I would guess around 20 minutes.

Reading a book that long in one day seems near impossible to me.


Periergo at 8:45 PM on August 6, 2020 | #16990 | reply | quote

#16990 I read around 450k words in a day once. I think it was at 700 wpm (or 720) but could have been a little less (600+).

That was just fantasy novels. Fairly easy reading.

You get faster (for same comprehension level) with years of practice. I started learning RSVP with Mises (dense econ stuff) at like 300 wpm. RSVP (rapid serial visual presentation) is the name of the rapidly blinking word(s) method you mentioned. I normally do 2-4 words at a time instead of 1.

450 words per page is high. *A Game of Thrones* is 421 (for whatever edition wikipedia grabbed numbers from) and that's the sort of book where they pack a lot of words on each page. Typical books have larger font sizes and maybe wider margins. I use 333 words/page as a general estimate.

I do a lot of text-to-speech + visual reading at the same time with Voice Dream Reader. This is less draining for me than RSVP.


curi at 10:06 PM on August 6, 2020 | #16991 | reply | quote

>I do a lot of text-to-speech + visual reading at the same time with Voice Dream Reader. This is less draining for me than RSVP.

At a certain speed I assume we can't understand text-to-speech, which I assume is probably much lower than our max visual WPM.

Do you know around what WPM text-to-speech becomes unintelligible?

I think the average WPM speaking rate in the US is 150WPM.


Periergo at 11:12 PM on August 7, 2020 | #17001 | reply | quote

#17001 I can use text-to-speech at 700 wpm (max setting in VDR for Paul voice). I know some people (particularly blind people) can do higher with other software.

700 is hard for me for audio-only but 500 wpm audio-only is often easy even while multitasking (e.g. exercising). It depends somewhat on the book.

That's slower than RSVP max but it's still pretty fast. I have done over 1000 wpm RSVP but only a little and for easy material. I more normally used 500-750 range. I could definitely increase that but I've found VDR good enough speed for less effort so I've been using it a lot.

I listen to audio files or video files at 3x or higher speed sometimes. It depends a lot on how fast they talk and accents. Subtitles do help for videos but I've done over 3x on audio-only podcasts. My avg current watch speed on YouTube is around 2.7x currently, and I turn it up or down depending on the video.

I don't think I'm maxxing out human potential or anything but I think I've hit moderate diminishing returns on speeding up more.


curi at 11:26 PM on August 7, 2020 | #17003 | reply | quote

#17003 You have the mind of a jet engine. Very cool.


Periergo at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2020 | #17006 | reply | quote

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