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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. That's my preferred place to take questions and I give it priority. But don't use it 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


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