How to ask a question
You want help from the community at large; you’ve decided where you’re
going to ask your question, but how do you
Excellent “general” advice (how to ask questions of anyone) is
Eric Raymond’s article on the topic.
Eric’s an extremely self-confident person, and this comes through in
his advice; but his guidelines are very good, even for us in the
un-self-confident majority. It’s important to remember that you don’t
have a right to advice from the world, but that if you express
yourself well, you will usually find someone who will be pleased to
So how do you express yourself in the (La)TeX world? There aren’t
any comprehensive rules, but a few guidelines may help in the
application of your own common sense.
- Make sure you’re asking the right people. Don’t ask in a TeX
forum about printer device drivers for the Foobar
operating system. Yes, TeX users need printers, but no, TeX
users will typically not be Foobar systems
Similarly, avoid posing a question in a language that the majority
of the group don’t use: post in Ruritanian to
de.comp.text.tex and you may have a long wait before a
German- and Ruritanian-speaking TeX expert notices your
- If your question is (or may be) TeX-system-specific, report
what system you’re using, or intend to use: “I can’t install
TeX” is as good as useless, whereas “I’m trying to install the
mumbleTeX distribution on the Grobble
operating system” gives all the context a potential respondent
might need. Another common situation where this information is
important is when you’re having trouble installing something new in
your system: “I want to add the glugtheory package to my
mumbleTeX v12.0 distribution on the Grobble 2024
- If you need to know how to do something, make clear what your
environment is: “I want to do x in Plain TeX”, or “I
want to do y in LaTeX running the boggle
class”. If you thought you knew how, but your attempts are
failing, tell us what you’ve tried: “I’ve already tried installing
the elephant in the minicar directory, and it
didn’t work, even after refreshing the filename database”.
- If something’s going wrong within (La)TeX, pretend you’re
submitting a LaTeX bug report,
and try to generate a minimum failing example.
If your example
needs your local xyzthesis class, or some other resource
not generally available, be sure to include a pointer to how the
resource can be obtained.
- Figures are special, of course. Sometimes the figure itself is
really needed, but most problems may be demonstrated with a
“figure substitute” in the form of a
} command, for some value of
<width> and <height>. If the (real) figure is needed,
don’t try posting it: far better to put it on the web somewhere.
- Be as succinct as possible. Your helpers don’t usually need to
know why you’re doing something, just what you’re
doing and where the problem is.
This question on the Web: http://www.tex.ac.uk/cgi-bin/texfaq2html?label=askquestion