How do I get better answers? Or perhaps more accurately, How can I ask better questions?

Specifically what kind of information are other system administrators looking for posters to provide in order to receive useful, detailed answers in response.

A general reference to the topic would be ESR's How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

  • A key may be to recognize what category of answer are you looking for: Humorous jokes, war stories from those in the trenches, problems some of us may know the tip or trick to fix, an opinion on something or something else altogether. If there are environment factors like you want help debugging some issue then stating some of the environment factors can help resolve some things.
    – JB King
    Commented Jun 1, 2009 at 23:41

7 Answers 7


Be detailed. The more details you specify about the question, the easier it is for other people to answer.
Remember that the folks reading your question do not know your environment like you do. We only have the information you provide to help us formulate answers.

Don't be afraid to edit your question to be clearer. If you think the question is confusing, edit it for the benefit of the readers. Maybe by changing the sentences, other people can understand what you are trying to get at.

Show us that you are applying our answers, even if it was wrong. Assuming you have tons of answers. You try each one and all of them failed. You should let us know (either via the question or via the comments) which one failed and what are the results.

Treat the readers with respect. Assume that they are not idiots. You show us respect and we will show you respect. Be arrogant in your questioning (although usually, this isn't intentional) and we will not respond.

Don't be afraid to show the things you did wrong. This would either save us time in responding with the same wrong answer you came up with and it would show us that that you researched the problem before asking us about it. Note: Alternatively, it's understandable if you don't want to include your experience in doing something stupid which caused the problem to get worse. Discretion is advised.

A good question should tell us the following:

  • What are you trying to do?
  • What have you tried to make it happen?
    (or what you are considering trying if you're asking for advice on a plan)
  • What did you expect to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • In short, better questions get better answers.
    – Chris S
    Commented May 26, 2010 at 12:44

This is utterly off topic, but it would be great if more people marked answers. It seems like the majority of the "unanswered" questions have been answered very well, but the originator forgets to come back to the thread.

  • 4
    +1 This is good on so many different levels...
    – squillman
    Commented Jun 2, 2009 at 0:12

Frontload your questions. For heaven's sake, don't start your questions with "Hi guys, I'm new here, and I don't know much about SQL but I was wondering ..."

Instead jump right into either an easy to grasp description of the problem that led to your question, or a precise nailing down of your question. If possible, the title should be a condensed version of the question in your first paragraph, one that attracts people who have the right kind of knowledge to help you.

The most common edits I perform on other people's questions are (i) making the title reflect what the questioner actually wants, and (ii) removing introductory fluff.

Two resources:

  1. quack quixote's analysis of what was wrong with an SU question of mine got me to think harder about what kind of questions were good for potential answerers;
  2. Frontloading is a bit like Wikipedia's summary style.
  • Read the FAQ
  • Ask precise, finite questions that can be answered by people who have had experience with the specific issue(s) you are experiencing.
  • List what you have already tested while troubleshooting.
  • Share any measurements you have taken while troubleshooting, even if you may have ruled those out as contributing factors.

For Software related questions:

  • List your operating system (Windows, Mac OS X, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Solaris, Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu, FreeBSD, etc.) with version numbers
  • List your Hardware architecture (i386, x86-64, SPARC, PPC, etc.)
  • List specific versions of relevant components (e.g. Linux kernel version, Python version, Java Virtual Machine version/provider, PHP version, httpd version, etc.)

If you're running an End-of-lifed OS version, clearly articulate reasons why upgrading to a supported release is not the correct answer when asking about updating software.


People will answer your question if:

  • Your question is clear and
  • They understand it and
  • They know the answer

If its a long question, you have a better chance of getting an answer if you've at least given it a shot.

People will not answer your question if:

  • They don't understand it
  • The question is unclear
  • It looks troll-y

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