by Kim Crayton

When you’re new to coding, Stack Overflow can be a scary place. It’s an amazing resource for newbies. But it’s also a place where bullies troll for new victims.

With the hundreds of thousands of unfilled programming jobs out there, and the need for more diversity in the field, you’d think that experienced programmers would be eager to help newbies. And generally, they are.

But there’s also a vocal minority of people who will respond to your questions with snark or responses like “Read the Freaking Manual (RTFM)”. They may flag your question as a duplicate without taking time to read it, or take any number of other passive-aggressive actions.

You’ll need to push past all this in your quest for the answers you seek.

I was a high school teacher, so there is very little that some anonymous person online can say to me that will keep me from getting answers to my questions.

Still, it took me some time to add Stack Overflow to my toolbox. This was not out of fear of trolls. It was because I wasn’t yet sure of how to ask the right questions.

How to ask the right questions

Here are some beginner steps for newbies to use to harness the power of Stack Overflow in leveling up their learning. All examples are my own :-)

Research your question online before posting it.

Wording is everything.

Read this article for more details: Homework Center: Finding Information on the Internet: Using Search Engines

Provide ALL relevant information

This including links to other resources you’ve looked at in researching your question.

Don’t include screenshots of your codebase.

Copy and paste the actual code into the text box (use the { } ).

Those who are wanting to help you will use your code to try and replicate your error or issue.

You can review the entire question and answer feed here.

Learn to use the formatting tools.

For more details on how to do this, read How do I format my code blocks?

Use tags.

They help to make sure that the right group of people with the expertise you are seeking see your question.

If you receive an answer that you don’t understand, ask politely for additional clarity.

For example: “Hello (person’s name) I’m new and I don’t understand your answer. Would it be possible for you to provide additional information for clarity? Thank you.”

For more details, check out How to ask a good question? and Discourage screenshots of code and/or errors.

If you receive a response that seems harsh, politely remind them that you are new and still learning.

For example: “Thank you (person’s name), I’m new and it would be helpful if you explained what’s wrong with my question and the steps I can take to ensure that I don’t make this mistake again.”

If one or more of the answers you receive helped you with your issue use the arrows next to that answer to upvote it.

Stack Overflow has a points system. It’s important to those who have taken the time to help you, so it should be important to you.

For more detail and to run the code snippet: Styling the text on each side of a <input type=“range”&gt; tag

If your issue is solved click on the checkmark next to the most helpful answer to close the question.

You can read in more detail here: Circular dependency detected while autoloading constant ConnectionsController

Most importantly, don’t take it personally.

I’d like to end this post with two very good examples of the process outlined above: How to create more than one index page in RoR and Installing the jQuery.AreYouSure? Plugin.

Thanks for reading!