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I have lately been noticing that many new users of Ask Ubuntu, who are also new users of Ubuntu, ask questions (probably something related to graphics driver, GRUB, etc.) and many users of Ask Ubuntu, who are highly-knowledgeable about the question's topic, respond:

  • by asking more information related to the question (in a manner which might be difficult for the OP to understand) to understand the issue more properly through comments.

    For example, let's say an OP asked a question about GNOME in Ubuntu 20.04 but tagged the wrong Ubuntu version (like 14.04, 16.04, etc.) or wrong desktop environment (like KDE, LXDE, etc.) or wrong flavour (like Kubuntu, Lubuntu, etc.), instead of asking the OP about the incorrect tags and explaining about EoL and EoSS, we can request the OP to share the output of lsb_release -a or any relevant command to know the correct flavour/desktop environment/version.

    Once, the OP provides the output, we can edit the tags :)

  • by trying to explain the cause of the OP's problem/ suggest a solution (in comments) in a manner which will seem esoteric (meaning: very unusual and understood or liked by only a small number of people, especially those with special knowledge) and complex to the OP.

    Let's say someone is facing some issue with their hard disk. Instead of just requesting the OP to do fsck, it would be better to guide the OP to resources which will help the OP to understand what fsck is and how to do it.

I am not trying to call out any Ask Ubuntu users. I am grateful that the experienced Ubuntu users are sharing their knowledge, but IMO we need to use a simplified technical language for new Ubuntu users who ask questions on our site.

What are your thoughts on this?

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    I think that an answer should be simple enough for the OP to be able to follow and understand, but, some times, oversimplification can lead to answers that are longer than needed and confusing. I like this quote from Albert Einstein: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. Jul 12 at 18:42
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    @BeastOfCaerbannog I do agree that oversimplification is not good. Let's say if we are gonna talk about a topic which might be complex to the OP, we should guide them to resources (like websites or answers in AU) which will help the OP understand better. Jul 12 at 18:47
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    Well, I think that this should go without saying. Jul 12 at 18:51
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    @RandomPerson Just to clarify but what do you mean by "a simplified technical language"? That's not going to be easy for some of the technical topic,s and the terminology can't easily be simplified.
    – Thomas Ward Mod
    Jul 12 at 19:02
  • EoL, ESM will sound complex to newbies. Newbies might not know how to add a boot parameter, how to do fsck (or what is fsck in the first place), recovery mode, etc. @ThomasWard Jul 12 at 19:09
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    If the user plans to use Ubuntu, they might as well get their 10,000 hours of Googling practice started straight away.
    – Nate T
    Jul 19 at 11:55
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Meta meta note: This answer was posted in response to the first version of the question, which I thought was at least partly about answers and not comments. I am leaving it here as I think it has some value, and since over a week passed before the question was edited, it accrued some votes such that I can't just edit it to respond to the new version of the question. Since it seems I misunderstood the intent of the question, I'm just writing a new answer rather than asking that the new version be posted as a separate question


On the one hand, yeah.

I'm not sure this is what you meant by your first bullet point, but when we ask for more information from an OP, it makes sense to tell them how they can get that information (for example, what commands will retrieve it).

Also, what I want is for our site to be helpful to as many people as possible, and I think that goal is served by trying to write answers as accessibly as one can, which can sometimes mean explaining technical concepts and terms at a basic level.

On the other hand, choosing the pitch of an answer to reach as many people as possible is hard. If you explain everything at a foundation level, the answer will become long. You might never come to the key insights you want to convey before you hit the character limit :) Or more likely, you might make the answer less accessible: those who might benefit from its advanced content might miss out, because the answer is so overstuffed with things they already know that they don't bother to read it all.

There are three factors I can think of that help with this difficulty of pitching.

Firstly, there's the OP. What level of knowledge does the question express? As you point out, many of our questions come from people who are new to Ubuntu, and so answers to their questions should account for that. Other questions reveal a high level of knowledge. If the user asks about an issue they're having writing a script, we probably don't need to tell them how to open a terminal. At a minimum, we want to help the OP. Hopefully, future users working at similar levels with similar problems will find our answer useful.

Secondly, there's myself and my rubber duck. I'll explain the answer in a way that makes sense to me.

Thirdly, and most importantly, thankfully I am not alone here trying to answer all the questions. Ask Ubuntu is great because it's the work of many different brains, working from different perspectives and experiences. I'll write an answer pitched at the level that feels right to me, and some other folks will write other answers in different styles with different levels of explanation, and that will make the site useful to a wider audience, because some people will benefit from a long and thorough answer, and some people will benefit from a terse, simple answer (in fact the same person might benefit from different answers at different times...)

Now I'm not saying all answers are equally helpful or valuable and that we shouldn't encourage people to, for example, add explanation to their answer so that it can be used by people less familiar with the topic (I often post comments to do that), or even edit answers to add details and explanation where appropriate, but I am saying that I don't think we should insist on a particular pitch or style policy for all cases.

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    Well put.. and bonus points for the rubber duck ref.
    – Nate T
    Jul 19 at 12:02
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    My question didn't focus much about answers. My question was mainly about comments. Anyway, I have updated my post giving some examples. Please check. Jul 23 at 18:29
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    Answers have character limit? What is the character limit? Jul 23 at 18:33
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    I would like to inform you that it is not my intention to insist on a style policy for all cases. Jul 23 at 18:36
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In my original answer I mentioned that asking the OP for details of the problem in comments should be done in a way that enabled them to provide the information asked for. For example, we can suggest commands to retrieve information. Some comments also explain how to format the output requested, which is a good idea especially when the question contains wrongly formatted code, screenshots, photos of the screen where pasted text would be more appropriate etc indicating that such explanation is needed.

However, your two examples don't refer to that kind of request.

Your first example about Ubuntu versions reminds me of certain comments like this snippet:

Ubuntu 20? No such release, so do you mean Ubuntu Core 20? (Ubuntu uses year.month for deb based products & the year format for snap only products)

Such comments make sense and are informative, but I feel that people usually write things like "Ubuntu 20" when they mean 20.04 or 20.10, and also that people using Ubuntu Core xx would probably be a little more clued up and not make the mistake of calling "Ubuntu Core 20" "Ubuntu 20", and that the OP's mind will be on their problem and not in a state to receive the information in parentheses which is explanatory but itself lacks explanation (deb based products??? I can hear the OP wondering). I do think it would be better in general to ask for version information in a more straightforward way (with regard to your advice to use lsb-release -a I prefer lsb_release -d which is less repetitive :).

About your second example - all I really have to say is that people should not be giving explanations of the problem or (especially) suggesting solutions in the comments. People who are tempted to do that (including especially me) should regularly read this excellent meta post about that. Just to reiterate again, comments are not for off-the-cuff suggestions that one thinks might not work. Neither are they for speculative explanations of the problem (I'm particularly guilty here...). Such material belongs in answers. Comments can't be downvoted or edited*, and if they're on the question and don't get deleted, they're probably going to be seen by visitors to the page before any of the answers.

However, I do agree that linking to relevant information is often a reasonable use of comments.


* actually, mods can edit comments (so you can flag or otherwise contact a mod if you encounter a situation where you strongly feel that editing a comment is necessary), but that is rarely appropriate to do since users can't (re)edit their own comments or even access a revision history to see what was changed.

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  • "... comments are not for off-the-cuff suggestions that one thinks might not work." Did you mean "might work"? Jul 30 at 15:26
  • "... if they're on the question" sounds ambiguous to me. Please make the wording a bit more clearer. Jul 30 at 15:44
  • @RandomPerson #1 I meant might not work, although might work sounds even worse :D #2 "they" in that phrase refers to the comments. It seems okay to me. What should I write instead?
    – Zanna Mod
    Jul 30 at 15:57
  • I think these would be better: "... comments are not for off-the-cuff suggestions that one thinks, which might be helpful to the OP." and ".... and if comments left on the question don't get deleted...". What's your opinion? Aug 1 at 12:54
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    I think the first one does not express what I mean and the second one doesn't gel with the first part of the sentence
    – Zanna Mod
    Aug 1 at 13:17
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    PS I hate this massive blue sign appearing after my name. I may be a mod but it doesn't make me any more right
    – Zanna Mod
    Aug 1 at 13:18
  • I am sorry. I meant to say "... comments are not for off-the-cuff suggestions that one thinks, which might not be helpful to the OP.". For second one, this is my another suggestion: ".... and if comments which are left on the question don't get deleted ...". BTW, if you can, share your opinion about the new mod label here: meta.stackexchange.com/q/367899 Aug 1 at 13:26
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Ups and Downs!

  • It depends on OP knowledge, experience and even the mood. That applies to the users trying to help too. We are all humans.

    Two factors from user background I usually try to look for when a question seems interesting but not complete. Estimate age and language proficiency of the OP. I think these are hard barriers, I consider them before answering.

  • CLI is quick and efficient method but it is not for Most users. If user not used to terminals/consoles. But it is worth teaching him to run scripts collecting troubleshooting data (ex: alsainfo). So sometimes, installing GUI alternatives is the best course.

I would recommend personalized answer to some level and keep technical details precise and exact (even they are hard). This is a natural learning path.

Personally, I prefer directly share my thinking/suspicions/theory and how OP may verify it. And try to shorten time for the OP. However, this doesn't work well sometimes. Comments may target many angles of the issue, OP may feel overwhelmed or lost.

On other hand, step by step guiding for troubleshooting may take long time which many may not able to afford. I usually lost track of a question if it takes more then few days to update.

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    Thanks for your answer! Your answer focuses more about answer whereas my question is mainly about comments. I agree with this statement: "Comments may target many angles of the issue, OP may feel overwhelmed or lost.". I use the follow feature to avoid losing track of a question :) Jul 25 at 19:38
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    Yeah, Follow feature is relatively new and it save much. Specially for new users who don’t know how to use user notifications.
    – user.dz
    Jul 25 at 20:08

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