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st: Asking Stata questions on Statalist

From   "Nick Cox" <>
To   <>
Subject   st: Asking Stata questions on Statalist
Date   Fri, 22 Nov 2002 19:51:57 -0000

The Statalist FAQ continues to exist, 
and it is advertised at the bottom of this 
and every other Statalist posting, and we 
hope it is useful. 

Still, presenting advice in other forms from 
time to time may also have its uses. What 
follows is a personal distillation, but it 
does draw on many interactions with others
in the user community. 

Asking Stata questions on Statalist

1. You have -- naturally -- already looked 
at the on-line help, read the manual, looked
at the FAQs at
and asked the local expert. If not, please do so. 

2. Did you do a search using -findit-? 
If you don't know what -findit- is, look 
at this FAQ:

3. Is your version of Stata up-to-date? 
Your problem might already have been 
identified and fixed. Type 

. update query

in Stata to find out. If it is under your control, 
please -update-. If it is not your control, 
please ask the systems adminstrator to -update-. 

4. What version of Stata you are using
and what date is it? Type 

. about

to find out. Quote what Stata types as the 
first two lines, something like 

Intercooled Stata 7.0 for Windows 98/95/NT
Born 11 June 2002

5. What command(s) are you using? 

a. Is the command built-in? If so, 
typing in Stata

. which <command> 

will tell you that. For <command>, 
substitute the name of the command 
you are using. Then just name the command
in your posting. Use - - in your posting 
around command names, as in this document. 

Good example: I am using -regress-...

b. Is the command an official command 
defined by an ado file?

. which <command>

will specify a file somewhere in BASE or UPDATES. 
(In Stata, type -sysdir- to see where they are.) 
Just name the command.

Good example: I am using -xtlogit-...

c. Is the command user-written and downloaded 
from the SJ/STB, SSC or other archives?

. which <command>

should specify a file somewhere other than 
BASE or UPDATES; and if the command is carefully 
written it should give an internal version 
number of the form 1.2.3. 

Have you got the latest version 
of the command? If it is from SSC,
use -ssc-. Type 

. help ssc 

If this doesn't work, you clearly 
did not update (#2). See
to learn what alternatives are available. 

Say what the command is and where and 
who it comes from.

Good example: I am using -dmexog- 
(version 1.4.1) from SSC written by Kit 
Baum and Steven Stillman.

6. Tell us about your data as far 
as is relevant to your question. 

7. Say exactly what you typed and exactly 
what Stata typed (or did) in response. 
N.B. exactly! 

If you can, reproduce the error with one of 
Stata's provided data sets or a simple concocted 
data set which you include in your posting. 

Bad example: The command -fiddle- worked yesterday, 
but it is not working today.  [No information]
(Remarkably or not, questions of this form 
have appeared on Statalist...) 

Bad example: I am using -frog-, but I just get 
the message "invalid syntax". [Very little information]

Good example: I am trying to draw a time series 
plot using -graph-. Here is a silly example 
showing my problem with the auto data:

. gen time = _n 
. graph mpg time, c(1) sy(i)

Stata says "invalid syntax". What I am doing wrong?

8. Please write carefully. List members often delete 
badly written postings without reading them. They 
will, of course, take note whenever it is clear 
that you are not writing in your first language, 
but postings marred by careless grammar, spelling 
and punctuation and sloppy presentation generally 
are often just too much like hard work to be worth bothering 
about. Why should people put themselves out to 
try to understand you when you are so thoughtless about 
presenting your question? 

9. Make sure that you answer any supplementary 
questions which you may be asked. Wrap up 
a thread whenever appropriate by reporting 
what worked. The formula "Thanks in advance" 
does not absolve you from this responsibility. 
On that, and other matters relevant, see

10. Don't say "Is this a bug?". 
Almost all the time, it isn't! 

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