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st: Questions which probably won't get much of an answer


From   "Nick Cox" <n.j.cox@durham.ac.uk>
To   <statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu>
Subject   st: Questions which probably won't get much of an answer
Date   Thu, 15 Apr 2004 21:08:12 +0100

I would like to venture some general advice, especially for the
sake of people who are relatively new to Statalist. Statalist,
like any other such list, is based on a bizarre contract between
people who have questions and people who think they have answers
to those questions. It is very easy to imagine that lots of people
have lots of questions, as even supposed experts meet puzzles and
problems in their Stata use every day. What's not so obvious is
why anyone would want to provide answers if they're not paid to do
it. It's probably some mixture of being crazy, being a monstrous
egoist, and being a nice guy, with different fractions for
different people. 

But you don't want to know that, really. What you should want to
know is what kinds of questions are most likely to get answers,
because, clearly, (1) you don't want to waste your time; (2) you
shouldn't want to waste anybody else's time. 

There's a section of the FAQ called "4. What to do if you do not
get an answer". It dates from a time when several people seemed to
keep pestering the list with repetitions of the same question. The
list was in effect answering with silence. Interpreting silence is
difficult, although theologians and some other groups do try.
However, if you examine the kinds of questions which often do
_not_ get answers, you will get some guidance on the types of
questions probably not worth asking. I emphasise "probably". It
can be worth a long shot, guessing that someone in the thousand-plus
members of Statalist knows the answer to your recondite question. 

Type 1. Is there a Stata program to do <something very exotic>? 

Comment: Naturally you should try -search- and -findit- first.
But often a resounding silence means that no one knows of any such
Stata program. You need to write your own code or use some other
software. 

Type 2. How do I do <something very elementary>? 

Comment: You may get an answer, especially if you come across
as genuinely confused rather than lazy. Of course, you don't _always_ 
know that it is really _is_ very elementary in Stata terms. If you are
a beginner, you've not absorbed all the elementary details yet,
naturally. But often a resounding silence means experts muttering
to themselves that your question really should be answered by
using the manual or the online help. 

Type 3. What should I do next in my project? 

Comment: You may get an answer. Most people remember all too well
those long periods in graduate school when they were floundering.
(They often continue long past graduate school.) But Statalist
_cannot_ be your advisor or supervisor. We do not have the
knowledge of your project needed to work out the best thing to do
in your circumstances, and in any case it is really your call. 

Type 4. I tried <something> and it did not work. Anyone know why? 

Comment: All too common here is not providing enough information.
For example, postings of the form, "I tried using -foobar-, but it
did not work," are usually impossible to answer, except by asking
for more information. You may think you are not doing this, but 
you often are!  

Type 5. Here is a long description of my current Stata problem.  Can
someone help? 

Comment: This is the opposite of the previous type, but it is also
likely to be overlooked. You may get no answer because your
question is too unclear or too complicated to understand.  For
example, very complicated data-management tasks or large chunks of
code that are not working are usually too much like hard work to
understand, even for Stata experts. 

Nick 
n.j.cox@durham.ac.uk 


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