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st: Some reminders please


From   n j cox <n.j.cox@durham.ac.uk>
To   statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu
Subject   st: Some reminders please
Date   Tue, 09 Jan 2007 19:29:40 +0000

It seems from some recent repeated patterns that a few
reminders would not be out of place.

Long-standing members and those who have studied the FAQ
closely will recognise these points: apologies to you!

Please:

Explain where non-official commands come from
----------------------------------------------

Stata is at best a near seamless web ranging from
official Stata commands to any user-written command
just made public. But no-one recognises all command
names and those who are starting to learn certainly
won't recognise more than a few. You are asked to
explain where commands come from, as you can't even
be certain that program authors will recognise their
own offspring. So please specify an origin and author(s)
(SSC, SJ or STB etc.). This is easy to do and it helps
inform everyone of commands that might be useful
in their work.

Example: I am using -foobar- written by Phileas Fogg,
downloaded from SSC. Phileas appears to have gone
round the world for 80 days, so I have the following
question. [...]

NB: the -cmdname- convention helps everyone too.

No references that are just name (date)
---------------------------------------

Similarly it's bad form just to give references
that are name and date alone. There is a kind of
logic to this in that those who don't recognise
the brief reference probably won't be able to
answer your question, but you increase the chance
of helping others and the chance of people
answering your question by giving full details.
The rule of thumb is to give enough information for anyone
interested to be able to seek out the reference
for themselves without detective work.

Put yourself in the reader's place
----------------------------------

Another way of putting all this is to ask
you to consider what kinds of questions
you would be most willing to answer. The
answer should be pretty clear, I trust:
well explained, specific questions are
generally easiest to answer. And too
much explanation is no better than too little.

Conversely, the following kinds of questions
are much more difficult to answer and often
get ignored. In every case, it's a matter
of probability and you might get some
really good answers, but don't bet on it.
These rarely occur in the limiting forms
given here, but anything approximating
to these forms is usually difficult to
answer positively -- and it irritates
the heck out of at least some gurus.

One senior Stata user said to me "I now
always delete all postings by Z unread,
as they ask such dopey questions". It
mattered not when I explained that Z
had morphed in a matter of weeks and was now
a pillar of the list: the impression created
by the first few postings had produced a
conditioned "Delete" reflex. Learn from the
fate of poor Z....

"What should I do next in my project?"

It really is your call!

"I am doing X. Is this statistically
correct?"

Depends ....

"I tried using -cmdname-, but it didn't work."

Sorry to hear it. Without details,
comment is impossible.

"I am new to technique Y and would appreciate
the low down."

This just sounds lazy. Get thee to a
library, ask around in your institution, and if
all else fails do an internet search.

Coda
----

You may prefer not to believe me, but you have
other ways of acquiring and assessing evidence.
Study the archives and see the kinds of questions
that do and do not get answered!

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