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st: "Thanks in advance" and closure of threads


From   n j cox <n.j.cox@durham.ac.uk>
To   statalist@hsphsun2.harvard.edu
Subject   st: "Thanks in advance" and closure of threads
Date   Thu, 19 Jul 2007 18:49:36 +0100

Claire Kamp Dush wrote (in passing)

"In advance, I never know whether to e-mail thank yous and fill up
everyone's in boxes that much more, so in advance, a whole-hearted thank
you to anyone who replies. I really appreciate it."

Claire's uncertainty is apt. The list displays a range of practices
on this point, and probably no advice will change that (much).

The Statalist FAQ has this to say

"Continuing or closing a thread you started is important, especially by answering secondary questions and by reporting what solved your problem. Offering 'Thanks in advance' may save you time and effort, but most people who offer advice do appreciate a brief personal word of thanks afterwards: privately will do as well as publicly."

The FAQ also quotes

http://www.mikeash.com/getting_answers.html

with "Follow up after you get an answer" as one of ten key headings.

And finally the FAQ also quotes

http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

which includes this

"Be courteous. Use “Please” and “Thanks for your attention” or “Thanks for your consideration”. Make it clear you appreciate the time people spend helping you for free.

[...]

(We must note that the only serious objection we've received from veteran hackers to this HOWTO is with respect to our previous recommendation to use “Thanks in advance”. Some hackers feel this connotes an intention not to thank anybody afterwards. Our recommendation is to either say “Thanks in advance” first and thank respondents afterwards, or express courtesy in a different way, such as by saying “Thanks for your attention” or “Thanks for your consideration”.)"

That's a bundle of advice. As far as Statalist is concerned, I naturally
emphasise the first quotation (and not just because I wrote it).

To expand a little:

1. Presumably everyone votes for courtesy, but people will disagree what
it is exactly. This is a technical list, and pretty hard-hitting at times (people are told that they are wrong or that their ideas are poor
or confused, etc.) but almost always everyone keeps their temper, and
people who don't like the atmosphere mostly vote with their feet.
I personally find stuff like "Hi Statalist", "Good morning", "Hope this helps", "I look forward to your answer" as unnecessary,
but as I can be more long-winded than anybody else at times I should not
complain, and in any case none of that offends anybody, or so I presume.
When I argued that some months ago, I got little support, although the
issue was tangled up with the "majordomo sometimes eats opening lines"
problem. I assume goodwill unless the opposite is utterly obvious, and so I think do the great majority of Statalist. (One member memorably
complained at me for answering his question by quoting the precise
section of the manual in which his exact problem was solved, and urged
that postings like mine should be "banned", so there are always puzzling
exceptions. He got no support, I should say.)

2. "Thanks in advance" I never use, personally, but the arguments for
it, I guess, are that -- as Claire states -- lots of little "Thank
you" messages are just more emails that people must delete, and that
it lets people think they have discharged their obligations. People
who use "Thanks in advance" -- in some cases probably just as a form
of words -- might bear in mind that it irritates at least some people
who wonder how far the signal is disingenuous. In return, others might
wonder at such imputation of insincerity.

3. More important than that, however, is that this list is often poor
at closure of threads. I've just looked back at various recent threads
on the list and found that very frequently the original poster
has failed to summarise in terms of what worked, or to reply to secondary questions, and so forth. This leaves anyone interested
up in the air about the outcome. It is also, in a fairly strong sense,
exploitation of goodwill, especially whenever someone got what they
wanted, but couldn't be bothered to wrap up the thread, even minimally
with a final thanks.

More constructively, what I expect is most helpful is that the original poster thanks all the people who contributed and summarises the outcome.
Many people in fact do this, of course, but not enough. Occasionally
it can be a good idea for someone expert on the topic to weigh in and try to summarize.

A minority practice, evident recently, is thanking each individual separately in public. I advise against this whenever it is avoidable.
Bundling your thanks when possible is fine.

4. Finally, I have some regrets about saying "privately will do as well as publicly" because I don't think it is really true. It is always nice
to get personal thank yous, but inevitably they are not visible to
the list. One person offered to bear my babies in gratitude for something or other, although without asking my own wishes, or indicating how this would be possible via email contact. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have forgotten her name. More seriously, a private thanks "Yes, that solved the problem" usually would be better sent to the list.

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

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