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st: Please say where user-written software you discuss comes from

From   "Nick Cox" <>
To   <>
Subject   st: Please say where user-written software you discuss comes from
Date   Tue, 1 Jul 2008 22:29:02 +0100

The title will say enough for many.

The rest of this message is intended for those to whom this is
apparently not obvious. 

As a Western liberal, I have to conclude that widespread failure to
follow this advice -- long since part of the FAQ -- must really be my
fault. As maintainer of the FAQ, I have failed to explain clearly why it
is a good idea. So here goes, again. 

What's the issue?

Lots of questions start off something like this: 

	I am using -foobar- and I have a problem. 

If -foobar- is user-written, you are asked to start something more like

	I am using -foobar- from SSC ...

	I am using -foobar- from SJ 8(1) ... 

	I am using -foobar- from STB-42 ...

		Quoting authors too is also fine, of course. 

	I am using -foobar- from Froggly Toggly's website ...

How do I know if something is user-written?

Zeroth answer: It says so on the help. Towards the bottom, there is a
specification of an author or authors. 

First answer: -viewsource- shows you a file with author names or
initials at the top. 

Second answer: You had to install it first. (Admittedly, in some cases
somebody else installed it and you may not know that. Or you installed
it an age ago and have forgotten that.) 

Third answer: -which foobar- shows that (a) something is not inbuilt (b)
the files are on part of your -adopath- dedicated to user stuff. (You
have to understand about -adopath- to follow this answer, but it's a
good idea to find out any way.) 

Fourth answer: It's not documented in the manual. 

Moral: There are lots of ways to find out. (The list above isn't

Why does this matter?

The best answer is that we all benefit from better-formulated questions.

* You, the questioner, surely want your question to be answered,
answered quickly, answered relevantly, and answered well. Explaining
where stuff comes from never hinders that and often helps. Obscure
questions are more likely to get deleted or to elicit requests for more
information. Most pointedly, assuming that someone will do some work to
find out what on earth you are talking about is a really bad tactic. If
you want customer service, try Stata tech support -- except that they
will not answer questions about user-written stuff, which is what we are
talking about. 

* People who might answer your question are often helped by learning
where what you are using comes from. Often a smidgen more information
can help trigger a helpful response. (Remember that people's fingers are
poised to delete your posting instantly if they can't understand the
question.) The following are some realistic examples of memory triggers.

- Shucks, I wrote that some while ago. I should answer this. (More
common than you might think.) 

- Why are you using that old thing? There is a better way to do it. 

- Oh, that's so-and-so's, who seems to have disappeared. There is a
better way to do it. 

And so on.

* Lots of people like to lurk on Statalist and say nothing, and that's
great. (If you all started chipping in, the list would be unbearable.
Most people who like the list would still prefer 3 really interesting
posts a day to 30-odd....) They would be grateful to you if you
specified stuff, especially if they have a similar question and are on
the lookout for good tips. 

* The people who wrote the programs never mind a little extra
recognition anyway. 


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