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st: How to Get Help in Stata and Statalist

From   "Julia Gamas" <[email protected]>
To   <[email protected]>
Subject   st: How to Get Help in Stata and Statalist
Date   Mon, 2 Aug 2004 09:23:29 -0400

Dear all,
Here are some things that work for me in getting Stata help.  Something
someone said in last Friday's digest, about reluctance to use Stata manuals,
prompted me to write this.
1. Search the Statalist archives (or on google).  Chances are someone
already asked the question I need answered.  
2. Use and abuse the "help" window in Stata.  Typing in different words that
could possibly address my problem in the "help" window is good for two
reasons.  One is that eventually I type in a word that takes me somewhere I
want to go and answers my question, and second, I get to learn about a bunch
of other commands that I remember later.  Sometimes a command that you need
is within the explanation of another command.  For example, if I want
something about matrices I go to matrix commands first and to the bottom of
the explanation to find other potentially useful commands or links.  This
may take a while.  I find this reduces my need to consult the manuals to
times when I want much more detailed information (about a model structure,
for example).  
3.  State the problem early in subject line and email.  I find that postings
that start by stating a summary of the problem and then go into the details
are easier for me to understand (and possibly answer). The person reading
can decide quickly if they know anything about it and can offer help.
Examples:  "Is there a command that takes a matrix and stacks its columns
into a list?"  Or:  "I need to put the columns of a matrix one on top of the
other, but each column is a different size, does anybody know how to do
this?"   Then the statlist reader can answer me quickly by saying:  use
"stack".  It is then up to me to go and find out how "stack" works.  If
instead I copy and paste in my matrix and then copy and paste two of its
columns one on top of the other and ask if there is a command to do this at
the end of the email, readers may have to spend a lot more of their time
going through my email to understand the problem.
4.  Read all answers to your question.  Maybe you find one answer to be most
helpful.  But you will certainly learn something from the others, that you
might be able to use later. 
5.  Don't give in to the temptation of skipping these steps and asking the
statalist members directly.  This will only make learning Stata harder in
the long run and impose on their time.  Trying to navigate it by yourself is
what teaches you how to really use it.  This requires an investment in time
and this part is inevitable.  As you do this however, you learn a lot and
looking for solutions becomes increasingly easier.  AS I'm sure many users
agree, the benefits of learning and using Stata are enormous and well worth
the work.
I hope these steps may be helpful.

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