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st: Statalist advice: a summary
Nick Cox <firstname.lastname@example.org>
st: Statalist advice: a summary
Wed, 23 May 2012 11:45:42 +0100
What follows is a revision of various earlier postings, with apologies
to those to whom this is all too familiar. New people are always joining
the list, and it can take a while before the ethos of Statalist becomes
clear. Even old hands can sometimes "forget" what they should otherwise
It is important to remember that Statalist is a discussion list, not a
help line. The distinction might seem a little obscure or subtle, so
let's spell it out:
* On a help line, someone is obliged to reply, even if the answer is
perfunctory. On a discussion list, people will happily delete your
posting if they don't understand it or it's too much like hard work even
to try to find out what you are seeking. There is no mechanism on
Statalist for ensuring that anybody answers, so a question that looks
too difficult for everyone will just lie there.
* A help line is aimed at helping individuals, and giving the client a
good answer is the key goal. You will not know, and need not care, about
other clients. On a discussion list, it is fine if people get individual
help in public, but it is also important that such help contributes to
an archive of solved problems that people can search. A lousy question
that is too difficult to answer wastes the questioner's time and also
clogs the list and the archives with unhelpful posts.
Following all the advice below won't guarantee an answer that satisfies
you, but ignoring most or all of it will make such an answer much less
Reminder: When you joined the list you were asked to read the FAQ
before posting, and we really did mean that. Please read the FAQ before
posting! Much of it can be skimmed or skipped on a first reading.
For another source of advice on Statalist, see
0. Use your real name in postings. Fake or cute or cryptic names may be
standard elsewhere, but this is firm Statalist policy. If you don't
agree, please don't post.
1. Help yourself first. Use the Stata help, the Stata manuals, -findit-,
the Stata FAQs, and the Statalist archives, in that order. (The idea
that you should search the web before you read the manual is a strange
belief shared by many new users.)
2. Explain your data structure clearly and with examples (variable types
etc.) We can only understand your dataset to the extent that you explain
3. Show the exact Stata syntax you used and show the exact Stata output
you got. (Never say just that something "didn't work", but explain
precisely in what sense you didn't get what you wanted.)
4. Specify the Stata version you used and the operating system you used
if it could possibly be relevant. Don't assume that the whole Stata
world uses MS Windows, let alone MS Excel.
5. Give an example which can easily be replicated using data supplied
with Stata or in your post.
6. Explain where user-written commands you refer to come from, for
example the Stata Journal, SSC, or someone's website. This makes clearer
what you are talking about, to everyone's benefit.
7. Give full literature references, not references of the form "Greene"
or the form "Sue, Grabbit, and Runne (2002)".
8. Ask a precise question that is easy to answer. Is this correct? or
what should I do with my data? usually don't qualify.
9. The best strategy is to ask a question that someone else will want to
answer, not to act clueless or desperate. (Many students close to
finishing appear to think that they are especially deserving of help,
but this is a view not widely shared by anybody else.)
10. Do send plain text only. Don't send attachments or use formatting
such as HTML.
11. Post once and wait patiently for a reply. (To see if something "got
through", check the archives.)
12. Close threads with concise summaries sent to the list of what
worked. That is the best way to show appreciation and to contribute
further to the list.
* For searches and help try: