Good Questions

If you challenge yourself (and you should challenge yourself), you’re bound to get stuck. If you aren’t hitting walls and getting stuck, you aren’t trying hard enough. Technology is changing constantly, so learning how to ask the right questions and get help with new tools is probably more important than actually learning how to use any one tool well today.

Questions like this are pretty hard to answer:

I want to start putting together my slideshow, but the SlideDeck plug-in doesn’t seem to be working on my WordPress. Do you know why?

or

I can’t seem to make Slidedeck work… I tried creating a first slide and it doesn’t work. Nothing happens, it just keeps loading with no results…

All I know is that you’re using Slidedeck. I don’t know what you’ve tried, I don’t know what happens when you try it, I don’t know what you thought was going to happen. So I don’t know enough to help you. A good question will include all of this:

  • What steps will reproduce the problem?
  • What is the expected output?
  • What do you see instead?
  • What version of the software are you using?

  • If you’re working with something online, like a WordPress Plugin, you also want to try it in at least two browsers and include the name and version of the browsers you’ve tried it in.

  • For software that’s installed on your computer, like MS Word and Photoshop, be sure to include your operating system. (not just “Mac” but Mac OSX Jaguar)

Walk me through it, step by step. You’re aiming for something like this:

I can’t seem to make Slidedeck work! I selected “Add a Slide” and chose “Image Slide.” I tried uploading an image from my computer first and got as far as clicking “Upload Photo” button. It looked like it was starting to upload the photo — the blue bar appeared with the image’s file size — but then it just hung there. I waited for ten minutes. When that didn’t work, I tried adding some images directly to the media library and adding them to my slideshow that way. I can see the image but when I click “Apply” to save the slide, the slideshow says “Loading … We’re decking out your content.” It never actually loads.

So where should you get help?

Office hours, obviously, but also:

  • NICAR-L is indispensable for connecting with other journalists who are doing innovative data and interactive reporting.
  • Hacks/Hackers is a great community, though they’re not currently accepting new registrations on their “help” site.
  • Stack Overflow is an excellent place to ask specific programming questions, but expect a lot of huffing and puffing if you aren’t following the advice here about how to ask good questions.

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