I have been a member of Cheresources for the last 4-1/2 years. When I started out on the forums I had little idea of how questions need to be answered on a forum. I observed a lot of veterans on the forum including the administrator Art Montemayor on how they took up the task of answering queries posted by students, professionals and specialists and I learnt a lot of things. Today's blog entry is related to the do's and don'ts while answering queries on the forum. I will list down these do's and don'ts pointwise. There is no particular sequence for these do's and don'ts, however, these are the general guidelines which, if anybody follows will find that he or she has made it a pleasure for others reading his or her response to a query.
1. Read the OP's post carefully and understand what he or she is asking for. Most responses are erratic because the reader has not understood what the OP is asking. There are chances that you may find that what the OP has asked for, is beyond your area of knowledge or expertise. You can deal with this in two ways. One, do a thorough study on the subject of the query and come back well prepared to give a meaningful response. Two, do not answer the query since you do not have sufficient knowledge of the subject and cannot find the resources and time to prepare for the subject at hand, to provide a meaningful response. Please note that your casual or irrelevant response may not invite any direct comments, but it does indicate lack of understanding and maturity.
2. When you conclude that the OP has posted an incomplete or incoherent query, ask him or her to provide more details before trying to answer it. The OP has already made a mess of the query by providing incomplete details and you are not helping by trying to respond to it. Instead, it is becoming more confusing and incomprehensible.
3. Many a times we provide web links for reference in response to a post. Ensure that the link which you are providing is relevant to the query posted by the OP. Again, don't provide links which are not relevant to the subject. Do not insult the intelligence of the reader by copying and pasting the matter from the link that you have provided. He or she is quite capable of opening the link and reading the contents.
4. When a lengthy response is anticipated breakup your response into paragraphs for ease of reading and understanding for all. Use commas, punctuations and correct language for a good quality response. Absolutely refrain from using SMS language, this is applicable to both the OP and the replier. Don't use unreadable (small) font when copying and pasting it from an external source. Use the editing functions to make it readable.
5. Engineering forums on the web have a global reach and people are looking for references which are international or widely recognized such as API, ISO, DIN, Norsok, JIS, DNV, BS, EN. References for standards of internationally known companies in oil and gas, refining, and, petrochemicals (e.g. Shell, BP, Total, ConocoPhilips, Exxon, DuPont, Dow, UOP, BASF etc.) may be also provided. There is no point on being country specific or mentioning "local practices" because they may be only relevant in the country where they originated in, and not globally applicable.
6. Personal opinons on the subject matter should not be provided. We are talking of engineering forums and not a social forum, where hard facts and data are required to be provided. Certain forums like our very own "Cheresources" provide an opportunity for an individual to blog where he or she can express his or her personal opinion. Use these facilities to provide a personal opinion on a subject and not the forum. In fact, the blog can be effectively used to share your knowledge on a subject you have studied or already have some past expertise.
7. Before posting the response, revisit what you have written in context to the post by the OP and ensure that this is probably the closest to the answer which the OP is looking for.
These simple rules will ensure that the responses you provide are a pleasure to read and will also ensure a wider reach for the forum, thereby more interaction and knowledge sharing amongst the engineering community.
Let me have some comments on my observations from the members of "Cheresources".