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The Art Of Responding To Queries On An Engineering Forum

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".


Very nice ,thanks ankur.

Local practices and personal opinions have been discussed in the forum, let us not try to exclude them preemptively.
Good will from both parties is necessary for helpful answers. This is superior to rules; yet following points may be worthy, when sending a post as a reply to a query or as a comment to another post.
-A query should not be considered as an order to the respondent, but rather as a start for (public) discussion in order to find the right answer (truth). In this sense even incomplete answers can have value, if they cover part of the answer or show a direction to solution. Or even when the direction is proved wrong, but it is guided by good will.
-Answer has to be as specific as possible, even if generalities are written to support it. Disagreements have to be specific and documented too.
-Hot mood has to be cooled before reply, there must be a way to express bare truth without insult.
-Lack of autocracy is advantage of web forums. Anybody is free to express opinion, every time judged by his / her specific contribution. This can be a supreme principle, too many rules may not be objective. Deontology is known, the key is how it is applied.
-A post to forum, even engineering forum, reveals principles apart from knowledge. It can be more than art.
Just a goodbye note, concerning thousands of members that are inactive. We had better encourage them to write queries and posts, to be skillful at this field. So their (say) first 10 posts should not receive negative feedback or hard criticism. It would be fair as a principle.
Best regards
Sometimes I really wish that engineering could be more subjective than objective, than people could have opinionated responses on questions posted. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Engineering is more objective than subjective and hence there is a method for each and every aspect of engineering design, engineering construction and engineering operation.

Engineering does not have much scope for interpretation, science does have that scope. Plenty of established practices are available in engineering within which you can successfully engineer, design and operate a chemical process plant. Let the scientists do the research and let the engineers build things.

On a side note I forgot to add some do's and dont's in my blog entry.Here they are:

1. Don't start your response saying that you are not aware of the subject and than write a mile long response to the query. It will simply put off the person who is reading the response. It will also create an impression that you are casual about your response and do not mind providing irrelevant and opinionated responses.

2. Do not repeat or copy the responses of another responder, it shows you have actually nothing to contribute and you are writing just for the sake of it. It is not obligatory for you to respond on a subject you have no idea.

3. Do not divert from the post made by the OP. Do not create another subject in a subject started by the OP. It again gives the impression that you have nothing to contribute and are writing just for the sake of it.


.... Don't start your response saying that you are not aware of the subject and than write a mile long response to the query. It will simply put off the person who is reading the response. It will also create an impression that you are casual about your response and do not mind providing irrelevant and opinionated responses...Regards,Ankur.

Let us consider the two (first) replies to thread http://www.cheresour...of-hydrocarbon/. According to above framed "spec", the first reply is a shame. The other is apparently OK. But specific knowledge seems more or less at same level in both: not able to come into core, they have good will to help OP. Probably judgment had better be less unilateral. The thread has received no complete answer, at least so far.
An engineer can sometimes give a successful reply to a subject not well known, e.g. http://www.cheresour...il-tank-sizing/, or http://www.cheresour...ltrasonic-basin. Stating level of knowledge is rather honest. Of course much depends on style, but almost every intent is understood by the reader. So "bother less with impressions, more with substance", I would say.
Help and education is promoted in the forum not by employees but volunteers, deserving some freedom for better action, as they mean it. Besides even the respondents deserve learning. Free and good will are essential for them. This can be considered a general comment, not only for the above frame.
A Chinese motto says that you are very far from wisdom path, as long as you cannot accept your neighbor being different.
Qalander (Chem)
Dec 14 2011 06:21 AM
It is very nice/ interesting original Blog by Ankur& subsequent discussion by Kostas and ankur.
I really like this.
May get involved some time later.

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