I just don't get the responses like the comments I see on How to disable blue highlighting of text form field when selected in Word?

First two comments are "Can you provide a screenshot for before and after? I am not familiar" and "What do you mean by text form field ?"

Why try to answer a question that one knows nothing about? A huge number of Word users know what a text form field is; why not just pass it by?

Am I missing something here? I don't try to answer questions where it's clear that I don't understand the question itself, not because of the question wording but because it's out of my arena. Why would someone so unfamiliar with Word that they don't know what a "form field" is, push the poster to provide a screenshot or explain text form fields, rather than just go past it?

I want to say something about it on the comments, but I don't want to be confrontative or act like this newb is trying to tell others what to do.

To hopefully clarify a bit, to me this seems like if I posted a question about "How do I calculate a date x days before today in a Powershell script?" and show the code I'm trying to use etc., and the comments are "What's a Powershell script? Can you post a screenshot?" "What do you mean by 'calculate a date'?" etc.

If someone chooses, from all these questions, to answer about a certain program ... shouldn't they at least know the basics of that program, or at least have the ability to find those features on their own rather than putting the onus on the asker? In the original case cited, "form fields" have been a feature of word for over a decade, and are also used in other programs like Acrobat. If someone doesn't know what they are, though, why not just google or go by to the next question?

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    there's nothing wrong in asking for clarifications. What's obvious to you, might not be obvious to others. I make use of questions like the linked one to learn more about an app. Just because you don't want to try to answer questions you are not familiar with doesn't mean others's shouldn't. – Sathyajith Bhat Oct 16 '13 at 13:30
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    I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to answer something you're unfamiliar with, if you understand the question. But a clear question like the one cited doesn't need to dump a burden back on the asker, when what he's asking is evident to anyone who knows the program (or whatever else is the subject). e.g.,Even if one doesn't know what a "form field" is in Word, it can easily be looked up. Why complicate the question by having the asker explain a basic program feature to people who decide to "help" in an area where they're clueless? – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 13:32
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    again, you assume whoever's using Word is familiar with text forms. That's not necessarily the case. I have no idea about form fields, but that doesn't mean I should look away from it and not learn about it. – Sathyajith Bhat Oct 16 '13 at 13:34
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    And you think it's the question-asker's job to teach you about form fields? You don't feel any obligation to, say, use the Help file in Word to find out what he's talking about, first? How is that helpful, when you could just pass it by and let people answer it who use the program that way? Do I stop and ask someone who needs help with an Excel formula "What's an Excel formula?" – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 13:35
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    Who said the asker should teach me about form fields? Point me to where it's found, I'll learn about it. You're getting confrontational here, I don't know why. Make a question stand out for all & you've hit the goal of Stack Exchange sites. – Sathyajith Bhat Oct 16 '13 at 13:36
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    It is the asker's job to provide enough info for the question to be answerable. I can often answer questions about specific programs that I have never used before simply because I have a lot of experience using software in general and can often figure out something that the OP did not see. Say I've never used progX but I know progY which is similar very well and can therefore figure out how to do something on progX. – terdon Oct 16 '13 at 13:40
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    It's in Word's help file. Open word, type "Form field" if you want to learn about Word's form fields. Why should the asker have to explain a basic program feature? The question was clear & complete as it was, to anyone who creates forms in Word; is the asker supposed to now educate everyone on the basic features of the program they're using? i.e.,If someone asks a scripting question, should the asker now have to explain what a script is, in addition to explaining what OS & program etc. they're using? – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 13:40
  • @Debra - Since when was a two statement question about an unknown version of Word using terms ( often very different between indivual users ) to describe elements within said program clear? I have used word for over a decade and half and have never used the term "form fields". – Ramhound Oct 16 '13 at 13:50
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    Same here, also bear in mind that different users use word in different languages so a description of what you're talking about is always a good idea. What are "Form fields" called in French? Or German? Or Chinese? – terdon Oct 16 '13 at 13:52
  • @Debra - I actually do feel a person with a question should address any clarification I request. I do the same in my own personal questions. – Ramhound Oct 16 '13 at 13:54
  • Clarification, especially re. missing info that will affect the answer, I can completely see. I too asked what version of Word, because the answer has to address at least two very different versions otherwise. But "Form Field" is in the Word help file etc. And even though lots of Word users don't use them, well, how many Word users create forms? Anyone who has created a form in Word has to know this concept to do so. I guess I don't feel that explaining what a form field is, to start with, constitutes clarification for the question. It's not an obscure term. – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 14:36
  • (-1) b/c I don't believe in "stupid question" even ones that can easily be answer via a Google search (or in this case a help search). What may be easy for one, will be difficult for others. Rocket Science isn't Rocket Science to a Rocket Scientist. – James Mertz Oct 16 '13 at 15:17
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    @Debra I've been using word for 10+ years and not once have I created a form outside of classes trying to teach me how to create a form. They're not always used that often. In any case, this site goes both ways. I come here to learn. If someone wants me to show them how to do something with form fields, the least they can do is point out to me what form fields are in the first place. Specifically, I'm far more likely to answer a question that I don't know the answer to because Huh. I don't know anything about that. What IS that? followed by furious googling with glorious purpose. – Darth Android Oct 16 '13 at 15:20
  • @KronoS, thanks for explaining your -1, though I didn't call it a stupid question - I just asked, if one doesn't understand it to that extent, why not just skip past it instead. OKnevermind, I don't want to argue over your -1 actually, but I do want to steadfastly assert that I've ever called any question a "stupid question", here or otherwise. I don't see it as them wanting -you- to answer so much as someone who knows that feature or at least is willing to check the Help file. – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 22:31
  • @Darth Android - I see what you're saying; I just felt it laid an odd burden on the questioner; I've modified my question here to give a hopefully similar example. – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 22:31

Your answer may be correct, because of your ability to clearly interpret the language used in the question as it applies to the program, but it's far from guaranteed that a local expert of the program under discussion will come along and be able to answer the question in one fell swoop.

In case you didn't notice, there are many questions on this site which are completely unanswered. Many other questions have an answer, but the OP looked at it and determined that it's incorrect. What you're suggesting is an "all-or-nothing" approach, where we should totally ignore questions that we can't answer right off the bat. This is a bad approach IMHO. Here are my reasons for arguing against this approach:

  • Often, just by talking back and forth with the OP, the OP will think of the answer to their question by themselves. This happens surprisingly often! Even if you know nothing about the program or the problem domain, just listening to the user and giving your honest feedback and talking about the problem logically, often the OP will be able to post and accept their own answer, even if nobody else has any idea what they're talking about. Under your proposed behavior, these types of dialogue would never occur.

  • Help Vampires (HVs) -- those who are trying to get the community to do their thinking for them -- often will show their true colors in the comments. If you read a question and it isn't immediately obvious whether the poster is a HV (i.e., someone we should not attempt to help), a comment or two should eliminate all ambiguity. Asking for clarification on the question is a great way to test for HV. On the other hand, if the poster is decidedly not a HV, any comment that carefully considers their question, shows some research effort, and makes logical sense, is bound to help the poster in some way. For non-HVs, getting the OP closer to an answer is better than keeping them in the dark. For HVs, their vampiric ways are exposed, and we can vote to close as "Unclear what you're asking".

  • There are many questions where no one, except the OP, actually has enough information available to be able to definitively answer the question. Actually extracting the requisite information from the OP in order to be able to determine (or Google) a solution, is a challenge in its own right, and does end up helping the OP. When someone unfamiliar with a question's problem domain evaluates a potentially valid question, they don't know in advance whether someone like you will come along and answer it in one fell swoop and call everyone else out for being off the mark. All they can do is try to lead the OP in the right direction.

  • Even if you don't end up providing a correct and on-point solution to the OP, it is still useful to help the OP exercise their brain. They (or someone else viewing the post at a much later time) can see your troubleshooting method, the way that you approached the problem, and the things you tried, and this might help them narrow down their issue. Or, perhaps one of the things you tried that didn't work for the OP, will turn out to work fine for someone else with a similar problem who finds the question on Google.

Point is, the traditional saying "silence is golden" is complete nonsense on StackExchange sites (especially SU, SO, SF). Silence is the worst thing you can do in response to a question, aside from deliberately misleading the OP away from the answer (that's called trolling). Any well-intentioned help is better than no help at all.

  • Thanks. Your response seems very sensible to me; I wouldn't advocate "silence is golden", just more common sense. In the case cited, it's a basic feature that's been in the program for over a decade, and it's easily found in the Help file or in thousands of places via google etc. Isn't that where one should start, before asking the OP to explain it? Note, I did ask the OP to clarify what version of Word he was using, but I guess I feel that the concept of a "form field" isn't something the question-asker should have to explain. – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 14:01
  • I have to give you an upvote just for mentioning "help vampire", a term I've never heard before! [And I hope I'm being clear that I don't think people should be restricted to just answering questions where they are overflowing with expertise; I've already been asked this week "How did you find that answer so fast?" on something I simply researched and said so.] – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 14:04
  • In the particular case of your question, you may have a point that asking the OP to clarify something that any serious answerer is going to have to know, is wasting the OP's time to some extent. On the other hand, let's assume that you yourself were on vacation in the most wonderful place on Earth for 2 weeks starting this past weekend, and you never saw this question until almost November. Who would help this user? The other guys who tried to help. And in all likelihood, they'd have eventually figured it out. Is it really wasting OP's time if we solve his problem eventually? :) – allquixotic Oct 16 '13 at 14:07
  • Anyway, your OP here on meta -- the original question you asked -- asked about the general case of "why try to answer if you're unfamiliar with the question", for which I believe I've provided a fairly forceful why in favor of doing so. On the other hand, the particular SU question you posted as an example is more of a case of the would-be helpers not understanding the definition of a term that the OP used. I don't think that's a huge problem, but they could've googled the term and figured it out without asking the OP, too. – allquixotic Oct 16 '13 at 14:09
  • And, eh, removed my downvote from the OP, after thinking about it some more. :p – allquixotic Oct 16 '13 at 14:09
  • Thanks. I didn't ask this to be popular, rather to understand. But I wish those down-voting could say how they think I could improve my question, rather than what seems to be "I don't agree with the perspective you presented". On the other hand ... realistically, yeah, I'm the newb, I'm not pretending to understand it all, and I'm still mastering how the site works. "HV" is helpful conceptually; I just hadn't seen this behavior before in my stunningly long (ahem) tenure here. – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 14:39
  • See here -- BTW it's applicable to all SE sites, including SU – allquixotic Oct 16 '13 at 15:01
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    @Debra - People have been telling you why they disagree with your question here, and on a meta website, its really a "agree" "disagree" type deal anyways. Most people will not agree with your viewpoint, because its not your typical, Superuser viewpoint. – Ramhound Oct 16 '13 at 17:26
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    Metas work differently - while on main sites a downvoted question indicates a lack of research or general crappiness, on meta a downvote simply means they do not like your ideas, and do not, in fact, want to subscribe to your newsletter. Downvotes are nothing personal here, and do not (unlike MSO) affect reputation in any way. – Journeyman Geek Oct 16 '13 at 22:20
  • It's a good thing that I have a sense of humility! @allquixotic, you said "...let's assume that you yourself were on vacation in the most wonderful place on Earth for 2 weeks starting this past weekend, and you never saw this question until almost November." I'd say it would be answered by any of the remaining 198,999 subscribers who know about Word's form fields or are willing to google or read the help file. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one! (And I -am- new, at least as more than a reader, to all the SE sites. And not pretending otherwise -- much to learn about how things work.) – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 22:38
  • @JourneymanGeek thanks for clarifying re. the downvotes and meta. It wasn't intended as a useless question, and I wasn't really taking those personally so much as trying to understand the process and responses. Even a downvote is meaningful beyond a number. – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 22:41

Its because we aren't just answering the OP's question - we're building a wider knowledge base. Even if the OP knows exactly what it is, this allows the next guy with a similar issue who may not know what its called to find the question and to benefit from it.

Well, there's a few factors here. There's no other way we can get clarification from most users (oh, chat users often do this, but we're a minority. Secondly, versions of words may be different, and folk may use different themes. Asking for screenshots (and using them in answers reduces ambiguity - as you noticed yourself, the instructions are different between versions. And sometimes the OP simply dosen't give enough information to tell what he's talking about.

There's also the case where you might be familiar with something similar, and the skills carry across to an extent.

Finally, in some cases you might think you know the answer, but want to be sure. It might be possible to dig up an answer from entirely research alone

Comments are meant for this, and once the question has been polished up, comment threads can be cleaned up.

  • Valid points, and perhaps I reacted to that combination of responses. i.e. if it had been posted longer without any response, then, yeah, I can see "What do you mean by that?" The rest of the clarification, I understand, even another comment added on the original question which asks for a screenshot. Even a "what steps are you taking?" is useful. But I still think an instant "I don't know what you're talking about" holds little value when there are so many other people who may understand that particular <whatever>. – Debra Oct 16 '13 at 22:47

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