[R] Protocol for answering basic questions

Duncan Murdoch murdoch at stats.uwo.ca
Wed Dec 1 19:32:13 CET 2004

On Wed, 1 Dec 2004 16:46:07 -0000, "Robert Brown FM CEFAS"
<r.g.brown at cefas.co.uk> wrote :

> In the end my experience of r help is that you get what you pay for. 

I think this statement is very true, but not necessarily in the way
you meant it.  R and R-help are "free" in the open source sense, and
"free" in that you don't need to pay money to someone to use them, but
they aren't "free" in the sense of requiring no effort to use.  If you
don't devote effort to understanding R and to framing questions that
get good responses in R-help, then you won't get nearly as much value
out of them as if you did.

My own experience is that effort is required with commercial software
too, but I've never really taken advantage of support contracts, so
maybe they really do make things effortlessly easy.

>Many of the so called socratic responses (in this list and the wider academic 
>community) can be seen as simply way to avoid additional work of a complete reply. 

That's definitely part of it.  If a short reference to an FAQ answers
a question, or an RTFM message encourages someone to RTFM, then that's
a good thing.  I get "complete replies" when I call the support desk
of my ISP, and they are almost always completely useless.  I'd rather
get a short response from someone knowledgeable than a long one from
someone reading a script.

>Experienced R users don't seem to understand how difficult the program can be to new users.

I don't think it's valid to generalize like that.  Some do, some

> Responding that the questioner should read the 'Introduction to R' or a similar 
>document is like  answering a question for directions to one's house with 'Buy a map'.  

I think it's more like answering a question about which bus to take
downtown with directions on how to get a free bus route map.  

>Most likely both such questioners have already tried that and are asking because that approach failed.  

I doubt if that's true.  I think most such questioners are just used
to being customers, being served by someone.  R has no customers.  It
has a community of users and developers who help each other.  One part
of the help is to tell beginners where the resources are that they
should learn from.

Duncan Murdoch

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