Reasons not to answer very basic questions in a straightforward way; was: Re: [R] creating a sequence of object names

Mulholland, Tom Tom.Mulholland at
Tue Nov 30 02:33:18 CET 2004

Your statement seems innocent enough on the face of it, but there are two facets that I think are worthy of note.

The first is that of time, and more specifically who's time. As a user of other lists I can say that this is the best list in terms of getting the answer to my problem, albeit sometime's obliquely. I intermittently respond to questions generally of the type you refer to. I say intermittently because I don't have the time to do more than that. Why do I respond to these questions? Well I made some of the same basic errors. As a much more knowledgeable user, I think twice (well more like six times) before I post because I understand the amount of time it takes to create a response that is worthwhile. I'll get to the reason for not creating simple answers in the next point. If I had to pay for the "quality" of support that I get on this list, there is no way that I could afford it. I take what I get and I am grateful for the time given by so many. To assume that my time is more important than those who will give me the answer is disrespectful.

Secondly is a process referred to as "crowding out." With reference to the list there is a danger that it would cease to be a source of wisdom and start being a repetitive FAQ. As the list stands now I learn much more from other people's questions than I do from my own. I read about different ways of approaching various tasks and while I barely comprehend some of the more difficult questions they provoke my curiosity. I can read an FAQ anytime, I can read all of the manuals, they won't go away. At the moment the list is full of variation with the odd thread like this, which sparks more of a philosophical content. If 90% of the list was full of questions that are "tiresome because of dullness" or more succinctly "tedious," why would I continue to either ask questions of it or respond to them. In essence what I find useful on the list would be crowded out by repetitive questions. 

Experience has shown me that where you have a demand for quick solutions from people busy getting on with their lives, it can overwhelm your own life. One such experience happened  the last time I was in London, I happened to be standing next to one of those little currency exchange booths waiting for a friend. I heard some people having trouble working out where the British Museum was. I gave them some help. It was only after a while that I thought to start counting how many requests I received (well I was on Tottenham Court Rd) but eventually I counted 35. One can maintain that sort of help for a while, but I couldn't stand there all day. I was abused by a couple for eventually leaving and not answering their question. I know there are users of R who will not use the mailing list because they are intimidated by the manner of the list, but the users I have talked to acknowledge that they are looking for an easy solution and are not interested in contributing to the list. They have also pointed out that they can see why the list does what it does.

I get the feeling that a lot of subscribers to this list would understand where you are coming from, even though they may not look at the list the same way that you do. The bottom line is that I have had a reply to every question that I have put on the list and those replies have always helped me to solve my problem. Show that you've put some effort in and people will match that effort "and more*." Your note had effort and consequently was treated as meritorious, although the answers may not have been what you wished.

Tom Mulholland

* K9, Dr Who, BBC Television
-----Original Message-----
I know very well that it is basic manners to read
those materials before asking questions here, but you
should also understand that people sometimes get stuck
with very simple problems if they are driven by stress
or run down. They can save a lot of time and
concentrate on and develop their primary jobs instead.
And I don't think you should be worried about 900
silly questions out of 1000 messages posted because
they are at least well-educated people who know what
reading basic materials before posting questions


I beg your pardon if this message is not relevant to
this help list.

With kind regards,


 --- Uwe Ligges <ligges at>
> John wrote:
> > Thank you, Uwe. I've found a way to do the job by
> > reading the FAQ 7.21 although it is not giving a
> > precise explanation to a novice or casual user at
> > first reading. For example, if you type the first
> two
> But the corresponding help files do so, for sure,
> and the FAQ 7.21 
> points you to ?assign and ?get.
> > lines in the FAQ, you get an error as you do not
> have
> > the variable, a, initially.
> >
> > I am sure that more and more people get interested
> in
> > and serious about using R if advanced users are
> kind
> > enough to answer simple and silly questions as
> well
> > which are already explained in basic
> documentations.
> > Or is this community for highly motivated and
> advanced
> > R users only?
> No, of course it is for novices as well!
> BUT we do expect that novices do read basic
> documentation such as "An 
> Introduction to R" and the R FAQ before asking
> question.
> If there are too many silly questions from thousands
> of R users, nobody 
> is able to manage the questions any more. And note
> that those people 
> answering questions do it on a voluntary basis, and
> (at least partially) 
> in their spare time!
> Nobody would be subscribed to R-help any more, if
> there are 1000 mails a 
> day, 900 of them containing silly questions! It is
> yet already hard 
> enough to get through the huge amount of messages in
> a reasonable amount 
> of time!
> I have answered your question in a way,
>   1) so that it is up to you to read some
> documentation. Now you have 
> seen the FAQs and some help files. And you have
> learned much more than 
> you would have learned if I had said "Use assign()"
>   2) so that nobody feels too encouraged to ask
> questions before reading 
> basic documentation - and my answer still saved you
> a lot of time!
> Uwe Ligges
> > Regards,
> > 
> > John
> > 
> > 
> >  --- Uwe Ligges <ligges at>
> > wrote: 
> > 
> >>John wrote:
> >>
> >>
> >>>Hello R-users,
> >>>
> >>>I wanted to generate objects named 'my.ftn1',
> >>>'my.ftn2', ... , 'my.ftn10', and tried the
> >>
> >>following
> >>
> >>>code without success. How can I do this?
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>>for ( i in 1:10 ) {
> >>>
> >>>+ sub(" ", "", paste("my.ftn", i)) <- NULL
> >>>+ }
> >>>Error: Target of assignment expands to
> >>
> >>non-language
> >>
> >>>object
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>Many thanks.
> >>>
> >>>John
> >>>
> >>>______________________________________________
> >>>R-help at mailing list
> >>>
> >>>PLEASE do read the posting guide!
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>Please do as suggested above, read the posting
> >>guide!
> >>It suggests to read the FAQs. FAQ 7.21 is what you
> >>are looking for: "How 
> >>can I turn a string into a variable?".
> >>
> >>Uwe Ligges
> >>
> > 
> > 
> > ______________________________________________
> > R-help at mailing list
> >
> > PLEASE do read the posting guide!

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PLEASE do read the posting guide!

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