Getting Good Answers to Your SharePoint Questions

This post was cross-posted on NothingButSharePoint.com on 4 May, 2011.


When someone new contacts me through my blog with a question about SharePoint, I’m usually game to help. (Though saying *please* is always a really nice thing. “You have to tell me…” or “give me the answer now…” isn’t so great.)

If you contact me for the first time (at least that I can remember – sometimes it’s not so easy to keep all the real names and handles straight, especially over time), I’m likely to preface my reply with this:

First off, thanks for turning to me with your question.  I’m happy to try to help, but you should really use the MSDN Forums (e.g., http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/sharepointcustomization), SharePointOverflow (http://sharepoint.stackexchange.com/), or the EndUserSharePoint.com Stump the Panel (http://www.endusersharepoint.com/STP) to get the fastest answers.  I’m very active in each and I’m just as likely to see your question.  Additionally, others can benefit!

It doesn’t mean that I won’t give you a quick answer, but asking your question in the publicly available forums is always a better idea. By doing so, you’re contributing to the corpus of useful content available to *everyone*, including me and your future self. (I can’t tell you how many times I find something I’ve forgotten by Binging and finding my own answer to someone else’s question.)

Here are some additional suggestions. Yes, these are only suggestions. I don’t own any of the forums, of course, nor do I own the Internet, the use of hashtags, or your behavior. Do what you will, but try to be a good Netizen about it.

Do some research before you ask your question. Asking something without doing any work first is sorta lazy. There’s so much content out there about SharePoint that it’s overwhelming, but getting good at using Bing or Google to find answers is a skill which every SharePoint professional must have.

Each of the forums above (plus many others) has a sort of “personality”. I encourage people to try to consider the personality of each forum site for each question they may ask. For instance, if you have a really hard admin question, Stump the Panel is probably not the best place for it.

Another thing I’d suggest is that you choose a channel, post your question, and then BE PATIENT. You’re asking people you may not know to answer your question FOR FREE. Someone will get to it when someone gets to it. *Don’t* post the same question in multiple channels at the same time. If you do post in multiple places, it is very likely to mean that some number of people will waste their time answering a question which has already been answered elsewhere. Instead of posting multiple places, choose one, and tweet the headline with a link to the post, using the #SPHelp hashtag if it’s urgent. That’s going to get you the most eyeballs in the shortest time.

Speaking of the #SPHelp hashtag, I worry that it will become overused, and therefore worthless because of all the noise there will be in the channel. That’s basically what has happened to the #SharePoint hashtag. Recruiters, spammer, and all sorts of people have flooded the channel so much that just following #SharePoint has become sort of a worthless pursuit. In my case, I only watch combinations of the #SharePoint hashtag with other terms, just to screen out the noise. So my suggestion for the #SPHelp hashtag is to use it when you need urgent help, and that’s it. I don’t think it makes sense it add the #SPHelp hashtag to a tweet about a new blog post of yours, for instance, unless you believe that everyone reading the post is going to save endless headaches and is of an extremely time sensitive nature. One instance I can think of might be the CUs which broke SharePoint. That was definitely news everyone could use.

Finally, here’s something I tweeted the other day:

Answering other people’s questions isn’t just a great way to give back to the community; it’s also a great way to learn about SharePoint. I can’t even measure the value I’ve gotten in earning all of the points I have on the various forum platforms. Almost every time I answer a question, even if it is one I’ve answered before, I think about the topic in a new way. If you do decide to answer others’ questions, be sure that you know the answer. Don’t just shoot back with a different question or an observation unless you believe it’ll help solve the problem. Worst of all is to give an answer that is just plain wrong. If you *don’t* know the answer, please, please, please, don’t make something up! There’s actually less of that out there than I used to see, but anything more than none is still too much.

If you aren’t the type of learner that can get as much out of reading and/or answering the forums as I do, consider more formal training. Yes, I’m on the faculty of USPJA and a part owner, so I’m biased, but I think it’s an excellent and affordable way to boost your SharePoint knowledge. There are many other great options out there as well. But try answering questions on the forums. Earn valuable (well, valuable as far as cachet, anyway) points!

13 Comments

  1. I 100% agree with you on the #SPHelp hashtag; it is absolutely getting overused and misused. The only other piece I’ll add is to be polite. You hit it on the head when you said you’re asking people to do stuff for you for free, and I can’t tell you how many rude blog posts I’ve seen. Lastly, when someone does help you, say thank you. I’ve answered many tweets from the #SPHelp hash tag as an example, where the original poster doesn’t acknowledge the reply or say thank you. You don’t have to be polite, but people aren’t going to help you a second or third time if you don’t extend common courtesy the first time.

    Reply
  2. Excellent advice! I should follow your example and have the list of forums ready for my replies.

    What I like with SharePoint Overflow: when you start typing your question, it automatically presents you with a list of similar questions that you can check out before posting yours. A killer feature that should get better as the forum grows.

    Reply
    • Christophe:

      Long ago I set up a signature in Outlook called “Go to Forums”, and I simply insert that into many of my replies. Maybe not so personal, but it saves me a *lot* of typing!

      M.

      Reply
  3. I really like this post. I don’t ask a lot of questions and answer even less, but I try to give and get help when appropriate. When I give help, I am sometimes frustrated by how obnoxious some people can be about getting free help. It makes me sometimes not want to spend the time. Then I think that, when I need help, someone who has the same frustration may actually be willing to give me help if they weren’t already so frustrated by some of the obnoxiousness out there.

    Reply
  4. Now if only the people that NEED to read this article read it the world would be a better place. But until then…expect more of the same. I quite like the approach of answering with “let me Google that for you..”. It’s disappointing that people don’t spend 2 seconds doing that before posting in forums or email people directly.

    Reply
    • So true. The people who need some of these messages are less likely than just about anyone to read blogs.

      Feel free to point them to the post if you think it’ll help, instead of LMGTFY. ;+)

      M.

      Reply
  5. HI Marc,

    My name is Santosh and I am a sharepoint developer. I am developing a on boarding for my company using designer 2010. we dont have infopath services, just sharePoint foundation. When a new employee request is approved, it is followed by “employee software hardware checklist” which is followed by “New PC” Request and there are several other requests depending on the items selected in the checklist. I have used one big list for all these different forms. Only “New Employee Request” will be NewForm.aspx rest everything is EditForm.aspx.

    My problem I have required columns in each different form which the requester must fill at each stage, since all columns are in one list i have not declared columns as a required fields. Is there anyway that I can validate these columns not be empty when the corresponding form is opened and instead of submit button I am using FormAction button to submit data.

    any help is appreciative. Thanks a lot

    Reply
    • Santosh:

      You can add your own form validation with script in the PreSaveAction() function. If you search my blog you’ll see some examples.

      You might want to reconsider using only one list, though. It sounds like you are collection information that belongs to different Content Types (Employeee Request, New PC, etc.) Each of those Content Types probably serve a different purpose and may have different workflows associated with them.

      M.

      Reply
  6. Marc,
    I have a list name called “reqs” which has close to 40 columns. I am customizing the forms in designer. For NewForm.aspx which “New employee Request” has only 10 to 12 columns which the requester will fill. Once the request approved, “reqs_Checklist” which is nothing but EdirForm.aspx of “reqs” list is send to the requester to check different options. After that depending on the checklist, if “New_PC_Request” is checked then “New_PC_Request” Form is sent to the requester to fill the details, which is nothing but another EditForm.aspx of the “reqs” list. Like this I have 8 different EditForm.aspx for the “reqs” list. Content type is “Item” type for all the columns. Almost 70% of all the forms carry same information, example “Position Title”, “First Name”, “Last Name” etc.
    Instead of using regular “Save” button, I am using “Form Action Button” for “Commit, Custom Action and Redirect”.

    Reply
  7. Marc,
    I am totally new to Jquery’s.

    Instead of using regular “Save” button, I am using “Form Action Button” for “Commit, Custom Action and Redirect”. I am using PreSaveAction() in “form action button”, but it is not working.

    I have SharePoint Single line textbox “First Name”, choice column “PC Type”, People picker “Manager Approving Purchase”. This form is a EditForm.aspx of list name “reqs” but I am using this as “New PC” Request for the same list “reqs”. Can you please help how I can check the above mentioned columns are not empty and let users know to fill the columns to submit request.

    Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Santosh:

      While I’d love to help you every step of the wany, that’s what people usually pay me for! You seem to be asking a number of questions as you go along.

      M.

      Reply
  8. Marc,
    I have a list name called “reqs” which has close to 40 columns. I am customizing the forms in designer. For NewForm.aspx which “New employee Request” has only 10 to 12 columns which the requester will fill. Once the request approved, “reqs_Checklist” which is nothing but EdirForm.aspx of “reqs” list is send to the requester to check different options. After that depending on the checklist, if “New_PC_Request” is checked then “New_PC_Request” Form is sent to the requester to fill the details, which is nothing but another EditForm.aspx of the “reqs” list. Like this I have 8 different EditForm.aspx for the “reqs” list. Content type is “Item” type for all the columns. Almost 70% of all the forms carry same information, example “Position Title”, “First Name”, “Last Name” etc.
    Instead of using regular “Save” button, I am using “Form Action Button” for “Commit, Custom Action and Redirect”.

    Reply

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