Advice on Advice
Advice: it’s everywhere on the internet. People have questions, and others are more than willing to give answers. But are the answers good? Are the questions even good? How can you know if advice is worth the network it’s written on?
There are two sides to the advice coin: The person who asks for advice, and those that answer the requests. Each side has factors that can make the advice valuable… useless… or in some cases worse than no advice at all.
Let’s cover some helpful hints for both sides of the advice coin!
◊ Be Honest About Your Knowledge
If you don’t know the subject, don’t answer the question. Blanket encouragement such as “That sounds great!” or advice coming from someone who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about can impede true progress, or point someone in the wrong direction entirely.
→ Point: “Don’t Be The Blind Leading The Blind.”
◊ Tailor Your Answer Based On The Questioner
Many times, the person asking the question is not at a level where they are ready for a real answer. By knowing a bit about the person who is asking the question, the answer can be adjusted, or even a different question substituted. Example: I’ve seen people with no experience in voice over, acting or business ask questions like “What type of soundproofing should I use in my home studio?” People will gladly answer the question without realizing that the answer is of little use to the person asking. It will encourage them to spend $$$ on treating their “studio” space, when they’re recording on a headset mic that came with their X-Box.
→ Point: “Measure Twice, Cut Once.”
◊ Keep Your Answers Concise, Expand If Asked
Answer the question asked, and perhaps offer more if they have additional queries. Don’t be the kind of “expert” who just likes to hear themselves type. If the original question is not clear, ask for clarification. Or give a clarified question, and a simple answer.
→ Point: “K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid”
◊ Know When To Stop
Sometimes online question threads go on for-friggin-ever. If the question has been addressed, stop. If the person who asked the question isn’t willing to listen to others, it’s not necessary for you to chime in as well. Chances are they won’t listen to you or your wisdom either.
→ Point: “Sometimes The Best Move Is Not To Play.”
◊ Be Honest About Yourself and Your Abilities
When you’re considering posting a question online, take a step back and first assess your own level in the given field. If you’re just starting out, ensure that the question is at a beginner level. It’s not always easy to know, but when someone who’s just picked up a hammer for the first time asks “How can I build my own house?” something just ain’t right! When in doubt, try asking a real, live person whom you trust first.
→ Point: “To Thine Own Self Be True.”
◊ Do Your Homework First
Before posting a question on a forum or group page, be sure to do a web search. Many of the questions that people ask have already been answered ad-nauseum. It’s easier on all of us if you can find the answers on your own. At the very least, it will educate you a bit more so that you can ask a better question.
→ Point: “Arm Yourself With Knowledge, Friend!”
◊ Narrow Your Question, Be Sure It Makes Sense
Wide, open-ended questions are one of the worst pitfalls for good advice. People will come out of the woodwork trying to answer – they’ll even start arguments about what the question means! Instead of asking something like “How can I become rich and famous?”, try to make it more specific. Think instead “Can you suggest a good acting coach for beginners in my area?” The answers you get back will be infinitely more useful to you in the end.
→ Point: “If You Don’t Know What You’re Asking For, How Can You Expect A Good Answer?”
◊ Research Who’s Answering
Every answer you get will not necessarily be from someone who knows what the heck they’re talking about. Check on the credentials of the person answering before you take their advice to heart. Like a good news reporter, be sure of your source of information before you put it into practice.
→ Point: “You Can’t Tell What’s In The Pickle Barrel Until You Get The Lid Off’n It!”
◊ Accept Answers Graciously
If you’re not willing to hear honest answers, then don’t ask the question. You don’t have to agree with every answer, but if you see a pattern of different people all saying the same thing, maybe it’s time to consider if it’s true for you. In any case, thank those that took the time to answer, regardless if you agree with them.
→ Point: “People Will Remember You If You’re Friendly, And They’ll Warn Others If You’re Not!”
◊ Know When To Stop
Sometimes a question will lead to follow-up questions. Try to focus on the main topic and not drift too far off-topic. It may be best to have a one-on-one discussion rather than bog down the entire forum or group. Use your best discretion to know when the conversation is over, thank everyone, and stop.
→ Point: “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away!”
The rampant proliferation of bad advice on the internet can be diminished if we all exercise a bit more prudence on how we ask questions, and how we answer them. A bit of forethought goes a long way to providing much more useful information for both the person asking the question, and those who are searching the net for answers on their own.
Joe J Thomas
Guardian of the Internet