This weekend at WordCamp San Francisco, I helped to mentor new contributors on supporting WordPress on the WordPress.org Forums. We covered a lot of tips and guidelines for answering question in the forums, so I thought I’d share them.
You ARE an expert (at something)
I talk to a lot of newer WordPress users at WordCamps and meetups, and whenever I mention giving back by answering questions, I usually get the same response:
But I’m not an expert. I’m not qualified to give that kind of help.
And my answer is always the same:
You know WordPress exists, therefore you know more than someone else.
Anyone who’s been using WordPress for even a short time has the ability to teach someone else about it. We each have a responsibility and an incentive to help others, especially new users, get the most out of the software. With more people using, developing, and evangelizing WordPress, the community will grow, and the software will get even better.
Getting started in the WordPress.org forums
Alright, so you’re convinced, and you want to help out. Let’s get started! Here’s a few tips:
Be familiar with how the forums work – Check out the Forum Welcome page on the codex. There are a lot of tips and tricks there on how the forums work; things like tagging a thread with modlook if they need to be reported to the moderators, and Posting large blocks of code.
Look for posts with no replies – The easiest way to find questions to answer, is to click the No Replies link at the bottom of the main forums page. Don’t start at the top of the page though, as they’re listed with the most recent on top. Start at least a couple of pages back, and that way questions won’t get left behind.
Answer what you know – There are volunteers of every skill level in the forums, so don’t feel like you need to answer every question that is posted. In fact, if you answer the easier questions, it frees up the more advanced volunteers to focus on the questions you can’t answer.
Ask for information – Often, the person posting the question doesn’t give enough details for you to answer the question right away. What plugins are they using? Can they give a URL (or at least screenshot)? If there is an error involved, what is the exact error? What browser/platform are they using?
Use your resources – I learn by teaching, so I’ll often take on a question that I don’t know the answer to off the top of my head. Look up information on the WordPress Codex, or even check in the #WordPress IRC channel to see if someone knows the answer. (The IRC channel is also a great place to help out if you like more direct interaction.)
Stay with your threads – One of the worst things you can do is abandon a thread after you’ve started responding to it. If you’ve requested additional information from the original poster, make sure you respond when they give it to you. Since the thread is no longer listed in the “No Replies” page, it’s less likely to get picked up by another volunteer. To keep tabs on the threads you answer, make sure to subscribe to them. You can either click the “Subscribe to Topic” link on the right side of the page, or click the “Notify me of follow-up posts via email” checkbox before submitting a reply. (I’d definitely recommend setting up a mail filter, so you don’t get inundated.)
That’s all there is to it! Just by answering a few questions, you’ve started contributing to the WordPress community. Congratulations! The more people we have helping others, the stronger our community will be, and the better the WordPress experience will become. Thanks!
If you’re someone who helps out in the forums (or is just getting started), let me know in the comments if you have any additional tips or tricks. If you haven’t gotten started, and are still worried about getting started, please post below, too!