I was at the UK-TUG AGM at the weekend, and amongst other things there was a workshop on ‘LaTeX Documentation and Support’. One of the topics that came up was how questions are answered in different forums (comp.text.tex, the texhax list, the LaTeX Community, Stack Overflow, etc.). How to answer questions was a topic of some discussion, the essential question being how far to go down the educational route when answering a question. Do you just give an answer that works, or do you give the background and help the questioner to learn about (La)TeX in a wider sense?

There is no right answer to this, of course. If the question is about plain TeX, then I tend to aim for the ‘full explanation’ approach. On the other hand, you see questions which start ‘My professor says I have to use LaTeX, …’, where getting things done tends to be the main point. Of course, a lot of questions fall in the middle somewhere. Then you have to hope that you can judge the answer about right: some explanation, but not too much!

There’s also a cultural aspect. Questions asked on c.t.t. tend to get more involved answers than those on the LaTeX Community, for example. That reflects the type of questions asked and also the spread of ‘regulars’.