DEV Community

Jack Saller for Vasion

Posted on

Ask the Second Question

Many times, people will ask a preliminary question, as a sort of bait for asking a second question. For example, a few months ago, I needed some information from an S3 bucket that I didn't have access to.

Slack thread containing 3 messages. 1. Does anyone here have S3 access? 2. I believe I still do, why? 3. Trying to test a ticket, I need access to REDACTED to build a docker container

From this person, I was redirected to another person who had access to some S3 containers (but not the one I needed) and that person redirected me to yet another person who was able to get the data I was looking for. All in all, this exchange ended up taking just over an hour of back and forth to finally get to the point I needed.

Looking back at the thread, I realized I could have saved myself a lot of time if had been more upfront with my true, underlying question, rather than asking my broader question first and then drilling down into the details once I had a response.

Slack thread with 3 messages. 1. Do we have any way of encrypting print jobs from workstation to printer? 2. no it depends on the print driver. why do you ask? 3. Customer has a requirement to encrypt all print traffic across the network

Here it was again! One vague question was asked (do we have any way of encrypting print jobs?), and one answer was given (depends on the print drivers), but this person ACTUALLY needed an answer to a different question (can we encrypt all print traffic on the LAN?). This conversation continued on for about 45 minutes, with the two parties discussing what the customer was looking for, until it was finally mentioned that PrinterLogic does not even manage what the customer was asking about in the first place!

I've noticed this exact issue plays out constantly across all kinds of communication. Someone asks one vague question, gets a response, and then the asker comes back to say "Well, what I REALLY needed was..."

So how do we fix this issue and get better answers faster?


In both of my examples above, the asker could have saved themselves a lot of time and energy if they had included their second question (or some additional context) in the original question. This helps get everyone reading the question on the same page before responding.

So what does this look like in practice? This means adding just adding a few more words to your original question, to make sure you're on the same page as the person answering your question.

So, in my first example, what could my message have said instead?

"Does anyone have S3 Access? I need {specific information} from an S3 container to test this ticket"

Now the message still gets the question across, but includes the context of the question, letting respondents know why I'm asking the question too. By including the second question in the context of the first question, anyone reading the question will better understand what you really need, and be able to answer your question faster and with more accurate data.

In practice, this is more of an art than a science. It takes some time to figure out just how much information to provide so that you provide a baseline understanding without overloading someone reading your question. Having a little context is great, having to read a novella to get to a question is not.

Top comments (0)