If you get stuck

Asking good questions

If you challenge yourself (and you should challenge yourself), you’re bound to get stuck. Technology is changing constantly, so learning how to ask the right questions and get help with new tools is probably more important than actually learning how to use any one tool well today.

ProPublica’s Sisi Wei has a great intro to asking questions.

Questions like these are hard to answer:

I’ve been trying for the past couple of hours to figure out what exactly I’m doing wrong with the assignment. My spreadsheet is attached — can you tell me what I’m doing wrong?


I want to start putting together my map, but the QGIS doesn’t seem to be working on my computer. Do you know why?


When I run the R code from the class example, it doesn’t work.


I’ve been looking for a KML file for Russia and this is the closest I’ve gotten but there’s still a glitch: https://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?docid=… Please help! I would really like to pitch this today.


I can’t install Open Refine! I tried, but the download is just broken.

All we know is that you’re using QGIS, or R, or Open Refine. We don’t know what you’ve tried, we don’t know what happens when you try it, and we don’t know what you thought was going to happen. So we don’t know enough to help you. A good question will include all of this:

Walk us through it, step by step. Don’t just say “I followed the instructions,” describe the instructions you followed. You’re aiming for something like this:

I can download Refine just fine, but when I try to actually open it, I get an error that says the file is corrupted: “OpenRefine is damaged and can’t be opened. You should move it to the Trash” — I’ve downloaded it three times from three different browsers and I keep getting the same error.

(If you are actually getting that particular error, the solution is not particularly intuitive: You have to fix your Privacy and Security settings.)

Where should you get help?

You’re always welcome to ask your instructors for help. When you’re stuck on a technical problem (“Am I on the right track with my pitch?” is not a technical problem; “Why is QGIS drawing San Francisco’s shapefiles in the middle of the bay?” is a technical problem) consider opening a new issue. It’s good practice.

Other good places to get help: