How Not to Make a Request

The following is a slightly edited copy of a post that I made a little while back in the Wrye Bash topic. A poster had managed to irritate me fairly thoroughly while complaining about some problems and "requesting" repairs. At which point, I flamed him with this post.


While the post is nominally directed at the original poster, it really is aimed at laying bare the courtesies (and discourtesies) of raising problems and requesting features/repairs for my (or other authors') mods and tools. Hence I'm reproducting it here. (However, since the original poster and I buried the hatchett shortly after this, I've replaced his handle with the pseudonym "Smith".)


Don't Annoy Monkeys Bearing Gifts

A few quick comments before I bite Smith's fingers off and re-add him to my ignore list.


It should go without saying (but apparently these days it does not), that when asking someone to do you a favor, you should: 1) keep a firm grip on the awareness of who is asking for a favor and who will be granting it; and 2) avoid antagonizing the person that you're asking the favor of with thoughtless words, or inadequate effort on your own part.


I do Wrye Bash for free. I'm a bit obsessive and like building a cool tool. But I have other projects to work on and time spent on Bash is time NOT spent working on other high priority projects. So, if you're telling me about problems with Wrye Bash you're not doing ME a favor, you're asking me to do YOU the favor of fixing them.


Now, because I'm a bit obsessive and am proud of making a well built tool, I do appreciate clear reports of bugs – i.e. of things that are not working as they are designed to. Bugs are a failure on my part and I'm generally willing to quickly fix the problem. But still, my time is short, so the bug should be well researched and well reported so that I can deal with it as quickly as possible.


However, as I made clear in my previous post, calling something a bug, saying that stuff needs to be "repaired", saying that Bash "smashed" stuff together is implying failure on my part. Reporting failures is like ringing a fire bell. You're rewarded if the fire actually exists, but if not, you should expect a dressing down. Don't ring that bell unless you're sure it's an error.


Aside from that, using a term like "smashed" implies thoughtless, incompetent action. Even if you're reporting a valid error you should generally avoid using such a term. Now, I'm a fairly blunt guy, so if Bash really did make a total hash of records, then I'd probably accept "smash" for it's honesty. But again, like the fire bell, you'd better be really sure that Bash has indeed seriously messed up the records, or you will have really antagonized me.


Other ways to antagonize me:

•  Complaining about poor quality manuals. This is particularly likely to tick me off since I go to a lot of effort to write manuals and make them accessible. Bash comes with a doc in html format with table of contents. You can read it on your computer or from my website. Aside from that it also has online FAQ wiki which I've gone to a lot of effort to create and maintain. Most tools do not. Gecko? No docs. Tes4View? No docs with the tool. The only substantial docs are those on UESP wiki – which in fact, I got started. (Elminster is a great programmer and Tes4View is an awesome tool, but writing docs is not Elminster's strength.)

   Are my docs perfect? No. But again they're freely done with a lot of effort put into them. Before complaining about them you should be well aware of the usual alternative, which is no docs at all.

•  Whining. You tell me that you have a hard time reading complex documents. So? How is that my problem? Even if you do have such a problem, why should the rest of the world have to go out of their way to cater to you? If you have such a problem, then you should simply be making the extra effort to overcome it or to compensate for it. Don't tell me and expect me to go to extra effort to overcome your deficiency.

•  Never accepting any fault. E.g., you assumed that Bash would do something a given way (including ears with the body tag), and when it didn't you reported it as a bug. But Bash docs never said that it would do that. That's your fault for making an assumption and not taking the trouble to check the docs to find out that your assumption was incorrect. A simple "Oops!" or "My bad!" would have earned you points here instead of annoying me further.


Social Graces

While I've directed the above at Smith, if it were just him and no one else in the room, I'd just hit the ignore button and forget about it. But really this is a general point about social graces.


There's a quote I remember from the show Babylon 5, A careless word and a door closes. When you're young, you tend to lack the social graces that come with age. You lack gratitude for favors; you expect others to cater to your failings; you fail to take blame for your failures. You pop off with some careless comment, and someone closes the door on your face. Forever.


I.e. social graces (gratitude, appreciation, politeness, taking blame as well as credit), aren't just warm and fuzzy good things, they're pragmatically useful skills. Or as Robert Heinlein once put it, "Politeness is the grease that keeps the wheels of society turning".


I.e. don't tick people off unnecessarily. Especially if they're doing you a favor.



(C) 2008, by Wrye