Getting Silverlight Questions Answered Effectively

The single best place to get your questions answered about Silverlight are the Silverlight Forums.   Now, I know that forums are often a company’s way of saving money on customer service, but the dev team and the Community PM’s & Evangelists monitor these forums carefully, so it really is a lot quicker than sending email.

That said, there are two aspects to having a satisfactory experience with the forums:

  • Creating a Question That Is Likely To Be Answered
  • Follow-up When Your Question Isn’t Answered

Creating a Question That Is Likely To Be Answered

whisper There are a few techniques that make for a question that is likely to be answered quickly and well. While none of this is a surprise, take a look at the questions that are posted, most don’t follow these simple guidelines:

Summarize your question in the topic

Most folks are more likely to open a question with the topic “How Do I sort a column in a datagrid” than one with the topic “Help, Urgent!” even though the latter may, in fact, be more urgent

Be Brief, Be Precise

A long rambling message whose point is hard to fathom is hard to answer.

Write Down the Exception or Error Message

It is far easier to help someone if they way “when I click on the button the second time I get a an exception saying that I’ve tried to access a null object,” than it is to help someone who writes “Sometimes my program blows up and I get an error.”

Provide An Example

The single most effective thing you can do to get help is to write the smallest and simplest example that shows the problem.  It should be so small it fits cleanly into your message – not as an attachment (many folks are reluctant to open attachments).  It should do only one thing, and that is illustrate the problem, and it should be self-revealing.

What A Forum Question Might Look Like:

Topic: When I add data to my list box I sometimes get an “Index was outside the bounds of the array”

Message: I have a program that adds strings to a list box based on the user pressing a button. Here is a stripped down example. In the Xaml I declare a button and a list box:

using System.Windows;
using System.Windows.Controls;

namespace Error
   public partial class MainPage : UserControl
      string[] data = new string[] { "a", "b", "c", "d" };

      public MainPage()
         AddFieldToListBox.Click +=
            new RoutedEventHandler( AddFieldToListBox_Click );

      void AddFieldToListBox_Click(
            object sender, RoutedEventArgs e )
         for ( int i = 0; i <= data.Length; i++ )
            ListOfText.Items.Add( data[ i ] );

The error happens on line 22 (adding the data). I don’t see how it is out of bounds.

This is a fairly plausible error for a newbie to run into and it is an inviting question to answer: the topic tells me what I’m dealing with, the message is very short but tells me what I need to know and the example, while short, makes obvious where the problem is.

Then… follow up on unanswered questions

If you post a question and no one answers it for a week, I suggest reposting with, perhaps a catchier title. Examine the message to make sure it more or less meets the criteria discussed above.

execs_hero[1] If after a few days you still have no takers, be sure to send email to me or to Pete Brown, let us know what happened with the forum (ideally provide links to your messages). We’ll follow up either personally or by making sure the right folks see and respond to your question.

Finally, if we don’t get it done, give us a second chance, but if we fail twice…  well then it is time to write to management! 

There is no reason for your questions ever to be ignored; we are accountable and you should hold us to it.

About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects and is the author of 2 dozen books and a couple dozen Pluralsight & LinkedIn Learning courses. He was a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP and a Microsoft MVP.
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