the different levels of a question

People with different levels of experience approach tend to approach a question in different ways.  This is something I see frequently on JavaRanch.

An example

The ideas apply to many questions, but I’ll use “how do I disable the browser back button” as a common example.  Consider some answers to this:

1) In Internet Explorer, you do something the onunload event. This isn’t an ideal answer because it teaches people a hack as if it were the generally accepted approach.  It also doesn’t work universally. [While writing this, I learned this even is implemented in Firefox 3.  Hopefully that doesn’t mean people will start using it inappropriately.]

2) You can’t. – Accurate, but not very helpful as it doesn’t give the person with a problem any ideas on where to go from here.

3) Explanation of why bad practice with follow up question asking what trying to accomplish. – This is better as it tells the person something new and allows for an alternate approach to be suggested.

Answer 1 is a very developer centric way of looking at things.  They literally answer the question.  As such, this tends to be an approach given by someone who has less experience in development or is accustomed to receiving and implementing detailed specs.

Answer 3 is a higher level type answer.  It hones right in on what the person is trying to accomplish.  (maybe not submitting a form again or not seeing stale data.)  This is the type of answer more likely to be given by a senior developer or architect.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed I skipped answer 2 here.  That one could apply to any level of experience.  It is a correct answer if taken literally.  It could just as easily be given by an architect in a hurry – it is factually correct but less helpful than a full answer would be.

A more specific example:

The reason I was thinking about this is I came across a question asking how to identify the first column in a Collection in a JSP.  As of right now, there are two answers in the thread. One is a literal answer involving scriptlets.  The other is a suggestion that maybe the model should be represented.

The interesting thing is that the literal answer better answers the actual question that was asked.  By contrast, my answer (the second one), speculates about what the underlying cause might be without actually touching on the question.  I don’t think this thread particular highlights different levels of experience as much as it does different ways of approaching a problem.

On some level I think this is related to Defending the Code.  But only in that it is about speaking up and finding out what is realy wanted.

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