I had an email exchange with a frequent writer that went something like this (their name has been changed to "John" and the questions are different to protect their identity):
John: Hi Mike. Got a question for you. What is the best eyepiece to use?Mike here: Well, that depends upon what you want to do with it. See the Buyer/New User Tips page as well as the Accessory Reviews - Eyepieces page for some eyepiece comments.John: Thanks. Should I buy a Barlow Lens?Mike here: Again, depends upon what you want to do. See those pages I mentioned in my previous reply.John: OK. What does a filter do?Mike here: A filter blocks or passes light of specific wavelengths (or frequencies, if your prefer). This brings out details in some objects.John: Which one should I buy?Mike here: See the Accessory Reviews - Filters page for some comments. Again, it depends upon what you want to look at, and to some degree, which model telescope you have.John: I have seen comments about tracking satellites. What does that mean?Mike here: I suppose you are referring to the Autostar capability to locate and then track satellites. See the Autostar manual (if you have an Autostar); also see the Autostar Information page for more on satellite tracking.John: What's a satellite?Mike here: In this context we are referring to manmade objects that orbit the earth. Many of these are bright enough to be seen in the ETX or even with the naked eye.John: How does the eye work?Mike here: See the article "The Eye in Observational Astronomy" on the Observational Guides/References page. By the way, do you know how to search the web for information? I'm not just referring to searching the ETX Site but to the Web in general. [My thinking here was that if this person did not know how to search the Web I would provide some basic info on doing that. However, the answer I received shocked me.]John: Yes, but I'm too lazy.Mike here: So, thanks for asking me to take my time to answer your questions. I don't mind answering questions but it does take TIME and effort for me to do so. If you are too lazy to do some work yourself then you are abusing my kindness and the support I and my ETX Site provides.
So ended this "conversation". But it does point out some things to keep in mind.
The person on the receiving end of questions has to take their time to read and understand your question(s), think about and compose the answer(s), and then actually enter the answer(s) into an email reply. Many times this is exactly what you needed and takes little time by the person doing the answering. But other times the answer is lacking the details that you wanted or raises more questions. So you ask for more details or ask the next question, which requires more time to answer. There are many knowledgeable people on the Internet who freely give their time to answer questions on web sites, newsgroups, mailing lists, and in personal emails. However, people asking the questions should not abuse this generosity by asking questions that could be easily, quickly, and probably more completely answered by doing some basic research on their own. The Web is full of useful information, if you search it out (which is not difficult using various search engines).
Frequent visitors to this ETX Site have noted the time and effort that I have put into maintaining this Site over the last 7+ years and responding to inquiries (many times much more rapidly than the sender expected). As I stated in my final reply to the person who prompted this editorial, I do not mind answering questions in the interest of sharing information. It is by asking questions, even the most basic ones, that we learn. Many times I (and others) will refer people to other pages on the Site or elsewhere on the Web for their answer rather than answering the question directly. I do this because the answer exists there and in fact it may be more complete there. I also do this because it takes me less time and when you get up as many messages per day as I do that pertain to astronomy, time is important. Yes, I do have a personal life (although my wife sometimes wonders). Yes, I do have a day job; as I've noted before, Site Pledges, while good, are not sufficient to retire and devote all my time and energy to this Site. So if you receive a short, perhaps even terse, answer or I refer you to something on the ETX Site or elsewhere, please don't assume I'm being rude. I realize that YOUR time is also valuable and that you want AND deserve answers that are as accurate and complete as possible.
This type of email support is a "partnership". At times it is appropriate for those asking questions to "do their homework" first and then if they still have a question, ask away. Other times, especially for those new to amateur astronomy who may not even know where to go for information nor even what questions they should be asking, asking basic questions is certainly appropriate and acceptable. As I've stated many times in email responses (and on the Site), there are no "dumb questions". Each question and its answer is important to you and your learning. But if you know where to look for information but are not willing to take YOUR time to do that, then you are abusing the partnership and that wastes EVERYONE'S time.
There are two reasons I post email questions and answers on the Site. One, so that others can benefit from the questions and answers. Two, so that others can offer answers based upon their experiences. I encourage questions and welcome other people answering them. This information exchange is valuable to all of us and is one of the many popular aspects of the Mighty ETX Site.
One other aspect of this partnership is using good email etiquette. I have posted some guidelines on the Email Etiquette page; I encourage everyone to read these guidelines. They apply whether you are sending email to me for this Site, to a vendor, or even to your friends and family. If you have not done so, I also encourage everyone to read the Site Guide, which outlines how the ETX Site is structured and can be used.
Thanks for your understanding and your continued support and enthusiasm for the Mighty ETX Site.
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