Is LMGTFY (let me Google that for you) an insulting way to answer a question on Quora?

– Xochielt Sanchez

Answer by Robert Frost:

I don't think so.  And I say that for a specific reason.

If you want people to put effort into answering your question, you should put effort into formulating your question.

I teach a class on question writing to instructors.  Writing a good question takes some effort.  Instructors have to learn to make sure a question unambiguously solicits the answer.  I believe that Quora users have that same responsibility.  If Quora users want a database of great answers they need to start with a database of great questions.

Usually when I come across an answer that is of the LMGTFY type, it is because the question was lazily written.  It isn't written to solicit depth.  It isn't written to solicit perspective.  It isn't written to solicit expertise.

I don't recall seeing a LMGTFY response to a question that added value to Quora.

I believe that a question should be asked on Quora instead of Google if Quora can provide something of value in the answer.  That means pulling on the vast resource of experience and expertise in the Quora membership.  It means seeking the clarification that only a person that truly understands something can provide.

If a question is so straight forward and uncomplicated that the answer will appear at the top of the screen when it is Googled, it's not a good candidate for Quora.

For example.  What benefit does asking "How many meters are there in a mile?" on Quora give?  Typing the same words in Google immediately provides:

No person on Quora is going to be able to add anything valuable to that answer.  Yes, they could babble on about John Wilkins or Simon Stevin or the French Revolution, but if that's what you really want, that's what you should ask for.  Not just for yourself, but so that the Quora search feature can be more effective.

A few months ago there was an annoying series of questions each asking for the name of the actor that played a specific character in the 1970s-1980s television sitcom M*A*S*H.  One after another, the questions worked their way through the whole cast.  "Who played Nurse Houlihan on MASH?", "Who played BJ Honeycutt on MASH?", on through to  "Who played Hawkeye Pierce on MASH?"

Typing that into Google provides:

What could a Quora member possibly provide that would improve on that answer?  No amount of expertise or experience will provide a more accurate or precise answer than Alan Alda.  No amount of literary flourish will make that answer more effective.  I used this example on one of the Quora Facebook groups and another member vigorously disagreed.  They said that you never know when one of the Quora members that comes across that simplistic question might actually have something to share, such as they grew up on the same street as Alan Alda and have a story to share.  And that, they said, was the justification to allow such basic questions on Quora.

My view is – no.  If people want a story about Alan Alda, they should ask for it.  Maybe something like "What are anecdotes about Alan Alda that Quora members can share?"

Yes, the LMGTFY answers are expressing frustration.  Some of them may be rude.  But they still put more effort into getting that screen capture than you did into asking the question in the first place.

Write better questions if you want better answers.

Is LMGTFY (let me Google that for you) an insulting way to answer a question on Quora?


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