The subject is "Empathy for those who don't know LaTeX well". You find a list of five key points that answerers of questions at TeX LaTeX Stack Exchange are asked to consider.
I like this list for various reasons. But I wonder whether these points really have to be mainly about empathy, or whether they could also be about behavior that, empathy or not, makes dealing with each other more pleasant and that makes dealing with problems more efficient.
Requesting an MWE
The phrase "Minimal Working Example" is misleading for many newcomers. Many newcomers think that it refers to an example that runs perfectly and without error messages during compilation. And that is exactly what they cannot deliver.
When I ask for code examples, I usually leave out the word "working" and explain that the point is that the code contains everything (and nothing else) that the person who wants to get to the bottom of the matter needs to reproduce the error-messages/the erroneous behavior during/by compilation and to be able to track down and fix things afterwards. Of course I also mention other "requisites" that make tracking things down easier—e.g., the messages on the console and in the .log-file using
\listfiles (for package versions etc) and probably
When do I ask for code examples to reproduce erroneous behavior? Usually when someone wants to know why error messages occur and what the correct remedy is.
If a newcommer/beginner - due to a lack of familiarity with the "TeX/LaTeX-world" - does not know how to approach a problem related to accomplishing a specific typesetting-task, or related to organizing whatsoever data using LaTeX, or related to parsing some user-input for conditional-branching depending on that user-input, I do not ask for minimal examples but I explain how I would do it and provide examples of implementation on my part, and if I have the impression that it is necessary for understanding, I also explain what the individual code sections are for and how they intertwine when you put the whole thing together.
By providing code examples myself, I show that the problem can be solved using LaTeX. I show that things can be done in LaTeX. I do this on the assumption that people will be positively motivated to read in and to delve into the matter and to try things themselves when they see that you don't always just get stuck, but that things can actually be done.
Perhaps this is "answering do-it-for-me-questions" and therefore is not in the spirit of this site. But it is in the spirit of showing people that TeX is not terribly complicated and unusable, but that only the beginning of the learning curve may be terrible and that - after mastering the learning-curve - you can do things.
I hope that questioners will feel that they are not alone and abandoned when dealing with TeX/LaTeX. Many people shy away from Linux or LaTeX with the argument that they would be left alone with it as no one in their circle of acquaintances uses these things.
Directing someone to the manual/Impenetrability of manuals/instructions
When I read the TeXbook many years ago, I realized at some point that my problems were not necessarily caused by the "manual", but by the way I (ap)perceived and comprehended information while reading it.
Schoolbooks and introductory books are nice. There are a lot of nice filler words and things you can read over and still get the context/the gist. The TeXbook is written in the spirit of academic textbooks that convey information in a very condensed way. Once I got used to the fact that, as with legal contracts and rules, every sentence/syllable really does matter, and that slackening in attention easily leads to missing connections/implications that arise from passages/sentences placed far apart from each other, I no longer found the book impenetrable. But it requires one to be very concentrated and focused and picky. When I first read the book seriously, I very nitpickily made notes whenever I had the impression that terminology was used or a concept was taken up that would be explained later, and when I read the later chapters and the (double) dangerous bend paragraphs, I always checked my notes to see if something was being discussed that could refer to these notes.
When I refer to a manual, I usually assume that there were problems in understanding the manual and I quote the relevant sections and explain what is meant. For one, this shows how one puts the picture together from the individual terms. For another: The need for explanation often is due to the fact that instructions are written in English while English is not the native language of the reader/questioner and may not be the native language of the author of the manual, either.
I would like to take up the keyword "empathy" again
Empathy also has something to do with social competence. I am painfully aware that my own social competence is far from perfect. But as a rule, I try to give an answer that helps to solve the problem. And I expect questioners, even if they are not satisfied with the amount of empathy revealed by me, not to lose sight of what they are trying to achieve, which in the first place is not to find empathy but is to find a solution to the problem they present.
I used the term "reveal" because I often feel empathy and imagine how frustrated a questioner might be. Due to my own deficits in social competence I often ask myself what degree of showing the empathy I feel is appropriate.
The wrong ways of expressing empathy can give the other person the feeling of being helpless and unable to act themselves in the matter. And that in turn can be demotivating if not devastating.
I know from my own experience that it is frustrating to get stuck when working with TeX/LaTeX. But TeX/LaTeX is only a small aspect of life. So questioners, too, shouldn't let frustration dominate, but take things with humor.
As Donald E. Knuth writes in Chapter 6: Running TeX of the TeXbook:
Error messages can be terrifying when you aren’t prepared for them; but they can be fun when you have the right attitude.
Let's emphasize one of unknowns that you will probably always have to deal with in the question-answer scheme of the StackExchange-platform:
In most cases, the questioner and the respondent know nothing/know only little about each other's situation/circumstances. This in turn introduces a certain imponderability in assessing expectations.
This can lead, for example, to detailed, long answers being perceived as incompatible. For example, an answer written with a lot of commitment, peppered with academic reflections and digressions and references to many other sources, may show that the responder assumes that the questioner has the time and leisure to delve into the matter and to devote her-/himself to the fascination of the prospectus opening up. But the questioner is stressed at the moment and has no time.
Or the opposite: Someone who is delving into the matter and is fascinated and enthusiastic, and not only pragmatically wants to get rid of an application problem but also wants to gain deeper/fundamental insights into the matter, is disappointed when answers are quite pragmatically focused on slamming down the solution for the application case.