# How to answer a question

In my courses, I usually have a page of questions online, like these:

I note a broad range of quality in the quality of answers. Some of you are getting the basic stuff wrong.
So, here’s Jamie’s Basic Guide to how you to formulate your answers to Jamie’s exercises (and other people’s exercises, too, I expect):

Step 1. Practice filesystem hygiene.
Create a relevant directory (such as 201516-F27WD) in a safe place that will not easily suffer data loss.
• Your laptop is not a safe place unless you keep regular backups on e.g. flash drives or synchronise to …
• a Dropbox folder or Google drive is a safe place, or even …
• a Git account on bitbucket or SVN account on assembla — to name just two examples — is a safe place and also gives you version control.
Step 2. Use meaningful filenames.
Create an .odt document for your answers. I’ll call it F27WD-Stewart-Dent.odt so it contains a) the course code and b) your name. Also put “F27WD answers, Stewart Dent” inside the file as its title.
(Stewart Dent is my canonical student. His friends call him Stu.)
• Always include file extensions.
• Always use meaningful filenames.
• Always include your name (and regno, and course code, and whatever else is relevant) in the title line of your file.
• Always keep records of your work and keep your work backed up.
Anything less would be unprofessional, and this way:
• if and when your file is dropped into a big directory of similar files then your file will be unambiguously yours and your marks will find their way to your row in the marksheet, and not somebody else’s.
• If I lose your work, or my e-mail client does, then you can produce it quickly.
Mistakes do happen!
Step 3. Don’t make me think.
Remember: you want marks from me. The quickest thing for me to do is to just give you full marks, and move on to the next script.
So for example, if you send me a file called “answers” (no identifying marks, no file extension) then you force me to spend more time than necessary looking at your file.
The more time I spend looking at your file, the more opportunity I have to notice errors.
Don’t make me think! (It’s dangerous.)
Step 4. Clearly state the questions.
Typeset them neatly and in bold font or a different colour so that the statements of the questions are clearly visible in the file and clearly distinct in layout from the answers. Also, make sure question numbers are clearly stated.
This is to make it easy for my eye to scan down through the document in a single flowing sweep. The moment question numbers are omitted, or questions are not present, or questions are present but are not visually distinct from the answers, then you force me to think …
• Is this an answer to Q2 or Q3?
• Is this a statement of the question? Or is it part of the answer?
In answering these questions, I might accidentally read your answers carefully and so notice a mistake. Better to invite my eye to sweep past that mistake and not notice it.
Step 5. Use lists.
If the question states “Give two advantages of X and two disadvantages of X” (a common type of question) then your answer should contain four bullet points; two for advantages of X and two for disadvantages of X.
I’m seeing too many single long paragraphs of multiple reasons. This is bad because:
• Bullet points are easier to scan than a solid block of text, and
• breaking things up into bullet points makes it clear where one item ends and another begins.
This is also sound advice for exams, by the way.

To illustrate this, I’ll duplicate the above text but with italics, paragraph structure, and item structure erased:
If the question states “Give two advantages of X and two disadvantages of X” (a common type of question) then your answer should contain four bullet points two for advantages of X and two for disadvantages of X. I’m seeing too many single long paragraphs of multiple reasons. This is bad because bullet points are easier to scan than a solid block of text and breaking things up into bullet points makes it clear where one item ends and another begins. This is also sound advice for exams by the way.
Step 6. Write carefully and correctly.
yr answer’s must consist of properly capitali’sed sentence’s with full stop’s punctuation and no spelling error’s i was surprised to see some student’s writing answer’s like i wrote thi’s paragraph if you write like thi’s your answer’s may be returned unmarked
I’ll write that again, properly: answers must consist of properly formatted English text.
Step 7. Don’t treat me like I’m stupid; I’ll notice.
I’m looking for evidence of understanding. This has implications for how you answer questions. For instance:
• Question 1 of these exercises reads “Name two advantages of using WYSIWYG, and two advantages of not using WYSIWYG. The course slides contain a bullet point WYSIWYG is compatible with cloud computing”.
A student who answers this question by just writing WYSIWYG is compatible with cloud computing” will score zero marks. Yes, zero. You just cut-and-pasted that one out the slides! I don’t even believe you know what it means (the slides are an aide memoire for me to deliver lectures; not a full explanation). You think I’ll give you a point for that? No way.
• I’ve also noticed students giving the same reason twice. For instance, two advantages to WYSIWYG are not “It’s quick and easy” and “It’s simple to create a webpage”. That’s one reason.
Actually, it’s half a reason: the full reason is “It’s simple and easy to create a webpage because you can immediately see what you will get”.
Try harder; I have high standards and this is University.
Step 8. Use Search.
You’re allowed to do research. You’re allowed to use search engines. Search for “advantages of WYSIWYG and see what the Internet has to say. But: don’t just cut-and-paste what you find verbatim. I won’t be impressed to see a dozen answers all obviously quoting the same text verbatim. I’m looking for evidence of understanding, and you can show evidence that you understand what you’re copying by putting it in your own words.
Step 9. Double-check everything.