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Advice on posting to Statalist
by Nicholas J. Cox, Durham University
revised 27 April 2016
- What is Statalist?
- How do I use the forum software?
- What should I do before I post?
- Can I post an elementary question?
- What is good behavior in a technical forum like Statalist?
- Why are real names preferred?
- What is expected of the topic title?
- May I cross-post to other forums?
- Where may I look for other advice on posting technical questions?
- How should I write questions?
- What should I say about the version of Stata I use?
- What should I say about the commands and data I use?
- How should I give literature references?
- Is my operating system relevant?
- May I ask for private replies?
- Should I close threads I start?
- Why did my question not get answered?
- What was that comment on Stata, not STATA, about?
1. What is Statalist?
Statalist is for the Stata community. Anything Stata-related is appropriate.
Statalist was started in August 1994 as a discussion list and relaunched in March 2014 as a forum.
2. How do I use the forum software?
You can read about all the features of the forum software in the Forum Software FAQ.
Statalist has three forums.
3. What should I do before I post?
Before posting, consider other ways of finding information:
- the online help for Stata
- Stata's search command, which can tell you about all built-in Stata commands, all ado-files published in the Stata Journal, all FAQs on the Stata website, www.stata.com, and user-written Stata programs available on the Internet (if you have Stata 12 or earlier, you can use findit to search all these sources at once)
- the manuals, accessible in .pdf form to all
- past issues of the Stata Technical Bulletin or the Stata Journal
- contacting the authors of user-written ado-files (who usually have email addresses but are not always members of Statalist)
- contacting Stata Technical Support if it is really a question for them
4. Can I post an elementary question?
Beginners' questions are not out of order, but very elementary questions that you should be able to answer for yourself will get little or no reply. There is an underlying expectation that you have tried to read the documentation or basic literature at your level. So, Statalist is not for questions on how to do regression in Stata, the difference between means and medians, or even what instrumental variables are. If you are in doubt about where to draw the line, look at previous questions.
5. What is good behavior in a technical forum like Statalist?
Statalist is a technical forum for people with technical questions and a desire to get the right answers. So, you can and should be direct and honest if you see something that appears wrong or confused. But correct the error politely; never flame the person.
Rudeness, bad language, and unkind personal remarks are always out of order. Similarly, as you have a good question, just ask it. We don't need or want detailed explanations of how much you need help, how urgent it is for you, or how grateful you will be for attention.
6. Why are real names preferred?
You are asked to post on Statalist using your full real name, including given name(s) and a family name, such as "Ronald Fisher" or "Gertrude M. Cox". Giving full names is one of the ways in which we show respect for others and is a long tradition on Statalist. It is also much easier to get to know people when real names are used.
If you overlook this on first registration, it is easy to fix. Click on “Contact us” located at the bottom right-hand corner of every page.
7. What is expected of the topic title?
Make the topic line concise but informative. “Question” or “Please help” will not help us or help you. “Problem with instrumental variables regression” lets people decide quickly whether to look at your post.
8. May I cross-post to other forums?
People posting on Statalist may also post the same question on other listservers or in web forums. There is absolutely no rule against doing that.
But if you do post elsewhere, we ask that you provide cross-references in URL form to searchable archives. That way, people interested in your question can quickly check what has been said elsewhere and avoid posting similar comments. Being open about cross-posting saves everyone time.
If your question was answered well elsewhere, please post a cross-reference to that answer on Statalist.
9. Where may I look for other advice on posting technical questions?
You might find various websites that discuss general issues in getting help from technical lists and forums instructive and even amusing. Mike Ash discusses “Getting answers” at http://www.mikeash.com/getting_answers.html, with key headings:
- Explain what doesn’t work
- Provide everything up-front
- Post your code
- Do your research beforehand
- Do your research during
- Do your research afterwards
- Don’t post the same question repeatedly
- Follow up after you get an answer
- Treat the list like people
- Always consider the answer
Eric Raymond and Rick Moen discuss “How to ask questions the smart way” at http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html.
10. How should I write questions?
Do write carefully; be precise and include all relevant detail.
- Don't say "Stata crashed" when you mean "Stata issued an error message" (and then tell us the error message). Say crashed only if you mean crashed as in crashed and burned.
- Don't say "many variables", say "around 50 variables" or, even better, "52 variables".
- Don't say "a big dataset", say "a dataset of 50 variables and approximately a million observations".
- Don't say "I ran a regression and then ...", say "I ran regress and then ...".
Please pay attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, and tidy, readable presentation generally. Statalist is naturally sympathetic whenever it is clear that English is not your first language (which is another reason to use your real name).
11. What should I say about the version of Stata I use?
The current version of Stata is 14.1. Please specify if you are using an earlier version; otherwise, the answer to your question may refer to commands or features unavailable to you. Moreover, as bug fixes and new features are issued frequently by StataCorp, make sure that you update your Stata before posting a query, as your problem may already have been solved.
12. What should I say about the commands and data I use?
Help us to help you by producing self-contained questions with reproducible examples that explain your data, your code, and your problem. This helps yet others too, as they will find it easier to learn from your questions and the answers to them.
12.1 What to say about your commands and your problem
Say exactly what you typed and exactly what Stata typed (or did) in response. N.B. exactly!
If you are using user-written commands, explain that and say where where they came from: the Stata Journal, SSC, or other archives. This helps (often crucially) in explaining your precise problem, and it alerts readers to commands that may be interesting or useful to them.
Here are some examples:
I am using xtreg in Stata 13.1.
I am using estout from SSC in Stata 13.1.
Never say just that something "doesn't work" or "didn't work", but explain precisely in what sense you didn't get what you wanted.
12.2 What to say about your data
We can understand your dataset only to the extent that you explain it clearly.
The best way to explain it is to show an example. The user-written command dataex makes it easy to give simple example datasets in postings. It was written to support Statalist and its use is strongly recommended. Usually a copy of 20 or so observations from your dataset is enough to show your problem.
You must install dataex before you can use it. Type ssc install dataex in your Stata and follow by looking at help dataex.
The merits of dataex are that we see your data as you do in your Stata. We see whether variables are numeric or string, whether you have value labels defined and what is a consequence of a particular display format. We can copy and paste easily into our own Stata to work with your data.
If your dataset is confidential, then provide a fake example instead.
The second best way to explain your situation is to use one of Stata's own datasets and adapt it to your problem. Examples are the auto data and the Grunfeld data (a simple panel dataset). That may be more work for you and you may not find an analog of your problem with such a dataset.
The worst way to explain your situation is to describe your data vaguely without a concrete example. Note that it doesn't help us much even to be given your variable names. Often that leaves unclear both your data structure and whether variables are numeric or string or their exact contents. If you explain only vaguely, quick answers to your question, or even any answers at all, are less likely.
12.3 How to use CODE delimiters
Stata code (i.e. the exact commands issued) is very much easier to read if presented as such.
Click on the “Toggle Advanced Editor” button (an underlined A) in the area above where you enter text for posts and, in the menu that appears, click on the # button to insert [CODE] and [/CODE] mark-up. Write your code between, paying particular attention to linebreaks and indentation.
If you do not have access to the Advanced Editor in your interface, you can just insert those mark-ups manually before, or indeed after, you insert your code. Many people fast at typing do that any way.
Examples of your data (or of realistic similar datasets) are also much easier to read if presented as CODE. dataex, explained just above, automatically generates text including CODE delimiters, which can be copied and pasted into Statalist posts.
What is valuable with presenting code or data as CODE is that other members can easily copy and paste what you post to play with in their Stata installation.
12.4 Posting image attachments: please do use .png
Stata graphs or other images should be posted as .png file attachments (start with the Clipboard icon).
12.5 Posting attachments: please don't...
There are several "please don't" requests here, but good reasons for them all.
Please do not post .gph files, as they can't be read without flipping back and forth between Stata and the forum software, thus making your posts much more difficult to follow.
In particular, please do not post screenshots. Many members will not be able to read them at all; they usually can't be read easily; and they do not allow copy and paste of data or code, which is highly desirable to allow experienced members to make precise suggestions for your questions.
You are asked not to post attachments that are in Word or Excel file formats (.doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx), because
- many members just don't have or don't use such software
- obliging other members to open those programs to see your problem is at best awkward and indirect
- many members have zero-risk policies on not opening such files from third parties
- there are better ways to show the information, as explained just above.
Finally, we ask that in general you don't post .dta or .zip files either. This is because
- as above, it obliges members to fire up Stata (and/or some other program) with your file to see the problem, which could be difficult or time-consuming if you have a large or complicated dataset
- members may have versions of Stata earlier than yours such that they can not read your .dta files anyway
- threads become more difficult to understand if they depend on people reading in a dataset: short code and data examples are much easier to work with, as explained above.
13. How should I give literature references?
Please give precise literature references. The literature familiar to you will be not be familiar to all members of Statalist. Do not refer to publications with just author and date, as in Sue, Grabbit, and Runne (1989).
References should be in a form that you would expect in an academic publication or technical document. Good practice is to give a web link accessible to all or alternatively full author name(s), date, paper title, journal title, and volume and page numbers in the case of a journal article.
14. Is my operating system relevant?
Stata runs on Windows, Mac, and Unix platforms. Specify the platform you are using if your question is or may be specific to that platform. For example, "I am using Stata 14.1 on Windows 10".
15. May I ask for private replies?
Please do not request private replies unless you are posting about employment or consultancy opportunities. Statalist is based on replying to the forum, not personally to the poster, with the ideal that postings are of interest to many.
16. Should I close threads I start?
Closing a thread you started is important, especially by reporting what solved your problem. You can then thank those who tried to help.
17. Why did my question not get answered?
Questions can get no replies for many different reasons. Here are some that are common.
- No one knows of any such Stata program. You may need to write your own code or use some other software.
- Your question really should be answered by using the help, the manual, or by typing search in an up-to-date Stata.
- We do not have the knowledge of your project needed to work out the best thing to do in your circumstances, and, in any case, it is really your call.
- Whether what you are doing is “correct” is very difficult to discuss helpfully.
- You did not provide enough information. For example, postings of the form “I tried using foobar, but it did not work” are usually impossible to answer, except by asking for more information.
- Your question is too unclear or too complicated to understand. For example, questions on very complicated data-management tasks or large chunks of code that are not working may ask too much.
- A model may not converge or fit well because it doesn't suit the data, or if you prefer the data don't suit the model. It can be very hard to advise on such cases, especially if presented generally.
18. What was that comment on Stata, not STATA, about?
The correct spelling is “Stata”, please, not “STATA”. Several of the most active experts on the list can get a little irritated if you get that wrong, although you are free to regard them as pedantic. More importantly, if you write “STATA” you are making it obvious that you didn't read this guide carefully and to the end.
P.S. An often asked question is: What is the correct way to pronounce 'Stata'? and that can be answered here too. (Previous versions of this have been cited in Wikipedia and in some blogs as authoritative, so this must be correct.) Some people pronounce 'Stata' with a long a as in day (Stay-ta); some pronounce it with a short a as in flat (Sta-ta); and some pronounce it with a long a as in ah (Stah-ta). The correct English pronunciation must remain a mystery, except that personnel of StataCorp use the first of these. Some other languages have stricter rules on pronunciation that will determine this issue for speakers of those languages. (Mata rhymes with Stata, naturally.)