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Advice on posting to Statalist
by Nicholas J. Cox, Durham University
revised 15 January 2015
1. What is Statalist?
Statalist is a web forum for users of StataCorp's Stata statistical program. Statalist was started in August 1994 as a discussion list and relaunched in March 2014 as a forum. The old name served us well and has happy associations for many. We see no reason to change it.
The appropriate subjects for discussion on Statalist are thus Stata and the statistical and other issues raised by using Stata.
Postings might focus on (for example)
- how to do something in Stata
- difficulties in using and understanding Stata
- apparent bugs or limitations in Stata
- statistical meaning or interpretation of results produced by Stata
- areas for future additions to or improvements to Stata
- neat tricks in Stata that others may appreciate
- new Stata ado-files
- announcements of Stata-related meetings or material.
2. How do I use the forum software?
You can read about all the features of the forum software in the Forum Software FAQ. In addition, Statalist has two subforums dedicated to helping you use the forum software. You can make test posts to familiarize yourself with the features of the forum in the Sandbox, and you can ask questions about the forum software in Using the Forum.
3. Before you 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. Elementary questions?
Beginners' questions are not out of order, but very basic or 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. If you get this wrong, you are unlikely to get flamed. You just may not get an answer.
5. A technical forum with a technical tone
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. Real names preferred
You are asked to post on Statalist using your full real name, including one or more given names and a family name or surname, 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.
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. Informative topic lines
Please make the topic line 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. Cross-posting 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; it is not our business to constrain what you do elsewhere.
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.
Cross-posting does not affect the request elsewhere in this guide that you close threads on Statalist. If your question was answered well elsewhere, you are asked to post a cross-reference to that in a closure on Statalist.
9. Websites with 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. Write carefully
You do not have to write well, but do write carefully, meaning be precise, include all relevant detail, and omit unnecessary flourishes unless they are really entertaining and you do write well.
Being precise is where many have difficulty. For instance,
- 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. We will naturally take note whenever it is clear that you are not writing in your first language.
11. State the version of Stata used
The current version of Stata is 13.1. Please specify if you are using an earlier version; otherwise, the answer to your question is likely to 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. Be informative about commands and data and give examples
Say exactly what you typed and exactly what Stata typed (or did) in response. N.B. exactly! If you can, reproduce the error with one of Stata's provided datasets, a small fragment of your dataset, or a simple concocted dataset that you include in your posting.
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 12.1.
I am using estout from SSC in Stata 12.1.
We can understand your dataset only to the extent that you explain it clearly. For example, it may help to show the results of describe to explain your variable names and types.
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.
The forum offers several different ways to make your data, your code and your results easier for readers to see.
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. Or just insert those mark-ups manually before, or indeed after, you insert your code.
Examples of your data (or of realistic similar datasets) are also much easier to read if presented as CODE, e.g. of the instructions for an input command or of the output of a list command.
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.
You can attach datasets or other documents, but that is usually much less convenient than the methods above. Note, in particular, that MS Word and MS Excel file formats are not universally readable by forum members.
You can attach Stata graphs or other images. Note, however, that Stata graphs and other images are highly readable when inserted as .png file attachments (start with the Clipboard icon) and far less readable if inserted as photos (using the Camera icon).
Screenshots are possible but often do not help much. Even if they are legible, and they often are not, they do not allow copy and paste.
13. 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. 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 for Windows 12.1".
15. Asking 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. Continuing and closing threads
Continuing or closing a thread you started is important, especially by answering secondary questions and by reporting what solved your problem. You can then thank those who tried to help.
17. Questions that do not get answered
Questions can get no replies for many different reasons. Here, however, are some common ones.
- 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. And it's Stata, not STATA...
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.)