Why have you stopped answering chemistry questions?

In the early days of Chemguide, when the site was getting a couple of thousand visitors a month and had far less material on in than it has now, I was happy to answer chemistry questions from students. The number of questions was small, and it was useful to hear about the things which were worrying students so that I could make sure that they were covered as I added new material.

These days (November 2013) with site visits running at around 2 million a month, things look very different! If even a tiny proportion of these visits resulted in a question, my life would become impossible. An average question takes perhaps 30 minutes to answer (ranging from about 10 minutes to an hour or more). If only 10 people a day asked a question, that's about 5 hours of my life wasted day in and day out. And once it becomes widely known that I am willing to answer questions, it isn't going to be 10 people a day; it will be thousands.

Occasionally, someone asks a question which would only take a few minutes to answer, and I feel quite guilty at refusing to answer it. But long experience has shown that if I answer a quick question, it leads on to a slightly longer one, until eventually I am spending a year or two serving as someone's personal tutor. So I have decided not to go down this route at all, and just refuse everything.

If you have something you don't understand, the person to ask about it is your teacher or lecturer or tutor - that's what they are paid for! If you don't have immediate access to your teacher because it is holiday time or a weekend or whatever, save the question up until you see them next. These things are rarely genuinely urgent.

If you need to know something quickly, use the internet. Learn to search for what you want so that you can find it quickly. Include as many keywords in your search phrase as possible to narrow it down. I have often found in the past that people have asked me questions where I didn't actually know the answer, and where I have had to do a Google search and found exactly what they were asking in a few minutes. The person asking the question could have done exactly the same thing without wasting my time.

If you are doing a Google search, and can't find what you want, don't forget to use Google Images or Google Books. For Google Books use the link

You should treat Chemguide as an online textbook - which is basically what it is. You wouldn't write to the author of a textbook because you couldn't easily find exactly what you wanted in it, and expect him or her to reply to you in detail. You shouldn't expect to get that service from the author of Chemguide either!

You will find the addresses of a couple of chemistry forums on the links page. You could try these in order to get answers to questions you may have, but be sure to choose the right level. Posting trivial questions on a forum designed for graduate chemists, for example, is going to annoy everybody. Look at the other questions being asked to find a forum which matches your level.

You could look for other forums by doing a Google search on chemistry forums, but be careful. Unless the forum is moderated by someone who knows what they are doing, you risk getting some completely rubbish answers from other students!

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© Jim Clark 2008 (last modified April 2019)