This is a pet peeve of mine that I see it happening almost every day in the various online test communities that I follow.

These communities are great for sharing knowledge and learning from our peers. So, people regularly ask questions to draw on that wealth of collective experience:

“How do I…”

“Does anybody have advice for…”

“What do you think about…”

Almost every time, the response is some variation on:

“It depends.”

This is the most useless answer. Don’t get me wrong, context is important. There is always going to be some subtly worth exploring. But this kind of response is useless precisely because it is always true.

It’s often wrapped in a question:

“Why are you asking?”

“What are you trying to achieve?”

“What’s your test strategy?”

but these are little better. Sure, sometimes these really are the necessary responses. Sometimes the person really would benefit more from being challenged this way than from being given a straight answer. But as a spectator to these exchanges, it often feels like the person responding is really saying “I don’t trust that you know what you’re asking.”

I recently got a response like this when I asked for a comparison between two similar tools. And I understand why it was asked. But it also says to me “I’m going to evaluate your context for you and decide what differences will be important to you.” The better kind of answer? One that builds on the prompt, rather than rejects it. Even if the answer isn’t straightforward, offer the start of one, and then invite the questioner to go deeper.

And only because I see this so often, as the go-to response for almost every question about testing, that I start to think it gets in the way as often as it helps. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be asking these questions—of course we should—but I’d like to suggest that we please first consider this courtesy:

Answer the question that was asked.