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David Chalmers

thanks, eric! i confess that this norm is the one that i violate the most frequently. i agree that sometimes there are good reasons for a question to take a long time, and that on occasion those exchanges can be extremely productive. on the other hand, the questioner is not the greatest judge of this, and by letting in the good exchanges we'll also let in a lot of plain-long-winded exchanges. in any case i think the norm should at least be given weight -- that is, recognizing that there's some cost to a long question, especially if time is limited and there are many questions. maybe that could be conveyed better by a ceteris paribus formulation, or by "Try not to let your question (or your answer) go on forever".

of course as you say, a lot depends on how "forever" is cashed out. presumably the boundary falls somewhere in the 1-10 minute range. i'd say questions of up to two minutes are usually fine, 2-4 minutes is getting long (or at least toward interruptable territory, as a later proto-norm suggests) and above 5 minutes is definite forever territory. in my experience it's very rare to see students getting into that territory -- it's almost always senior people. i was somewhat embarrassed to see a video of me at a recent workshop asking a five-minute question, though at least there was a small group and a fair amount of time. at the time i thought it was justified (of course we all usually think our long questions are justified), but in retrospect three or four minutes would have sufficed!


I know that when I have been the person _being asked_ a question, a big problem I have with "long" questions (I'd agree that five minutes seems like a good marker)is that I find them much harder to answer - either because they are really multi-part questions, or else I cannot keep them in mind, as I start trying to think about them as they are laid out. If I'm not alone in that, this would be one more reason why trying to make shorter, more tightly focused questions could improve discussion. But, perhaps others don't have this problem.

As for myself in asking questions, I have found that if I try to write the question down, even in outline, before I ask it, it is usually a huge help in making the questions more tightly focused and less rambling.


Nice point Eric. I have always struggled with keeping questions short (I'm hopefully improving a over time). This is one of the rules that has been applied a lot both by chairs and other audience members. The problem is that as a student I often felt too unconfident to ask a question in the designated question-time because I was worried I wouldn't be able to formulate it quickly enough. The experience of being told mid-question to hurry up or being cut off can be humiliating if not handled well, particularly as it is in front of a crowd. I would have felt much more support and confidence if, in my slow-thinking novice days, people had sometimes been a bit more accommodating. And I suspect that the extra practice I would have got if I had been more confident may well have improved my ability to ask well constructed questions.

Miles Rind

In other words, don't be a . . . BALLOON!!!

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