Before you go to a forum or help desk with a computer problem, it is essential that you be prepared properly. How you ask your question or present your problem is key to obtaining help. Be sure to have all the facts about your problem lined up beforehand. You will simply waste your time (and the tech’s) if you are vague about what your problem is. In this tip, I'll give some suggestions for getting the best help.
Ten steps to getting your question answered on a tech forum
- Before you even go to a forum, think through what your problem is. Write down how you are going to describe it. Think about it from the other side - what would you need to know if a stranger came to you and asked a computer question? Write down any error codes that appear on your screen. Gather all the system information that seems to bear on the problem (see how at this link). Sometimes it even happens that by thinking through the problem, you come up with the answer yourself.
- Place your question or problem in a forum that is relevant to its subject. That may seem obvious but anyone who has experience with forums knows that a lot of questions show up in the wrong place.
- Select a title that briefly and accurately describes your problem. A title like “Help!” or “Computer won’t work” will often get ignored. Almost any problem can be titled with a few key words that will raise interest in somebody who is familiar with the subject. A corollary to this is to avoid using all caps or a lot of exclamation points. Something like “HELP!!!” turns many people off.
- In the post, briefly describe the problem in a paragraph. Leave out unnecessary details. Save everybody time by listing any solutions that you have tried but didn't work.
- Next, describe relevant system details. For example, it is essential to designate your operating system and type of computer and any components that might be involved in your problem. List any error code that has been displayed. Be prepared to provide more details if asked
- Tell what you were doing when you encountered the problem. If it is a reproducible problem, list the steps or computer operations that cause the problem.
- List any recent software you have installed or hardware changes you have made. If you have updated any drivers recently, also list that.
- If requested, be prepared to list all the Windows and software updates that have been made recently.
- Be courteous and thank whoever is helping you whether you get a solution or not. Somebody is giving you their time and expertise for free. You may want to come back to the forum and it pays to be friendly.
- If a suggested solution works, be sure to return to the forum and report your success. It is the least you can do to return something for the help you have been given. It will make you welcome in the forum the next time you go there for help.
And there you have it - follow these rules and you'll have a better chance at getting your problem solved. Got rules of your own? Let us know about them.
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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.
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