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How to ask for help so that you get it quickly

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How to ask for help so that you get it quickly
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Join Date: Jul 2004
2004-07-08, 10:41

There's asking for help, and there's asking for help efficiently. That means giving as much pertinent information as you can so that the person(s) trying to help you don't have to dig for facts that could've provided an immediate answer. Here's how to do it:
  1. Start by clearly describing your setup. Include the computer model (with CPU speed, RAM amount, hard drive size) and OS you are using as well as the version number(s) of relevant software.

    Bad: "I'm using Word on a Powerbook".

    Good: "I'm using Word 2004 on a 17" PowerBook running Mac OS X 10.3.4 with 512 MB of RAM."

  2. Be as specific as possible. Include as many details about the problem as you can.

    Bad: "My computer won't start."

    Good: "I'm using a Pismo PowerBook running Mac OS 9.2.1, and it freezes before booting completely. The startup screen appears with the 'Welcome to Mac OS' message, I see a row of icons appearing one by one during the boot sequence, and the screen freezes when the last icon appears. The icon looks like a little red 'a' in a box."

  3. Note any changes you have made to your hardware or software recently. If you've done anything at all to your computer, describe it. Really.

    Bad: (After a long thread on some computer problem): "Oh yeah...I just upgraded my system to OS X. Do you think that might be important?"

    Good: "I just installed the Mac OS X 10.3.4 update on my 12" G4 PowerBook and I can't connect to my AirPort base station any more; I was able to connect to it just before the update, though. I can see the base station in the Network part of my System Preferences, and my neighbor can connect to it using her PC. Help!"

  4. Describe your efforts to resolve the problem yourself. Don't make the other person go through a laundry list of potential solutions. If you've tried to fix it, describe what you did and the results.

    Bad: "My printer doesn't work." "What kind of printer is it?" "It's an Epson." "Is it on a network, or plugged directly into your computer?" "Uh'there's a wire going from the printer to my computer. It says 'USB' on it." "Try disconnecting the USB cable and reconnecting it." "I did that." "On both ends, the part that goes into the computer and the part that goes into the printer?" "Yes." "Is the printer plugged into a power strip?" "Yes." "Do you see the job in the print center?" "Yes." "Is there a progress bar in the print center?" "Yeah, but it just says 'waiting for printer'." "Try the reset button on the printer." "I tried that already, but it didn't do anything. And I unplugged the printer for a while."

    Good: "My Epson Stylus C64 won't print. Whenever I try to print something, it gets stuck. I can see the print job in the print center, but the printer never starts the print job, even after I hit the reset button on the printer. I checked all the cables, and they're all connected. I turned the printer off and on, but it still doesn't work. I deleted the printer from the print center, and added it again."

  5. Provide some history, if possible. If the problem has occurred before, spit out the details. If this is the first time it's happened, that's important as well.

    Bad: "My printer won't print."

    Good: "My Epson Stylus C64 was printing fine until this morning, but now print jobs are getting stuck in the print center. This seems to happen every so often on its own ' it's not because I've just installed or updated some software or done something to the computer or printer. I can fix it by reinstalling the printer driver, but I'd really like to find out what's causing it. Anyone have any thoughts?"

  6. Mention any patterns you may have noticed. Try to pay attention to the circumstances that trigger a problem, especially if the problem is a recurring one. What were you doing when the problem occurred? What program were you using? Is there anything else that might be a factor?

    Bad: "My Internet is broken, because Explorer always crashes."

    Good: "Whenever I'm on the SEC website, Internet Explorer freezes when I click on the link to display the filing. It only happens on some filings, though; the really short ones seem to work OK."

  7. Be polite. It's in your best interest when you're asking for help. I know it's obvious, but some people still need to hear it.

  8. Use an appropriate title for the thread. Describe your issue in the thread name. Be as brief and descriptive as possible. This will make it easy for someone with the appropriate expertise to decide to respond to your post.

    Bad: "Apple is &%!*, my PowerBook is &@*$%! ".

    Good: "PowerBook Screen Brightness Problem!"

  9. Try to provide the exact text of any error messages. If you can provide screenshots, they'll be very helpful because it allows us to see exactly what you've seen. Also, provide any error logs that may have been recorded.

    Bad: "The error message said I couldn't launch Word because something was damaged."

    Good: "The error message was 'One of your object libraries (Standard OLE Types) is missing or damaged. Please install the program again.' "

Note that almost all of these apply universally -- there are benefits whether you're in an online forum, on the telephone with tech support, or sending an email to the IT staff at your office.

Anyone have any other suggestions?

Last edited by ATS : 2004-07-09 at 14:42.
Selfish Heathen
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Zone of Pain
2005-08-31, 10:19

Note - 31 Aug 2005: I've reformatted the original post, added some additional suggestions, and cleared out the thread chatter to keep everything succinct up there.

If you have any other points to add to this list, feel free to post them below!

The quality of this board depends on the quality of the posts. The only way to guarantee thoughtful, informative discussion is to write thoughtful, informative posts. AppleNova is not a real-time chat forum. You have time to compose messages and edit them before and after posting.
Formerly “iceman009”
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Some place
2006-10-21, 18:44

10. Have some patience.

It takes time. So don't duplicate your thread just because you didn't get an anaswer.
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