Help Me Help You Fix That

If you've been redirected here because you posted on a forum, or asked a question in an e-mail, the person wanted you to know how to get help quickly from a group of folks who are willing to do so - but whose time is valuable. You need to put a little effort into the question first to get others to assist. This is how to do that. It will only take you a moment to read...

1. State the problem succinctly in the title

When an e-mail thread starts, or a forum post is the "head" of the conversation, you'll attract more helpers by using a descriptive headline than a vague one.

This: "Driver for Epson Line Printer Not Installing on Operating System XYZ"

Not this: "Can't print - PLEASE HELP"

2. Explain the Error Completely

Make sure you include all pertinent information in the request. More information is better, there's almost no way to add too much data to the discussion. What you were doing, what happened, what you saw, the error message, visuals, screen shots, whatever you can include.

This: "I'm getting error '5203 - Driver not compatible with Operating System since about 25 years ago' in a message box on the screen when I tried to run the SETUP.COM file from my older computer. It was a 1995 Compaq Proliant and worked correctly there.."

Not this: "I get an error message in a box. It won't install."

3. Explain what you have done to research the problem

If the first thing you do is ask a question without doing any research, you're lazy, and no one wants to help you. Using one of the many fine search engines you can most always find the answer to your problem. Sometimes you can't. Do yourself a favor - open a notepad app, and paste the URL's as you look them up. If you get your answer, don't save the note. If you don't get an answer, send the list along with the problem. It will show that you've tried, and also keep people from sending you links that you've already checked.

This: "I read the fine manual, and it doesn't mention Operating System XYZ for some reason. Also, I checked the following links, but the instructions there didn't fix the problem: "

Not this: <NULL>

4. Say "Please" and "Thank You"

Remember, you're asking for help. No one owes you their valuable time. Ask politely, don't pester, endure the people who are rude to you, and when your question is answered, respond back to the thread or e-mail with a thank you to close it out. It helps others that have your same problem know that this is the correct answer.

This: "I could really use some help here - if you have any pointers or things to try, I'd appreciate it."

Not this: "I really need this done right now - why are there no responses?"

This: "Thanks for those responses - that last one did the trick. Turns out I needed a new printer anyway, didn't realize they were so inexpensive now."

Not this: <NULL>

There are a lot of motivated people that will help you. Help them do that.

Comments (6)
  1. SQL Sylvia says:

    Thank for educating the masses in the basics of communication.

  2. Great work, Buck!  As an active "volunteer" on the MSDN Forums, I've been considering a similar post for a while.

  3. Boris Hristov says:

    Totally agree with this 4 points! What makes me sad though is that these are advises that every community shares from a long time and still – many, many of the posts out there are exactly the opposite of what they need to be. I am going to share this post inside my network. Again.

  4. Rohit Chatterjee says:

    This is great. But it doesn't always work – once I posted a question on a programming site and ended with "I'll keep trying, thanks in advance". The question was later edited to remove this last line. The editor's comment?

    "Removed personal stuff".

  5. Wayne says:

    Great post Buck. Might I suggest a step 2.5: Steps to Replicate the problem. This step should list the steps to take to replicate the issue. (If this is a coding issue, actual code that can be run to set up an environment that has the issue is very helpful.)

  6. Dan says:

    In addition to thanking whoever helped, if I was merely pointed in the right direction (or even a wrong direction) and I later figured it out, I'll go back and post the complete solution for the benefit of others whith the same problem who find the thread.

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