How to ask for tech help

Every month I get loads of letters from users seeking help with a computer problem. Time doesn’t permit me to answer them all (and I’ll admit I don’t always have an answer), but I do my best.

Consequently, I need you to do your best as well. That means asking the right questions, supplying the right information, and, most of all, being courteous.

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Here’s how to get the best possible results when you’re asking for tech help, whether it’s from me, an online forum or your IT help desk:

1. Learn the lingo

Just today a reader asked for help “deleting the bootlog,” which makes no sense. What he really wanted was help with the boot menu. If I have to spend extra time figuring out what you mean, I won’t have time to respond.

2. Share important details

What version of Windows are you running? What steps have you already tried to resolve your problem? What triggers the problem? Also, if you’re referring to something I’ve written before, tell me what that is. Just today someone wrote that he’d “followed my recommended procedure,” but didn’t say for what. I can’t help if I don’t know what you’re talking about.

3. But don’t go overboard

If your e-mail is more than a couple paragraphs, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to read it. I just don’t have the bandwidth. Keep it short and to the point.

4. Include a useful subject line

You’d be surprised how many people don’t. “Slow Internet after reloading XP” will get my attention. “Windows 7” will not.

5. Learn to use Google

I should be your last resort. If you’re getting a funky error code from, say, Windows Update, type that code into Google and search, search, search. I’d wager that any problem you’re having, others have had as well–and probably solved.

The majority of e-mails I receive are either overlong, incomplete, or just plain confusing. I’ll always try to help readers when I can, but, please, help me help you!

Rick Broida writes PC World’sHassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick’s newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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