Asking Around: The New Troubleshooting

As anyone who’s used Windows built-in troubleshooting utility will know full well, it’s positively useless. The Windows Troubleshooter tries its damndest to help you with your problem, but it just doesn’t have the answer to any but the simplest of questions. And while it’s certainly possible to wait a few hours to talk to tech support, who wants to do that? How do you know they’ll even solve your problem? And what if you’ve got questions that they can’t (or won’t) answer?

You ask around.

I’m not talking about asking your circle of friends, unless it’s comprised primarily of computer geeks and software engineers. Rather, I’m talking about looking online. Check out forums dedicated to the troubleshooting of computer problems. Look for tech support websites where the community looks genuinely helpful and well informed. PCMech’s own forums are a great place to start.

Bleeping Computer is another place you can check out. The Techguy forums is yet another. Truthfully, the web’s absolutely flooded with knowledgeable people, encyclopedic sources of information, and founts of essential data when it comes to curing what ails your system. Indeed, it seems like the default solution, after initial troubleshooting, is a quick Google search.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend only doing that in every case, though.

See, the problem is, every issue (and every system) is a little different. The solution that worked for one user might not work for you. Granted, there’s a chance that you’ll find the solution clear as day on a webforum, put it to the test, and navigate away, content that things are working again.  But there’s also the possibility that you might not solve the problem, and the (small) chance you might actually end up making things even worse. So what can you do?

Make a post on one of the forums. Ask people for help, and do it politely. In doing this, be sure to include:

  1. The exact nature of your problem. How long it’s been going on for, what exactly is happening, what you’re doing when the problem manifests itself, and any other information you feel might be useful. Be as descriptive as humanly possible. You aren’t helping anyone by withholding information.
  2. Your exact system specifications. Operating system, RAM, graphics card, motherboard…pretty much everything about your system save the factory in which it was constructed.
  3. In some cases, it may be prudent to download a program such as Hijackthis, and post the logs it provides of all your currently running programs and processes. A trained eye can immediately tell if something’s there that shouldn’t be.
  4. The last time you ran Windows Update and the most recent programs you’ve installed. Believe it or not, this is extremely important information.

Once you’ve posted your problem, all that’s left to do is sit and wait. If you’re concerned about not getting a response, it might not be a bad idea to post in more than one location, as well.


  1. It’s also good advice to make sure you’ve found an appropriate forum to ask your questions in. Not only will it save you being redirected (possibly rudely) to another place, but often there are forums and entire sites dedicated to the exact hardware or software you’re troubleshooting.

    Perhaps this is a bad example, since it’s not common PC equipment, but in my case I have a Motorola Droid X. There are sites and forums out there dedicated not just to the Droid line but specifically to the Droid X model. Similarly, there are forums dedicated to specific operating systems, (Windows 7 and Vista, Ubuntu, Linux in general, Mac OS, et al.), forums dedicated to specific hardware (Dell, Gateway, Mac, Asus, Nvidia, AMD, et al.), and forums dedicated to specific software (Office, LibreOffice, Firefox, et al). Heck, there’s probably sites and forums dedicated specifically to pocket knives, bottle openers, and kitchen sinks (not to mention things like gardening, pets and aquaria, specific car models, etc.).

    While sites like ask . com (*shudder*) may seem faster and easier, you’ll get much better information and a higher likelihood of solving your problem when you find the right place, and thus the right people to ask. (As a side note I know there are people out there who actually troll sites like ask . com just to submit false answers. I once saw a question that went something like “How do I clean X?” … “Mix ammonia and bleach in a bucket and dip X in the bucket” … “Oh OK, thanks a lot!” ……… That combo creates a dangerous acid and potentially chlorine and other toxic vapors, if you weren’t aware.)

    Also, regarding asking/posting in more than one location, be thoughtful about it, don’t simply sign up to one forum and post your question all over that forum. This is likely against the rules to begin with and will only aggravate the community there. If your problem is with an AMD video card in a Dell computer, try posting in an appropriate AMD forum, and in an appropriate Dell-oriented forum.

    • Posting all over the web is not the best of ideas. E.g., WhatTheTech actively discourages posting elsewhere once your problem is taken up, and it always is in my experience. There is a simple reason for this – one cannot listen to two (or more) masters at the same time.

      • My advice was hardly meant to be construed as “posting all over the web”. I recommended to be thoughtful about it, which is more than the article explained.

        And, while it may be a handy rule of thumb for some, I disagree with your last statement entirely. Unless you’re doing something specific and following careful directions from an expert, the more input you have on a problem the better I say. Learning is about being able to generalize on problems and solutions by comprehending as much information about something as is needed, not memorizing steps dictated by a single “master”.

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