How to ask in a forum or newsgroup

Wed, 2007-07-18 15:13 by admin · Forum/category:

The childish user

From time to time we have an unpleasant kind of visitor here. He is easy to recognize:

  • Registers, but doesn't give any personal information about himself, i.e. doesn't fill in his personal profile.
  • Immediately posts a question without doing any own research or at least reading the introduction.
  • Ignores that the answer is already here, right before his eyes.
  • Writes with utter disregard for the reader—lots of errors, no capitalization, no paragraphs. You can instantly recognize most of these postings by their all-lower-case titles.
  • Fails to provide the information that would be needed to analyze the problem.
  • Never reports whether any help given by others worked.
  • Never thanks the helpers.

To make sure you are not mistaken for an egotistical user like that, please read on.

Do what you can first

Before you ask, take some obvious measures.

  • Peruse the introduction, particularly the general problem solving advice.
  • Power down everything including modems or routers, then power up again in a logical sequence (servers before clients) and retest.
  • If you installed some software and experience problems afterwards, uninstall the software.
  • In Windows XP and Vista, if that doesn't work, roll the system back to the last restore point before you installed the offending software or to a state when the computer still worked, using System Restore.
  • If you have problems with drivers, remove and reinstall them.
  • Check for canned answers.  Search  this site (top right corner). Search the Microsoft Knowledge Base at http://support.microsoft.com/. Use a search engine like Google to search the web and groups for key words that describe your problem or for an error message.

Only if all of this is unsuccessful, call for help here or in a newsgroup.

Create an account for yourself

To be able to write on winhlp.com at all, you first have to register yourself and log on.

Please be polite and friendly and fill in your personal profile while you register, or do it later in My account. If you don't even reveal whether you're a man or a woman, why should anybody feel inclined to help you? The message you'd be getting across is, I demand your help, but I don't give a damn. That's like walking into a computer store, wearing a black mask, not saying hello, and instantly demanding attention and support.

How to ask for help

To ask a question here on winhlp.com or on Usenet, i.e. in a public newsgroup, first select the appropriate forum or newsgroup. Do not write everything into the Windows forum or into a general newsgroup if a specific one is available. For example, if your problem is related to networking, use the networking forum. Use the Windows forum here only if no other forum fits the problem at all.

Then check the existing topics and see whether any of them already fits your question. If so, add a new comment or reply. If not, add a new forum topic.

The following information should be contained in your question.

  • Your most important signpost is the subject line. A concise description of the problem should go there, not too long, but under no circumstances too short, and always specific.
    • Bad example: "Windows XP Problem"
    • Good example: "Installed SP2 in XP Home - blue screen, Error 0xC00001A"

    For example, if you write into a networking forum or newsgroup:

    • "Problem connecting to another computer"

    your subject line is meaningless, because nearly everybody there has problems connecting to another computer (the remaining few having problems connecting to a printer). So that subject line is about as bad as it gets.

  • Which operating system is running on your computers? For example in the case of Windows XP, is it Windows XP Professional Edition, Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP for Tablet PCs?
  • Which program is running? If you get the problem in a particular program, which one is it?
  • Include the version numbers of any involved software, particularly the last service pack installed on the operating system. For example, Windows XP with Service Pack 2 is quite a different beast from Windows XP with Service Pack 1a. Include also the version of any involved program.
  • Describe the problem precisely. "It no longer works" is not enough.
  • Does the problem occur every time or only sometimes? If not always, does it occur occasionally or often?
  • Was the problem there when you first tried or did it work before and has stopped working now?
  • If it stopped working, what were the last things you changed before it stopped working?
  • If you get an error message, quote the message verbatim in addition to any error code or number. If it is very long, try to quote at least a crucial part of the error message text verbatim.
  • Look into the event log and quote relevant error messages and error numbers. You can use the error time to help decide whether an error occurred at the same time when you experienced the error.
  • Are you a beta tester? If yes, what have you been testing on the Windows installation in question?

If you get replies and want to reply to a reply or if you forgot some important information, do not post an entirely new message. Reply to the last message in the thread instead, using the reply command.

No reply?

Some questions stay unanswered. There is a whole variety of reasons for this. I don't find the time to list them all. The following are just a few that can help utilize this web site better.

  • Windows is a complex operating system, so people can produce complex problems that often can neither be conveyed in a short newsgroup message nor solved in a reply. Some problems are so peculiar and rare that even the best supporter is stunned. Here it helps if you offer information on what is peculiar in the particular setup and what could have caused the problem.
  • Some people make everything difficult for themselves and for the supporters by adding complexity, doing things in very strange ways, or trying to save cents on disk capacity.
    • Negative example: "I have the following 7 partitions on my hard disk, of which ... are used by Windows 95, ... used by Windows 98, ... used by Linux, and now I want to add Windows XP."
    • Or: "I tried to install Service Pack 2, but it tells me that I need 600 MB free space, but I have only 127 MB free. I have another partition with 599 MB free and yet another with 311. What can I do?"
  • Many users experience problems that are easily solved by installing the latest service pack and drivers, but difficult to diagnose otherwise. Update first, then test, then ask in the newsgroup if the problem persists.
  • One of the most basic methods of determining the cause of some errors is to swap components and see what happens (example: flakey CD-ROM drive). Another is to deinstall, then possibly reinstall software components (example: deinstall or remove, then reboot and reinstall all networking components and drivers). Yet another is to install a second instance of the operating system into a separate folder to see whether that installation is plagued by the same problem. If the actual problem lends itself to one of these approaches, do this first before you ask for help.
  • Some people ask in the wrong forum.
  • Some people are careless beyond redemption.
    • Negative example: "I have just let Partition Magic loose on my hard disk, and it has destroyed my NTFS partition with extremely important and valuable data in it. I do not have any backup. How can I recover the data?"

In short, it helps a lot if the potential supporter can see, ideally already in the subject line, that the person asking for help does his best to ease the supporter's task.

How to ask in a newsgroup

To ask in a newsgroup if you have no news client set up, you can use a web interface like http://groups.google.com/ (Google Groups). If you use news more often, it is better to use a news client like Outlook Express or Free Agent from http://www.forteinc.com/.

You also need a news server, which many Internet Service Providers provide free to their customers.

Pick the right newsgroup. Do not crosspost to various and sundry newsgroups and do not crosspost into a general newsgroup if a more specific one is available. Ideally post in just one newsgroup. Only if the problem really fits two newsgroups well or you are not sure whether the issue actually belongs to one or the other, then crosspost into the two newsgroups.

Read first and check whether there are already discussion threads about this same problem. If so, reply there by using the reply feature of your newsreader. It is also usually better not to change the subject line, because some newsreaders use that to keep threads of messages together

A similar article is available in the Microsoft Knowledge Base: How to ask a question

Another similar article is GoodPost.

Yet another is Playing Nice on Usenet.