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I want to share with you today my favorite question. And I get it ALL THE TIME.
My favorite question is: It Doesn’t Work
I’m sure that’s not what you expected. I mean, it’s not really even a question, is it?
Why’s it my favorite?
Because there’s nothing I can do – nothing for me to answer. And since there’s nothing I can do, I can move on – quickly.
You know when I say that I can’t answer every question? This is one of the questions that, when I get it, gets no response.
Now, you’re probably saying “Leo, no one asks that question”.
Do I get those exact words? No. But I get questions that boil down to that question all the time.
- my printer doesn’t work
- I can’t print
- Attachments won’t open
- I can’t log in
I get variations on this theme all the time. Seriously.
Now, I use the word “favorite” somewhat facetiously – in reality they frustrate me because either of two things have to happen:
Either I have to embark on what is usually a frustrating game of 20 questions to get more information on whatever’s going on
Who ever asked it just isn’t going to get an answer. They’re not going to hear back from me at all, as a matter of fact.
Since going back and forth trying to tease out more information is frustrating for both parties – whomever asked the question as well as me – and since I’m usually short on time and long on other questions, you can guess which of those two options in more likely to happen.
I click next and move on.
Even though it saves me a lot of time, I guess it’s not really my favorite question at all. I’d rather be able to get you an answer.
So, how do we tip the odds in favor of that happening?
There’s a long list of things I could say, but I’ll prioritize three things – three things that if at least thought about for every question would greatly increase the chances of my being able to answer them.
Heck – it doesn’t even have to be questions asked of me – this applies to asking a question about computers of just about anyone that you hope might be able to help.
So for all of us trying to answer questions, or provide support, help us help you by at least thinking about these three things.
First: tell me what software you’re running. What version of Windows? What program are you running that’s giving you difficulty? Is it a program on your PC, or something you’re accessing via a web browser? And if so, which browser?
Second: include the exact text of any error message you get. If you tell me “it said something like …” that’s not good enough. Computers are darned picky, and the devil is in those detailed. “Something like” could mean hundreds of different errors or problems. The exact text of the exact error is a HUGE shortcut to understanding a lot of issues.
Third: What were you doing when you had this problem? More than just running your computer … what actions, what keystrokes, what specifically were you doing when whatever it was didn’t work?
No, sometimes one or more of those things won’t apply to your question, and that’s OK. But at least think about each one in turn, and include the information if it makes sense to you.
I could go on, of course.
- I know terminology is difficult, but it could be worth the time to learn the right words for things to avoid being misunderstood.
- I know the world is becoming seamless, but it could be worthwhile to understand the difference between a program running on your computer and visiting a web site.
- I know Microsoft makes this frustratingly difficult, but it could help to understand the difference between outlook and outlook.com – they are not the same at all – and then use the right name for each.
As I said, I could go on.
Focus on the top three – the software you’re running, the error messages you get, the steps you took – and you’ll be miles head of a lot of questions I see.
Let’s face it … anything’s better than “it doesn’t work”.