The Do’s and Don’ts of Posting a Question for Help Online

Whether you’re looking for help with a problem computer, to overcome a leaking toilet, to learn how to fix a sputtering car, or how to get your new cell phone to work, there is a Web-based message board or newsgroup out on the Internet where you can find knowledgeable assistance.

However, if you aren’t careful, you may get more than you bargained for and less than you hoped. Post confidential information by mistake, for example, like your Social Security number or home telephone number, and you can find others using it to your detriment.

As an expert technical support community leader and manager, here are the tips I give people to get the help they need, but without the problems they did not bargain for.

Post a message that:

1. is as short as possible while still providing all necessary information to help readers identify issues and suggest solutions.
2. includes:
– What you want to accomplish
– exact situation observed
– operating system used (if computer) or other specifics
– make and model of the hardware involved
– complete text of any error messages received and what you were doing when they were received
– what you have already tried and what results you had
– what other conditions were noted, or what you may have done, immediately before the situation occurred
3. One that solicits help without presenting it as a major challenge; some posts seen each day start off with a version of, “I don’t think anybody here’s got the smarts to answer this in full but here goesâÂ?¦”, and this may not get the best responses
4. One that acknowledges your level of technical expertise, so a response can be formulated based on that information (for example, if you’re told to partition a drive, it’s only useful if you already know how to partition a drive)
5. One that may set some limits to the solution you want but doesn’t start off by saying, “Don’t tell me to do this procedure because I know it won’t help.”
6. One that doesn’t demand special assistance in a free area (such as insisting someone call voice to respond or ask for a few hours of assistance in the middle of the night). Don’t expect a private Email response in most public areas either – the focus in a public area is that others can benefit from the solution suggestions posted
7. One where you follow up by checking for posted solutions and decide which make sense for your particular situation

10 Things NOT to Do When Posting for Help

1. Don’t express your frustration with your situation by being rude or difficult. You probably won’t communicate the information you need to provide and you likely won’t get the response you want
2. Don’t use all CAPS when posting – it’s tough to read and online, it’s considered shouting.
3. Don’t post your product serial/registration/key codes in public.
4. Don’t post your home or office phone number or your home address. You may be unhappily surprised with who calls or contacts you.
5. Don’t ask for help with pirated products. It’s usually easy for a seasoned tech to identify why you don’t have a manual and why you can’t call the company support line.
6. Don’t make the technician or helper have to pull information from you and don’t provide vague answers when a moment of your time could give you the exact information the tech needs.
7. Don’t upload files with your posting unless the site specifically indicates you can do that. Message attachments are viewed with suspicion, because they could contain a virus or other damaging file.
8. Don’t make repeated posts of the same message in the same area, or post a message in one area asking people to go to a wholly different area to read your question; they may not do so, and you could miss out on available help.
9. Don’t respond to a message offering you a long detailed set of steps to try by simply saying, “Tried that. What’s next?” An implication may be left that you may not have actually tried the procedure exactly the way it was suggested, or that you didn’t like the length of the response, so you didn’t really bother to read it.
10. Don’t forget to offer feedback on what worked for you. By sharing the solutions that really did the trick for you, it lets helpers know they succeeded and alerts users to a solution that might work for them, too.

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