How to ask tech question and get answer

Novice users may perceive that those who are more tech savvy never have a need to ask. On the contrary - the more you know the deeper holes you will dig for yourself and the more often you will have to look for answer and advice.

As with rest of thoughts posts this was kind of hovering around me for a long time and suddenly gained substance to put in words.

How to ask. How to get answer. How to escape emotionally unscratched (hard part).



Photo by alexanderdrachmann

How to ask right question

There are three parts to good question:

1. Details

There is no more frustrating tech problem than unidentified one. Uncertainty is waste of precious time and resources.

Be ready to provide every excruciating detail about your issue - from model of hardware and version of software to how close your cat sleeps (I had one desktop’s insides melted because of fur).

2. Honesty

It is very probable that you did something wrong. No matter what kind of stupid things it was or how irrelevant you consider it to be – never omit or lie about details, especially if directly asked.

If you want to look smart get used to broken computer. Otherwise be honest and help them to help you.

3. Question

Nothing works” is not a question. Real question is story of what you are trying to do, where you fail and showing that you deserve an answer (getting let me google that for you links or RTFM in response is a sign that you don’t).

How to deal with people

If you deal with support or online forum either you are likely to encounter those who meet [angry] people with questions on daily basis. Few can manage that and even less enjoy it. Rest are in for paycheck or ego.

The moment you try to push and demand you had lost your answer.

Always know who you are dealing with. Staying anonymous is basic technique of those who do not want to bother with you. Less of an issue online but by phone few things improve answer rate faster than politely asking whom you are speaking with (possibly with their position and department).

Never try to make things right. Even if you are treated like dirt it is going to be your fault for asking question. Save your nerves.

How to get answer

Second week into having my brain picked about connection problems in local network barely seeing Internet through consumer grade ADSL modem I decided it is time to ask properly. I found specialized forum, read stuff there for a day, posted in topic about that modem model (99 pages long, there are sure some issues with it) my precise question with as many details as I could provide.

Thirty minutes later my question was transferred to trash sub-forum by moderator who didn’t like it. Without particular reason that made sense to me. I wanted to go ballistic.

Instead I politely said goodbye and left that forum for good. And briefly tweeted about [censored] - safely out of moderator power reach.

Key moment – to get answer you have to find person who is willing to give you one. Never waste your time on those who are not. Keep looking until you find someone who does.


Do not be shy to ask, do not become frustrated about anything and sooner or later you will find someone who would be happy and qualified to help you. World is simply so big that such people statistically exist. :)

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  • Transcontinental #

    Concerning computing, what is always required when the question deals with an error problem is the process to reproduce that error, and to determinate that process is not always obvious! Master word in all circumstances, from dealing with yourself to dealing with a hot-line technician, and dialoging with whoever is : keep calm and stay accurate. There are worst things than my little problems! (though when I encounter them I tend to forget that)
  • Rarst #

    @Transcontinental Yeah, precise details are key to troubleshooting. There are some very creepy chain reactions possible in computing so determining what it is exactly is essential for solving.
  • The DataRat #

    "precise details are key to troubleshooting" As the local resident geek (non-expert, but "advanced user") everybody goes to for computer problems, the largest difficulty is linguistics. You know: Novices who refer to their hard drive as "memory" ...etc. Before getting down to resolving the problem at hand, got to first conduct a class on computer nomenclature. Only after ~that~ is it possible to even understand what the hell they're talking about ! Once everybody is speaking the same language (computerese?) we have a chance of identifying the issue. And -without knowing the problem- arriving at a solution becomes impossible. This the most frustrating part of helping novices: That initial encounter trying to figure out exactly what they're complaining about ! The DataRat .
  • Rarst #

    @DataRat Ouch, don't even start me on that. :) It's like having few dictionaries with different terms and trying to figure out which one user used every time he finishes sentence.
  • Transcontinental #

    Linguistics, languages, cultures ... I guess parity is required between the teacher and the "learner", and there is, in the ability to teach, a knack one has or has not whatever be his skills, his knowledge. I must say that in the Anglo-Saxon culture, as compared to the French since I've been introduced to both, something of a more natural approach to explanation in particular of topivs in the area of rationalism such as science and technology. As a Frenchman I prefer learning computer related matters from UK/US forums and blogs rhan from French ones, only because the methodology in the former suit me better, I understand more quickly. Why I have no idea. French culture is complex (as others) but French appear to me as complex, which is fine for philosophy but problematic for science.
  • Rarst #

    @Transcontinental Hm, can't say I noticed drastic differences due to national culture. I notice lot more differences of personal culture. Naturally not all people like computer. Still some treat is part of modern life, some like hated things that is necessary to do hated job... Personal attitude can make their explanations both really easy and really hard to get.
  • Transcontinental #

    I agree that no rule dominates personalities, still I confirm my remarks, though themselves are... personal :) Many have been misled to what could have became a skill because of "non parity" with the teacher. More one knows more one is responsible of what becomes of his knowledge, I guess.