We all love the Internet for the wealth of information it brings to our fingers. It’s been said that the vast majority of Information Technology folks couldn’t work without Google Search, myself included. The Internet allows us quickly search for fixes to documented problems and to connect with industry experts through discussion forums and social media who can often help answer our questions or further our understanding of a specific technical problem.
What’s the problem?
While quite a few people take the time and effort to adequately document and describe their problem, including the troubleshooting steps they’ve already taken, far too many folks don’t take the time to provide the basic details of the actual problem or the environment around the problem when posting a question or asking for assistance.
All too often I’ll see a post or a comment that says something along the lines of “I have a switch and an IP phone and it’s not working can you please help?“. So my answer is “sure, if you can provide enough detail around your configuration and environment!”
When you make a post remember that the folks that are going to respond have no clue how your network is designed or configured. They also have no idea what you’ve tried and what you haven’t tried in order to resolve the problem. And while there are quite a few of us out there happy to answer questions and offer support, we generally won’t waste our time trying to pull answers out of people that should have originally provided the basic information when first soliciting (free) help.
Describe the problem and/or symptoms with enough detail
Here’s what I suggest as a basis when making a post requesting assistance;
- Thorough description of the problem and all symptoms.
- When did the problem first start?
- Has it ever worked properly (help identify a potential configuration or operational issue).
- Was there a change made that preceded the problem?
- The switch models and software releases of each.
- Is the problem easily reproducible or intermittent?
- What have you done to date to try and resolve the problem?
While I realize I’m probably preaching to the choir with this post I’m trying fill my roll and help.
Update your original post and/or question with the solution
If you were able to resolve your problem and/or issue with someone’s help please don’t forget to update the thread with the outcome so that the next Joe or Jane will have the benefit of your experiences to get them through their problem or issue. And as always it would be nice of you to say ‘Thanks!‘ to those that took the time to respond to your post and/or question.
When I am asking for help online I try to do my best to add as much pertinent information as possible. The one thing that I fear, however, is overwhelming the reader with too many facts off the start. I know that when I am reading a problem there is a sweet spot between not enough information and too much – if your question isn’t in that sweet spot it isn’t likely that I’ll put in any effort to reply to your question, even if I give it some thought on my end. Putting together a good forum question usually requires quite a bit of thought and effort to convey what you know about a situation, especially if it is a more involved problem than a simple one-liner.
As I am generating a problem request, I usually find myself re-checking all of my facts and gathering appropriate screen outputs in case someone asks for them. The process of opening up a ticket with a vendor or posting online serves as an excellent review of the problem and the troubleshooting steps that I’ve actually taken.
If you do get a solution, please share it online with as much detail as possible and make it clear that this is the solution that ultimately worked. Nothing is worse than reading through a thread that describes your issue and following through several different presented solutions, of which none work. Put the detail in there and be prepared for PMs in the future from other forumgoers that are experiencing the same issue.
Michael McNamara says
I would agree you certainly don’t want to overwhelm the folks that could potentially help you but at the same time you need to provide enough information for them to make an educated assessment of the problem.
Thanks for the comment!