Wednesday, 21 May 2014

4 critical things to include in a problem report

When you want something fixed on a computer, give the computer guy this information; it'll help him solve your problem a lot sooner:

  1. What steps did you do?
  2. WHERE did you do it?
  3. What did you see wrong?
  4. What did you expect?


Now for the explanation, but first, some background:

When you go to the doctor, you don't say to him, "I've got a pain" and then shut up and just stare at him, expecting him to know (or guess) where your problem is. You tell him as much relevant information as you can, e.g. "When I try to touch my toes, I've got a sharp pain in my stomach; it's been happening ever since I ate dinner at this restaurant two weeks ago."

However, many people call or email their computer help desk and stay things such as brief as "It doesn't work!", expecting the computer technician to instantly know what they're talking about, what's wrong, and what it should be. This forces the computer technician into the time-wasting game of "20 questions": what is actually wrong? When did it go wrong? What did you do leading up to this? And so on.

You could get your problem solved much quicker if you just told him this information up front. So to help this process, here is a succinct list of what you need to tell your computer guy when you want a problem solved:

1. What did you do?

List the steps to reproduce the problem. You did A then B then C then boom!
If you can capture the exact steps to reproduce the problem, the computer guy's chance of fixing it for you will increase greatly!

If not, such as for intermittent problems, at least tell him what you did THIS time it failed; then next time, tell him what you were doing at that time. After a while, a record of those details will start to show some patterns that will help solve those tricky intermittent problems.

2. WHERE did you do it?

  • What computer where you running this on?
  • What version of the program were you running? Oh, you were on the OLD version, were you? That could be really helpful for the computer guy to know about.
  • Where were you logged into?
  • What program were you using?
  • Were you using the demo or test area, or the live area?
  • What version was the program?
  • What ports or service packs have been installed?

3. What did you see?

What values were wrong? Highlight them on a screen shot if you can.

A screen shot is a big help because it contains lots of useful information. Include a full screen shot and you will get major bonus points.

If you do include a screen shot, draw a red box around the problem; don't just assume that the computer guy can automatically see what's wrong; he's not in your shoes he doesn't automatically know what's wrong and what part of the screen you're looking at.

As they say, "A picture is worth a thousand words." A screen shot captures a lot of extra detail that a novice user won't notice - things such as the date and time, what other programs were running at the time, data on the screen that you neglected to report, and so on.

4. What did you EXPECT?

Don't just assume the computer guy knows what it should be; tell him exactly what you expected the computer to do or show.

For bonus points, give it a short meaningful description

If the computer programmer has a list of things to resolve, and they all say "Bug", then he has to spend more time opening each email or ticket to figure out what it's all about. So put a nice short description in your email such, a description that will jog his memory about your problem.

Bad descriptions

  • Error
  • Adding customer

Good descriptions

  • Error 500 when adding customer
  • Price is wrong when out of stock


When giving a problem report, MORE information is more helpful than less. Give your computer help-desk good information and they'll be much more likely to help you, and sooner.

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