Suggestions for asking a question on help forums

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This article offers suggestions for how to phrase the questions that you post to help forums and newsgroups. This information is designed to help you increase your chances of receiving timely and effective answers. The discussions in this article are with the following forums and newsgroups in mind, but the basic principles can apply for any forum or newsgroup.

More information

When you experience a problem with your computer and you need help, forums and newsgroups can be excellent resources for finding that help. If you design your question effectively, you can get good information from people who are knowledgeable about the topic and who are happy to help you.

Note This article deals with concerns or problems that are related to Microsoft Windows operating systems and Microsoft products, but there is , you can apply this article generally to any forum or newsgroup discussion.

Important Before you take any troubleshooting steps, make sure that you back up all your important data.

Collect information relevant to your question

You want to design your question effectively. The question has to catch the attention of the best person for the answer, and it should be short and to the point so that you don't overwhelm the people reviewing your post.

Follow this checklist when you write your forum posting:
  • In the subject line, type a brief description of your problem or question. For example: "my screen is black" or "I cannot print to my XYZ printer." A subject line that says only "I need help" will not catch the attention of someone who may be familiar with your particular situation.
  • In the body of the posting, describe the problem or question. Include all necessary details but no unnecessary ones. A short description is easier to understand and will save the reviewer time.
  • If possible, include the steps to reproduce the problem, as in the following example:
    1. I turn on my laptop.
    2. I hear one long beep, then two short beeps.
    3. White text appears on a black screen, but Windows doesn’t start.
  • Include a basic description of your system, as relevant to the problem. For example, include the following:
    • The operating system version
    • The CPU or processor
    • The video card (also known as a graphics device, video adapter, or GPU)
    • The amount of system memory (RAM)
    • The hard disk size and model
    • The version of software or model of hardware that you’re using and that may be related to the problem
    • The version of virus scanner or malware scanner that you’re using
    It may be difficult to determine some of these specifications. The following are examples of free programs that you can use to find this information:
    Speccy - System Information from Piriform
    Belarc Advisor - Free Personal PC Audit
  • Include the following information:
    • Any software or hardware that you recently installed or removed
    • Any recent changes that were made to the system
    • The amount of time that that you have experienced the problem
    • The things that you have already tried to troubleshoot the problem, and the results.
  • Add a thank-you line. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook, and it’s important to be courteous and polite in the forums.

Log the issues by using a history document

For your own benefit, create a document in which you keep a record of the following:
  • A list of the problems that you experience, in chronological order
  • The URLs (website links) for anything that you post (to make it easy to return to the post to look for responses)
  • Any solutions that you find (to make it easier to resolve the problem if it occurs again)
  • The exact text of any error messages that you receive

    Error messages may be frustrating, but they can also be useful. Make sure that you quote verbatim the phrasing of an error message. You can then search the Internet for that exact message by including the error message in quotation marks.

    If you receive an error message on a blue screen, note the following details especially:
    • The first block of text (error code) that is displayed immediately following "*** STOP:" and that resembles 0x000001 or 0x00000d
    • The second line of text describing the problem, as in the following examples:
      These codes may seem esoteric, but they could produce answers for you if you search the Internet for them. For more information about blue screen error, visit the following Microsoft website:
      Demystifying the 'Blue Screen of Death'
Also, keep track of the logon credentials (user name and passwords) that you used when you registered for the site. In Windows 7, you can use Credential Manager to store credentials. For more information, visit the following Microsoft webpage:
What is Credential Manager?
Other free password managers, such as Roboform, LastPass, and KeePass, can track your credentials and also help you fill out online forms.

Suggested forums

You can find many excellent forums on the web for every imaginable topic by searching on "forum" plus the topic of your search. For example, to find help regarding your dishwasher, search in any search engine on "forums" plus "dishwasher" without the quotation marks, as follows:
forums dishwashers
The following are examples of Microsoft forums:


After a successful resolution of your problem, follow up the original online discussion by posting the solution. This helps other people find solutions to their own problems. Also, if a specific posting was helpful, remember to thank the person who posted that suggestion.

Additional troubleshooting methods

Before you post your question to a forum, you may want to try to resolve the problem on your own by using standard troubleshooting methods.

Click for details

Third-party information

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Article ID: 555375 - Last Review: October 3, 2012 - Revision: 8.1
Applies to
  • Windows 7 Service Pack 1
  • Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • Windows 7 Ultimate
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Windows 7 Home Basic
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter
  • Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2
  • Windows Vista Service Pack 2
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2
  • Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3

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