How to ask for help with software

  1. When reporting a problem, say what you were doing, what you expected to happen and what actually happened.

  2. Sometimes a screen shot helps.

  3. Re-read the docs before posting. This can save time. If you become known in a community as someone who checks first, people will be quicker to pitch in and help. And it goes the other way too. If you get a rep for being someone who doesn't use the docs before asking for help, people will be less inclined to help.

  4. Asking technical questions on Twitter, with its 140-character limit, often makes it impossible for you to include necessary details. Abrvtns r cnfsng. And since you don't know what the answer will be, it's hard to know in advance if it will fit in 140 characters. Use the mail list.

  5. Use a mail list also because this allows many possible people to help you, not just one, and it creates a record that might help someone else in the future. If you send private mail, only one person can help, and no searchable record is created.

  6. Almost no one likes support work. The pay sucks, if there is any! They do it because they want you to be successful, and recognize that everyone needs a little help at times. Because they believe in the product, maybe because they wrote the product. In many cases, especially with open source software, no one is obligated to help.

  7. Before posting a question, read it yourself and ask if you would understand it. If not, add more info. Remember other people are not there with you so they can't see what's on your screen.

  8. If it's Fargo, include a pointer to the OPML file if you think that could help someone trying to understand what might have gone wrong.

PS: As an experiment, I cross-posted this on Facebook and Medium.

Last built: Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 11:23 AM

By Dave Winer, Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 10:25 AM. You should never argue with a crazy man.