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. And if you become known in a community for someone who checks first, people will be quicker to pitch in and help in the future. And they go the other way if you get a rep for being someone who doesn’t use the docs before asking for help.

  4. Use the mail list, or post a comment. 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.

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

  6. Use a mail list or public comment, 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.

  7. Remember that 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.

  8. 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.

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

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About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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