The one mistake people make when asking for tech support

Don't make this one communication mistake when explaining your computer problem to an expert.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
2 min read
Dong Ngo/CNET

If you're ever seeking tech help for computer issues, here are some tips: Be specific, take screenshots, explain what is happening and not what you think is happening.Whether you're asking a tech-savvy friend (like me!) for advice or calling AppleCare support or the Geek Squad, using this tip will get you the help you need in the fastest way possible. So what do I mean by "be specific"?

Let me give you an example of an experience I had just a couple days ago. A friend called and told me she had "no internet." I took her through my usual process of restarting the modem, the router and her computer, all to no avail. I suggested she check the lights on her network devices and all the cables too. Everything appeared to be working properly, and frankly, I started thinking I wouldn't be able to help her that night. Finally I asked "How did you find out you had no internet?" And that's when we solved the problem.

As it turned out she's written a URL down on a piece of paper and then tried going to the site based on the what she'd written. The problem was she'd unfortunately misspelled the address so the browser was 404-ing, giving her the impression that the internet was malfunctioning. The fact that she got the URL wrong is irrelevant. I've made similar mistakes before. We all have. This was an issue of ineffective communication.

The point is, saying "I have no internet" doesn't provide enough information about the problem to the person trying to identify your issue. Instead of stating what the end result is (or, as in the above example, what you think it is) describe the sequence of events that lead you to believe there was a problem in the first place.

For example, don't say "My computer won't let me log in," instead say, "After entering my name and password, I proceeded to login and saw this error message." Better yet, take a picture of that error message with your phone in case your friend or tech support person needs more info.

In my experience, it often takes longer to find out what the issue actually is than it does to fix it. The more specific you can be, the less time you'll have to wait to get up and running again. Good luck!