Crashes. Error messages. All those technical issues that make you want to throw something through your monitor or find a strong drink. (I’ll take black coffee, you can make yours Irish if you’d like.)
I’ve solved a few of these issues for friends and colleagues recently who’ve asked me how in the world I found the answers. Usually it’s just knowing how to find what I need.
Here are the steps I generally follow and some tips for each:
1. Confirm what’s wrong.
When I see an error message related to a website or script the first thing I do is make sure I know what’s really wrong. To do this, try a few times and in a few different ways to make sure you get the same error or the same problem occurs. Try now, then try again in 10 minutes.
For example, if you can’t load your website, before assuming the server has crashed, try a website like Alertra (free website status checker) or Anonymouse (a proxy server surfer). This way you can be sure it’s not a problem isolated to your computer or your local area.
Or, if you’re not able to do something you usually can, like upload an image or save changes to your website, try it in another browser. If you’re using Internet Explorer, trying Firefox or Chrome.
Know as much as you can about what’s gone wrong. If you’re getting an error message, copy down the exact error and the steps that it took to get it.
2. Start at the Source
Instead of doing a random website search begin at the website related to the particular problem you have. You’re likely to find the answer there and it’ll save you a lot of time surfing random sites for the same answer (or possibly an incorrect one!).
3. Search Smarter
When you do search, be as specific as you can. Instead of “WordPress won’t upload” search for something like “can’t upload an image to WordPress from my page editor” or use the exact wording of the error message that you noted from step 1.
Here are some other searching tips:
- Surround a phrase with quotes to search for the whole phrase exactly, like: “phrase here” instead of just phrase here.
- To search a specific site through Google use: site:wordpress.org “phrase here”
- Try synonyms – think of alternative ways to phrase what you’re looking for.
- Try variations – if you’re searching for “errors” try “error” instead.
- Think like the problem solver. Instead of searching for “how can I fix my email” try searching for “how to fix your email when…” See the two changes there? First change “my” to “your” since someone who’s writing about solving the problem might write that way instead, and second be more detailed.
4. Ask for Help
Which brings me to the final way to find an answer. Ask for help!
You might try checking with your web host (the worst that can happen is they’ll say they can’t support a particular issue, but even if they do that they’ll usually offer links or resources to help point you in the right direction). If you’ve got a virtual assistant or webmaster you can call them in for backup.
Or ask on Facebook, Twitter, forums or where ever you stay in touch with friends and colleagues.
I hope these steps are helpful to you next time you’re stuck. Do you have any tips to share about how you search for and find answers when you’re stuck?