Help me help you: tech-support support

Your computer vendor may charge you for technical help, but I won’t. And I don’t mind–really. The Q&A column I used to write for the Post and the one I do for USA Today both require readers to ask me how to get their computer/phone/TV/app/service working properly.

Question-mark key

But there are a few things you can do to make my work easier.

One thing I’ve harped on before is being specific. There are a million ways something can “not work” in a computer, so I’ll need to know more about how things failed. What was the text of the error message you saw? What’s the last thing that happened before things went awry? What exactly did the service rep tell you?

If in doubt, take a screenshot. In Windows, hit the Print Screen key and then paste into an e-mail in Windows; on a Mac, hit Shift-Command-3 and look for the new image file on your desktop; in iOS press the home and power buttons; in Android hold down the power and volume-down buttons. I won’t share that image with anybody else unless you’re okay with that.

If I don’t have those details, I’ll probably answer your first e-mail with a round of follow-up queries to elicit that extra information.

But I also need to know if my suggested remedy worked for you, and I’ve had a couple of readers leave me hanging in recent weeks. Sometimes I can try to recreate the issue on my own hardware and software, but in other cases that’s impossible–for example, I can’t subscribe to an Internet service not available anywhere near D.C. to see what’s wrong with its e-mail.

And on a personal level, I like hearing from readers that I was able to help them out. So please don’t forget to send that last “it worked, thanks” message you might think unnecessary.

Writing for USA Today: #Help is on the way

One problem with writing weekly Q&A and tip-of-the-week pieces is that once you stop doing them, readers keep asking questions. I’ve tried to reply to those queries in e-mail and on Twitter and Facebook–but, being a good capitalist, I’ve often had to set that aside for paying work.

Fortunately, now I have somebody willing to pay me to answer readers’ tech questions. USA Today has been planning to expand its tech site for a while, and as part of that effort the Gannett newspaper signed me up to contribute a weekly tech Q&A and tips column on a freelance basis. The first piece appeared yesterday; it suggests a better way to sort Facebook friends and discusses a few options for syncing music to an Android phone.

My editors over in USA Today’s McLean, Va., newsroom have christened the column “#Help,” which I think is a pretty good name.  You don’t see that title over this week’s post because they’re still building out a destination page for this and other new tech features–but since (for once) I’d written a backlog of columns in advance, they elected to go ahead and start the column in a soft-launch state. So as you see at the end of the piece, my tech-support inbox is once again open for business.

(Edited 12/24, 7:40 p.m. to clarify that I’m writing this on a freelance contract.)