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Researching Technical Issues (IT) - Bruce: Step 1: Start with what you have

What do we use to begin researching / troubleshooting a technical issue?

When beginning a search on a technical issue, you will often have a set starting point-- either a particular issue you want to resolve ("The computer keeps restarting and we don't know why.") or a task you want to complete ("We need to install this update package and are not sure how to do this.")

You may also have a particular error code or other specific language that assists you in identifying the issue. These can all be useful in deciding how to begin a search, and (if needed) how to scope your search terms.

What is "scope"?
Scope is a term that describes the boundaries of the action or research you will do. For example, if you are troubleshooting an issue with a Microsoft server, part of your search scope is to limit your search to solutions that are dealing with Microsoft products, NOT Apple macOS

Starting with an issue or process - keywords

Often, your search will begin because you want to fix a problem or learn how to complete a task.

example: 'how to install truetype fonts in linux'

Vitux - Linux Compendium - 'How to Install TrueType Fonts in Ubuntu'

In order to find the most useful information related to this need, you will want to identify key terms (keywordsthat outline your desired search result. This works best when you can identify keywords that describe your issue or need as uniquely as possible. In order to build this initial collection of keywords, you might think about:

  • What is the exact behavior of the issue you are observing (OR) what is the specific task you want to complete
  • Are there particular productsvendors, hardware, or software versions involved? If so, note these names / titles down.
  • Is it possible this need/error was caused by or influenced by a recent change to another product? Note that change/date as specifically as possible. (e.g. "Windows 10 update version 1909 (November 2019)")
  • Track synonyms; abbreviations; and related titles or terms as well. (e.g. "MS" vs. "Microsoft")

The goal is to build a pool of search terms that, when combined together, describe your research need reasonably specifically while still allowing for some flexibility in terminology (different audiences will use slightly different terminology when discussing the same issues). 

Step 2: Brainstorm Keywords to use in Databases or the Web

The starting keywords in the broad research question: How do cigarettes impact children's health? are: cigarettes AND children AND health

I would add a column with words for other things I want to know, such as laws, education, prevention, history, etc. 

XKCD - Tech Support Cheat Sheet ( by Randall Munroe

XKCD - Computer Tech Support Cheat Sheet

Starting with an error code or message

Example: error code 0x800F0954

Windows error popup: 0x800F0954

When you are lucky enough to have a specific error code  or troubleshooting language, this will be the starting point for your search.

  • Pay attention to syntax, capitalization, punctuation/symbolsand commonly confused numerical / letter swaps (e.g. try both the "letter L" and the "number 1") and practice flexibility and persistence when searching potential error message solutions.
  • Keep additional context in mind when searching -- the error box may not include the software / service name, but if you know it, you will use that information to assess your search results.