How to ask questions about IT problems

If you ask for help, there might be lots of pieces of information which can help the people who want to help you. You may want to go through the checklist below and see if you can add anything of relevance to reduce the amount of ping-pong between you and a potentially helpful person.

The more information you include, the more likely it is that someone is actually able to help you. Keep in mind that hitting people with a wall of text might also be counter-productive, so maybe put some of the very verbose supporting information on a separate website, e.g. a pastebin.

  • Research done to solve the problem
    • URLs of guides used
    • Settings changed
    • Files edited (full path1)
  • Involved software
    • possibly including versions, both on the client and server side for network connections
  • Expected behaviour of the software
    • how do you run the software?
      • in case of CLI: what flags/arguments did you use and why?
    • In which way does it work not as expected?
    • How can you reproduce the problem?
    • Are there any error messages? If so, please provide them.
      • what do you think the error messages mean?
      • is there anything you tried to resolve the error message?
    • How did you install the software? [Your Linux distribution's package manager, Flatpak, Windows Store]
  • Hardware
    • CPU
      • CPU architecture [x86_64, ARM]
    • GPU
    • Mainboard
    • in case of laptop or OEM PC:
      • exact model number2
      • possibly link to the specifications page or handbook
  • Operating system
    • Name and version
      • Windows: run winver
      • macOS: Apple logo at the top left → "about this Mac"
    • Linux:
      • distribution and release (cat /etc/issue and/or cat /etc/lsb-release)
      • Kernel version (uname -rm)

A good trick to asking good questions is to ask yourself what you would need to answer that question yourself.

That way you get at least closer to something one can work with and over time you'll find the right amount of detail needed to help others help you.3

[1] you might want to replace any personal/private information with sensible placeholders
[2] You often find the model# on a sticker at the bottom of your laptop or the back of your PC.
[3] advice by Levy, 2023, Linux Matrix chat room
  • Last modified: 2023-09-23 07:13