How to Ask a Question Really Really Well to Get Help With a Blog Problem

I like answering peoples’ questions and helping them with problems, but I see a lot of poorly phrased ones that ultimately mean it’ll take longer for the person to get their question answered.

I have to:

  • ask for followup information.
  • wait for them to reply.
  • answer their question again with the new information.

It makes the process take longer which doesn’t do either party any favours!

So here are some of my top question asking tips:

Include any error messages.

This one is aaaawful.

Someone says, “I can’t do x. It’s not working! What’s wrong and how do I fix it?”

That literally tells me nothing other than it’s not working. It gives me zero insight into why it may not be working. Usually there is a really helpful error message happening that holds the key. With that error message, I could probably tell you exactly what the problem is. Without it, I can’t tell you anything.

If there’s an error message, include it. Word for word (or a screenshot).

Always include a link to a page that shows the problem.

If you’re having a problem on your blog, a post, or a certain page, always include a link. And a link is always better than a screenshot so I can see the problem with my own eyes (particularly if this involves any kind of code or design issues).

I’m in one Facebook group that doesn’t allow links—period—which makes this tricky. But if it’s any kind of coding issue, it can be 50x harder to fix without a link.. With Inspect Element I can usually identify and fix the problem in about 10 seconds.

Describe the steps you took to encounter the problem.

Someone recently had some issues with their post editor. The spacing between paragraphs wasn’t working quite right. They included a screenshot and simply said, “The spacing isn’t working correctly. How do I fix it?”

The first step is to figure out why this is happening in the first place, but we can’t figure that out if we don’t know how she entered that text.

I had to ask these followup questions to get more information:

  • Are you typing the text directly into the post box or are you pasting from another program like Word?
  • Are you using the visual editor or the text editor?
  • How do you make your new lines? Do you press “Enter” once or do something else?

Providing as many details as possible about how you arrived at the problem will help someone find the solution so much easier and faster.

Do you have any advice for people who are asking questions? Any extra tips to get their problem solved faster?

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I'm a 27 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). I like to inject a little #girlpower into the WordPress development community by teaching women how to be coding badasses. more »

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7 comments

  1. Excellent advice – my dad is guilty of the first point about generalised info so I sympathise. Its impossible to help if all you get told is that ‘it’s not working’ or ‘ it wont go through’. Problem is that any solution I offer has to be phrased in very simple terms….

    Now to a question – I have a problem with the spacing in the heading of my blog. I have tried putting in more spacing to separate the tagline from the words Booker Talk. I followed some CSS code that I was given to add padding but the appearance never changed. Are there any really simple instructions I can follow or is it not possible to do what I want to do?

    1. I know you aren’t asking me but I thought I could try to help. 🙂
      When I inspected the site description, I was able to move it away using the margins. Right now it is set to:
      #site-description {
      margin: 0.2em 0 0 1em;
      but if you change the 1em to 2em–5em it scoots over. Once you enter 6em it jumps to below and slightly to the right of your header text (Booker Talk). I don’t know if this will be a for sure fix for you, but it’s worth trying!

  2. If you want a good answer, ask a well-thought question. I think a lot of people take it for granted, especially with blogging/system issues. Some readily assume that developers and designers can read minds considering their talent!

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