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Computer User Support has many faces and names. Perhaps you have heard the phrases; Help Desk, Support Specialists, Technical Support. They are all faces to the ever present cry of HELP users experience out of frustration of a machine that seems to have a mind of its own.

The Changing Landscape of Computing

How to Troubleshoot Computer Problems

The first step to troubleshooting computer problems is to look for the obvious problems and solutions. For instance a user comes to you and says the internet is down and they can not connect. The first thing to do in this situation is to check the cords and make sure everything is connected. After making sure cords are connected make sure they are plugged into the right slots. Especially if there are routers, hubs, and switches involved. If a cat-5 cable looks like it is connected to the back of the computer, make sure the cable is fully connected to the computer. Push on the cord to make sure it is all the way in. Always look for the most obvious problems and solutions before trying to get more technical.

Another obvious problem to internet connectivity is to make sure the user has not clicked work offline under the options in tools. If the work offline option is clicked, you are not going to be able to browse the internet. Another problem that arises every so often is: Where is the E! I have no internet! The E does not equal the internet, or as some IT people will say the E-ternet. It is just a web browser which microsoft developed. The E actually stands for Explorer, Internet Explorer. And what they are missing is the web browser not the internet itself. The computer the user is on might actually have a different web browser other then internet explorer that the user would not be a custom to using. For example more people are starting to use Mozilla's Fire Fox [1] web browser, so the user would see a fox wrapped around the earth instead of an E.

When troubleshooting hardware problems in Windows the first thing to check for is a driver. Hardware does not work without the drivers installed on the computer in which you are trying to use it on. The way to do this is to click the Start button on the lower left hand of the task bar at the bottom of the screen. Then right click My Computer with the mouse and then click on properties. When the properties opens look for and click the hardware tab. Then just click on the Device Manager button within the hardware tab. The thing to look for is yellow or red flags on devices. If there is a yellow or red flag there is a problem with that device, and it's usually the driver is outdated or not installed. If the driver is not installed then you need to install it. When you buy hardware from the store it comes with a CD-ROM which has the drivers on it. Put the disk into the computer and follow the directions to install the files necessary to run the device and it should work. If you do not have the disk which came with the hardware the next best thing to do is go to the manufacturers web site. On the web site you should be able to find the drivers you are looking for.

In microsoft windows, create a bootable cd with system files. The system files should contain bootable files such as boot.ini, system.ini. If you go to the website you can get the information needed to create a bootable disk. Make sure the autoexec.bat contains a path file to where you have your system commands set up. The basic command needed to alleviate most user's Windows problems would be the fdisk.exe program. This useful utility is needed to fix the hard drive of the user. It is also used to help the end user learn to keep a backup of important files. Once you have "fixed" the HDD, and if you have the format.exe program, after a reboot, you can successfully run the format command on the HDD. After your system has been "Fixed" you can now install the Windows OS on the computer. If you would like to you can also install a stable version of any *nix variant on the machine. Although if you decide to do this, you can skip the fdisk procedure and boot to the *nix cd or floppy and run the fdisk command which comes with the OS.

The first thing I do is ask them what exactly their computer is doing so as to make sure what exactly the problem is. The best way to troubleshoot computer problems is to ask the user questions about what is going on with the computer. Then after the questions, the first thing I do is check to see if it has viruses. I always run the anti-virus software(I like AVG Free), but to each his own. Then after running the anti-virus I either remove the virus(') or move on. Depending on what the user has told me about the problems they are having with their computer, I proceed to find out what is really going on. Like for instance if a Windows user comes to me and says that their computer is running slow, after running the anti-virus software I will proceed to run the defragmenter application as well as check disk. After the computer finishes defragging and removing unneeded files and applications, I restart the computer and test to see if this fixes the problem, which it usually does. Another good program used to clean computers is called CCleaner. It will do the same as the windows disk clean-up wizard. However CCleaner will also clean the registry of all unused files and folders.

When a user comes to you and says they are unable to log into their computer because their password doesn't work. The first thing to look for when a user comes with this problem is to make sure the right name is in the user name field. Passwords only work for the user name that they are assigned too. If your password doesn't work make sure you are not trying to log in to the Administrator account. A restricted user does not have the same permissions as an administrator user. Before you try to flatten your hard drive or to use the Nordahl disk make sure the user name is correct.

If you have forgot your password and cannot login into your windows box some people may tell you that you are out of luck and have to re-install your operating system, losing all your data. Well there may be a solution for resetting your password without re-installing. A utility created by Peter Nordahl can accomplish this dilemna. I have to say that I have used this utility on one of my Windows XP boxes, and IT WORKED! The following link is a webpage were you can download the utility and contains FAQ on how to use the software.

Common Support Problems - Hardware, Software, User, Documentation, Vendors

Most of the computer problems users’ encounter can be classified in six categories. They are either hardware problems, software problems, user problems, documentation problems, vendor problems, and facility problems. A common guideline and/or strategy that helps with diagnosing a computer problem is done in seven steps.

1. Look for an obvious fix.

2. Try to replicate the problem.

3. Examine the configuration.

4. View the system as a group of subsystems.

5. Use a module replacement strategy.

6. Try a hypothesis-testing approach.

7. Restore a basic configuration.

These basic steps are a good guideline in attempting to solve any computer problems may it be a hardware problem, software problem, user problem, documentation problem, vendor problem, and facility problem. Below are the six categories users encounter with computer problems.


Hardware problems can arise from installation and compatibility issues, configuration issues, and malfunctions.

  • Configurations issues are problems with hardware or software options in a computer system. These issues aren't that hard to fix and usually take small adjustments like resetting jumper pins on the motherboard and installing software drivers to name a few. Before the standard of Plug and Play configuration issues were a major issue when upgrading or installing new components (software/hardware). Plug and Play Standards is defined as "industry-wide agreements among hardware and operating system vendors about hardware installation and configuration options". ( Beisse 141) Plug and Play Standards have aleviated many of the configuraton issues today. For example, when you plug a USB device in the majority of the time its Plug and Play meaning that the operating system and hardware device configures itself to become compatible and run without any problems. As technology advances a lot of configuration and troubleshooting on computer systems become more user friendly allowing less headache and more efficient computer systems.
  • Malfunctions occur when hardware components no longer work or haven't worked in the first place. Majority of the times when hardware components malfunction it happens during the first use or doesn't work from the start. Technical support staff use a period of time called Burn-in time to detect malfunctions on hardware components. According to Baisse on page 142, Burn-in is defined as "a 48 to 72 hour period during which a new computer or component is operated nonstop in an attempt to discover obvious operational problems and to identify any marginal or temperature-sensitive components". Hardware components that have moving parts are more likely to malfunction than components that don't have moving parts. Many vendors sell software that diagnose computer systems (hardware components) for common hardware malfunctions like power, communication, and defects on your systems hardware components. All in all if you have a hardware malfunction it is cheaper to replace the component with new one rather than trying to repair the component due to high labor and diagnosis costs at electronic shops.
  • Installation and compatibility issues happen the majority of the time when a user upgrades or installs new hardware to their computer system. When a user upgrades a hardware component such as a new video card, sometimes the new hardware component may not be compatible with the existing hardware or software ( Operating System ). Researching before you upgrade or install new hardware components is highly recommended to ensure a successful install or upgrade of a new hardware component. When researching a user should first identify what type of hardware and software components they are running in their system. For example, what type of operating system are your using? Windows or Linux. Microsoft Windows offers a Hardware Compatibility List for its Windows Operating Systems. The link is Next a user should identify the type of motherboard and other hardware components they have installed. Identifying the type of motherboard a user can research which hardware components ( video card, processor, sound card, etc.) are compatible with their specific motherboard. System requirements are also available on the box of the new or upgradable hardware component. Knowledge of your systems specifications will save you time and money allowing you an easy and successful upgrade or new hardware install.

As you have read hardware problems have more the one face. Two simple ways you can radomly check for hardware problems are to 1. Check your computer systems for possible interaction problems, and 2. Always perform updates for your hardware and software.


Similar to Hardware there are many faces of problems that can arise in Software. We will cover Installation and Compatibility Problems, Configuration Problems, Bugs, and Performance Problems.

  • Installation and Compatibility Problems have decreased a lot due to huge technology advances. When installing software today majority of software is made easy with the help of automation done through Installation Software. Installation Software is a software utility built into software to detect hardware and Operating System configurations. When installing new software, new folders and path names have to be created along with configurations with hardware and the Operating System to check if they are compatible with each other. This is all done by the Installation Software. So as you can see installing new software today is easily done with one or two clicks of the mouse. Before Installation Software a user or support personnel had to deal with creating new folders and writing the path names for the new software install. They also had to check the compatibility between the hardware, new software, and Operating System, and then make the appropriate configurations manually. Unfortunately, not all software installs like a charm and technical support is sometimes needed. There are also instances when you have to install older software and technical support is needed for this as well.
  • Configuration Problems happen when software is not configured correctly to run with your hardware and Operating System. The configuration problems occur mainly when you install or upgrade new hardware and/or software components. Other configuration problems occur when a user changes configuration files in the Registry in Windows Operating Systems or the Kernel in Linux/Unix Operating Systems. The Registry in Windows Operating Systems is a file that contains all your configurations of your computer system allowing the software and hardware to communicate and operate. The same explanation is similar in nature for the Kernel in a Linux/Unix Operating System. These files are constantly read and adapted by software upgrades, installs, etc. When users who lack the knowledge make changes in these files your system will not operate correctly and worst case scenario will not work at all! In some instances like in the Windows Operating Systems a restore point is present to restore the file to its original state. A rule of thumb, if you don't know what you are doing; do not make changes in the aforementioned files/directory.
  • Bugs are incorrect or mistakes in written code in software. Software consists of written commands, these commands make a program, and programs put together produce a particular software program. When programmers make software they write hundreds of lines (sentences) of commands (code). Commands are written instructions. A lot of time within these lines of commands or codes there are mistakes typed. These mistakes are what is called Bugs. These Bugs present problems within software. Software developers create many versions of software before they are released for sale. Many of the Bugs are worked out during this process but there are Bugs that surface even years after the software has been released. This is the reason updates, new versions, upgrades, new releases, patches, and service packs have become prevalent in all software. According to Beisse the definitions are as followed:
    • Updates - a bug-fix distribution that repairs known problems in a previous version or release of a software package; some vendors now include an automatic update feature that periodically checks the vendor's Web Site for updates that are recommended to solve specific problems.
    • New Versions - a software package that contains significant new features and is usually the result of a substantially rewritten program.
    • Upgrades - a new version of an existing program taht is sold at a reduced cost to owners of a previous version of the program.
    • New Releases - a new release of a program is a distribution that contains some new features not found in the original program.
    • Patches- a replacement for one or a few modules in a software package to fix one or more known bugs.
    • Service Packs - contains both updates and patches to fix the documented problems with a version of a program.

When installing or performing the following please check the requirements on the software's vendors web site for compatibility issues with your computer system.

  • Performance Problems happen when a fully operational computer system doesn't run as efficient as it should. There could many contributing aspects that affect performance. Performance problems are a combination of hardware and software problems. For example, a computer may begin to run sluggish and slow after use due to using up a lot of memory (RAM). A lot of performance problems can be easily diagnose and others are more difficult. Researching and consulting technical support can help you diagnose many performance problems. In this example a quick fix for this performance problem is to install more memory (512 megabyte RAM stick to a 1024 megabyte RAM stick).

Software problems are more complex with a lot of variables to take into account. The major variable to take into account with software problems are the users. The more a user knows about software and how they work the more efficient a computer system will run.


An important thing to remember with problems with users and even professionals who develop hardware and software components is mistakes are going to happen. All humans make mistakes and we all can learn from them. In fact, mistakes are good in the constant effort to become better at whatever we do and create. Other problems are caused by misunderstandings, inadequate training, and forgotten information. The bottom-line is that a solution can always be found if sought.


For consumers a poorly written set of instructions can cause hours of frustration and anger. Computer users who purchase new products are faced with documentation and instructions on how to setup and implement their new product. Some problems with documentation consist of inaccurate and poorly used words that cause confusion and misunderstanding when installing and implementing a new product. A poorly constructed set of instructions will consist mainly of words with few and abstract diagrams. Many support staff who write the documentation are making an improved effort in producing simple and understandable documentation for products. Some aspects of good documentation includes tutorials, quick start guide, reference manual, online help and some troubleshooting tips. Many products today offer online step by step guides and other pertinent information that better explains the product in depth. A good set of documentation will consist of many detailed graphical diagrams that lays all the information out in a concise, step by step process. If you run into the dilemna of poor documentation GOOGLE the product and search for a better set of instructions for setting up or troubleshooting. Remember to always look for good graphical diagrams and simple step by step instructions when researching how to setup, implement, and troubleshoot whatever problem you may have. Another valuable and intuitive resource is YouTube. Type in whatever you are searching for in the search bar and 9 out of 10 times someone on this planet has setup a how-to video with step by step instructions. The following link is a good video tutorial for upgrading memory (RAM) to your desktop.


Problems with vendors can arise when vendors market or sell computer software/hardware with known bugs, oversell products, offer rebates hoping the consumer is too lazy to cash in the rebate, and promise unrealistic release dates only to ship new products for late deliveries. Some vendors will market a new software and when you purchase the software some of the features may not be present. A lot of times software is sold when it is in the Beta phase (it has known bugs and isn't fully stable) in order to compete against competitors. Products are overpriced and under engineered in order to be more competitive with other competing vendors. Vendors will provide consumers with a custom hardware/software solution that is overpriced and underengineered. The software is at times sold as is, and the support contract becomes nullified if the user modifies the code. The consumer is then stuck with using that vendor only for fixes or upgrades. The support contract might include a “free” software upgrade but a lot times the upgrade won’t run correctly on the consumer's computer systems without some modifications. Majority of vendors understaff their help and support department. This causes the consumer to deal with alot of voice prompts in order to receive any type of technical support. A big strategy vendors utilize is called Vaporware. Vaporware is when a vendor will advertise a product knowing that it isn't available to purchase for consumers. Vendors will use vaporware to study how consumers will react to the product and to confuse their competitors. These are some common problems that consumers can have with vendors. Some tips with dealing with problems with vendors is good communication, patience, and stand your ground. Assert your rights as a consumer. You in fact are the consumer and it is up too the vendor to make sure the customer is satisfied, otherwise, they wouldn't stay in business. If you run into a problem with the vendors support staff, which is usually a representative at first, use the chain of command hierarchy and ask for the next person in charge who may be able to serve you better. Elevate on the chain of command until you reach a person who does better serve you. If you at this point you can't come to a satisfying resolution offer some alternatives to the vendor that will satisfy you. For example, a discount, refund, or other means of peaceful resolution. In the event that the vendor doesn't comply and you have exhausted all options, even to the point of speaking with the manager or supervisor, cancel your oder and/or business with that vendor. They obviously don't exhibit good business practices and as a consumer you deserve quality service and products.


Beisse, Fred. A Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk & Support Specialists. 3rd Ed. Canada: Thompson Course Technology, 2004.

Great Deals

PC User found a great deal on ebay- a soundblaster card for his/her new pc. When the part arrives in the mail, gets opened and ready to be inserted into the pc, the card wont fit. When seeing the item on ebay, the specifications, size, and features were supposed to be compatible with the new pc, but the only problem is, the sound card did not come with any software drivers.


Searching the net, PC user found some sites that have downloadable drivers, manuals, and support with the help of online tech users that had similar problems. For help with finding device drivers, go to[2], register and start searching for the device driver needed. Another great website is Tek-Tips Forums[3] for IT and others who are in the technical fields and need answers to support questions or information relating to their field of study. This is one of my favorite sites for finding manuals, instructions, command line items for different operating systems, phone systems, etc. the list goes on. The site has a disclaimer that no recruitment or student posting is allowed.

Product Evaluation Strategies

Assessment of User Needs

When a user says I need something, you as a Computer Technician need to assess and determine if that need is valid.

For instance a user says, "I need Vista. I can't get any spreadsheets or documents to work on this computer but they work on my laptop, and my laptop has Windows Vista."

The first thing to do is go to the computer in question and take a closer look at the "problem". When you get to the computer in question you ask the user to give a demonstration of why the spreadsheets or documents will not work. And when the user gives you the memory stick with the documents and spreadsheets on it and you plug it into the computer. Then in the top of the spreadsheet or document you just opened you realize it has compatibility mode. There in lies the answer to the "problem".

The real problem was that the computer they are using has Microsoft Office 2007 installed on it. The laptop they created and saved the spreadsheets and documents on did not have Microsoft Office 2007 installed on it, they had the earlier version of Microsoft Office installed. And because the laptop they created and saved the spreadsheets and documents on had the Windows Vista operating system on it, they figured they needed Windows Vista to make it work.

The assessment is there are different versions of Microsoft Office being used to create and then view the spreadsheets and documents. The need for the Windows Vista operating system on the computer the user is viewing his laptop created spreadsheets and documents on in not a valid need. Therefore you inform the user that there is no real need for Windows Vista on the computer they are using to view the Vista creations. And that the laptop they are using has the older version of Microsoft Office on it, and the computer has Microsoft Office 2007. Finally you tell the user if anything you need to update the version of Microsoft Office they are running on the laptop.

Training End Users

Training End Users is the process of educating and teaching End Users in the attempt to build proficiency in End User skills when it comes to computer systems. When training End Users there is a process to follow. The process is a four step process consisting of Planning the Training, Preparing the Training, Presenting the Training, and Progressing to Quality Training for users.


When planning a training there needs to be some background information in order for the training to become a successful one. The information needed before planning the training is who are the trainees (what kind of people are you training), what are their present skill levels, and what skill level do you want the trainees to attain during this training. With this information the training can be planned out in a productive manner with a breakdown of objectives to achieve.

Find out the qualities of the trainees you are about to train by determining the demographics of the group. Are you going to train young people, adults, or career oriented adults. By knowing the demographics of the trainees you can then tailor your training objectives to meet that specific group. Each group has its own way of learning and motivators. Your approach to presenting to the trainees would be different for each group. Also the skill levels are different and therefore the end skill level of attainment will be different.

In determining the skill level of the group of trainees a trainer must utilize four concepts in classifying their skill level. According Beisse on page 374, the four classifying concepts are:

1. Concepts - the ability to use basic vocabulary.

2. Understanding - the ability to explain concepts.

3. Skills - the ability to perform a basic task.

4. Expertise - the ability to perform a task effectively and efficiently.

Once the trainee has utilized these concepts he can gauge their skill level, rate of learning, and skill level attainment ( how much knowledge they will leave the training with). Once the skill level has been established the trainer must determine what the trainees already know about the subject matter of the training. A good trainer who is planning a training will attempt to find this information by attaining it from the trainees superiors and/or administering a short pretest or survey.

The final stage in planning a training is to outline and define the objectives that lead to the skill level you want the trainees to attain during the training. The objectives are usually laid out visually in statements for all the people attending the training to read throughout the training. These statements should be specific and to the point to avoid confusion or vagueness. A trainer needs the trainees to understand exactly what they are learning. And finally the objectives need to lead up to the overall goal which is summarized in one goal statement.


When preparing the training a trainer will organize the topics that will be covered for the training. A lot of times the organization of the topics is organized and laid out producing an Agenda for the training. The trainees will get a copy of the Agenda so they are informed on how the training will be presented. Next the type of environment the training will consist of will be determined. How big of a class of attendees, how are the trainees going to be grouped up for activities, is there going to be some one-on-one training? All these questions provide the make up of the training environment. By knowing the environment you can dictate how the training will progress and allows for the best preparation for what techniques and how a trainer is going to present the training materials. The final step is making a selection of the methods for presenting the materials needs to be constructed, selecting materials to be presented, and constructing an effective method of evaluation rounds up the preparation in preparing an effective training. In selecting the delivery methods for presenting the training material, there should be a balance of the the following:

1. Lecture Method 2. Reading Assignments 3. Online Reading Assignments 4. Group Discussion 5. Visual Aids 6. Mutlimedia materials 7. Handouts and Reference Sheets 8. Product Demonstrations 9. Tutorials 10. Hands-on Activities 11. Case Studies 12. Role Playing 13. Collaborative-Based Training (CBT) 14. Web-Based Training (WBT)

In selecting the materials for the training many successful trainers utilize already existing materials from vendors and existing Industry standards. All the trainer does is use effective methods to present the already existing materials. The success of the training depends on the delivery of the materials and that relies in the hands of the trainer. And finally selecting a productive evaluation method needs to be designed. Evaluation methods are observations and feedback from colleagues and support staff, tests or quizzes from trainees after completing training, evaluating videotape of training, and training evaluation forms completed from trainees. Evaluation forms are a great method of evaluating because the feedback comes from the trainees/end users. Most successful evaluation forms contain statements about the training that are answered in the following 5 Agree 4 Somewhat Agree 3 Somewhat Disagree 2 Disagree and 1 Does Not Apply. These evaluation forms end with Comments and Suggestions. And now the training should be ready to be presented.


In presenting a training a trainer must go over the presentation a couple of times either in their mind or through mock presentations. Many terrific presenters will set up their training environment the evening before and practice their presentation, allowing them to prepare to present the presentation affectively and make sure all their presenting materials ( computers, projection and/or overhead equipment, lights, sound, whiteboards, etc. ) are ready to go. When presenting the training in the most effective manner a trainer will present the main ideas and avoid wordy details. He won't cover too much material and will deliver the main points in an attractive manner, sometimes using humor. Humor can be effective if its balanced right in the presenting. An effective training should be presented with frequent breaks to prevent monotone, and a good presenter will feel out his group and training environment through the use of feedback and summarization from the trainees to gauge the rate of attaining the training objectives.


The final and most important stage in providing a successful training is quality assurance. After you have planned, prepared, and presented a trainer needs to evaluate themself and their training in order to progress to the best possible training within their ability. Trainings can be evaluated in many ways. Observations and feedback from colleagues and support staff, tests or quizzes from trainees after completing training, evaluating videotape of training, and training evaluations completed from trainees are all ways to assess and improve a training. By gaining the most feedback on a training, trainers and/or organizations providing trainings can evaluate and modify to tailor trainings more efficiently and effectively. By using feedback information revisions in hands-on exercises, materials used and presented, and techniques can all be modified or taken out to better serve trainees/end users. For large organizations it would be beneficial to create a database of trainings. The database can break down all the aspects of its trainings from training topics to techniques and success rate of trainees. The overall goal in providing training is to create trainees/end users to become more self reliant and productive, thus reducing support costs and allowing for maximization of efficiency and productivity for an organization.


Beisse, Fred. A Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk & Support Specialists. 3rd Ed. Canada: Thompson Course Technology, 2004.

Writing for End Users

What are the different types of end-user documentation?

Brochures and Flyers

These types of documentation are primarily used to promote activities such as staff trainings for different types of computer use, hardware and software product demonstrations, guest speakers, etc. They’re used to draw attention to the public, therefore “selling” the event. Though many people are starting to send flyers through e-mail or post them on a web page.


Newsletters are a way some groups communicate with users. Most word-processing software (like Microsoft Word) or desktop publishing software (Publisher) can help create newsletters complete with columns, diagrams, pictures, icons and charts. Like most other forms of documentation, newsletters are also becoming popular online. (For an example of an online newsletter targeted to the support industry, go to (free registration required)).

Handouts and Training Aids

Primarily used to summarize material covered in a training session. They may also be offered online and often used to answer “How do I…” questions. PowerPoint slides printed as handouts that allow you to take notes are common training aids.

User Guides, Handbooks, and Manuals

More formal examples of written documentation. These forms of documentation can be ten to hundreds of pages long and are often in a book format. The supply information specific to an organization or computer facility. Guides are often printed for employees or students documenting computer use and abuse, how to use software programs offered through the organization, services available, and how to get help.

Some companies publish user guides and manuals so that people who buy their products can learn how to install programs and use their products. They will usually come in two formats: a tutorial format, which guides a user step by step through the features of a program, and a reference format, in which all the information on a specific topic is located in one place.

Online Help Systems

Online help systems and software assistants (wizards) are frequent additions to software packages. They are often supplied on CD-ROMs that customers can use for self-training. Some online help systems are well-written and well-organized with accurate information. Hypertext links and index searches in online documentation are powerful tools to help users locate needed information that may be more difficult to find in a printed format. (Hypertext link is a highlighted word or phrase in the body of a document that acts as a pointer to additional information. When the link is clicked the software displays more information about the word or phrase.) Though online documentation in becoming more and more popular some users prefer a written format of documentation because the length of some documents can be difficult to read on the computer screen.

E-Mail and Chat Messages

Being able to communicate effectively through e-mail and instant messaging (chatting) is an important writing skill for user support specialists, especially those who work at a help desk that communicates with users primarily online. Though e-mail and chat messages may appear to be a less formal method of communication with end-users, it’s important to have good verbal and writing skills. E-mail and chat messages from a help desk gives the user an image of the organization and its support staff should reflect good technical writing skills. Disorganized phrases, typos, and spelling errors in an e-mail message or chat exchange can leave the recipient with a poor impression. Supervisors ,ay review and evaluate the quality of support e-mail and chat messages as one measure of an agent’s communication skills.

Web Pages

Because of the popularity of the World Wide Web, it’s important to be able to write for this type of communication. Web pages are organized and are written so that users can locate information quickly and easily. Because a Web site is accessible to everyone, the organization of a web site is important. Web sites that are poorly organized, with hard-to-find information, or provides broken links (URLs that no longer point to an active Web page) are unnecessary. Materials used for Web access must be short, should have active hypertext links, well-written with accurate and current information. Obsolete or inaccurate support information is often worse than no information.

Proposals, Letters, and Memos

Support staff for most businesses must be able to write proposals, letters and memos significant to accounts with total computer use. Support specialists who perform needs assessments for end users or departments frequently need to write the results of their investigations in the form of a report or proposal. In addition, support staff often need to write memos, letters performance appraisals, and other correspondence to colleagues, end users (both inside and outside the organization), and supervisors. The ability to write standard business documents is a basic user support communication skill.

Procedural and Operational Documentation

Often includes procedure steps and check lists, usually intended for internal organizational use. Support specialists also prepare problem reports in a help desk environment. Technical writing skills are essential for internal documents also. Clear, well-organized documents communicate information efficiently and reflect well on the writer and the support organization. Many support specialists who have never thought of themselves as writers enjoy the challenge of writing support materials that are accurate and easy to understand.

Troubleshooting Guides

Used to help support staff assist other employees solve support problems. Common examples include: - a problem-solving chapter in a user guide - an FAQ (Frequently asked questions) on common problems users encounter - a script to handle a specific type of problem incident - a problem report in a help desk knowledge base Although this type of documentation is often for internal use, it still must be clear, concise, and well written.

Technical Writing Styles


Sequential organization Hierarchial organization

Introduction What is the purpose of the document? Who are the intended readers of the document? Why read the document?

Body Specific task steps Common problems users encounter

Summary Pointers to additional information

Documentation Planning

*Who is the target audience? *What does the audience already know? *What does the audience need to know?

  • What do you want the audience to be able to do when they finish reading the document?

*What medium will be used to transmit the document to its audience?

Who is the Target Audience?

What Does the Audience Already Know?

What Does the Audience Need to Know?

What Do You Want the Audience to Be Able to Do?

What Medium Will Be Used to Transmit the Document to its Audience?


Generate an Idea List

Organize the List into an Outline

Expand the Outline into a First Draft Edit the Draft

Get an Outside Review

Revise the Draft

Proofread the Document




Consistent Word Use

Parallel Structure

Consistent Verb Tense

Common Problems


Inappropriate Typefaces

Gender References

Unlcear Referents

Passive Voice




Undefined Acronyms

Dangling Phrases

Writing Tools

*An outliner to help organize work *A spell checker to identify and correct spelling errors *A custom dictionary to contain jargon words and acronyms *A thesaurus to help find a word that exactly expresses a concept *A grammar checker to recommend changes in wording to improve readability *A readability index to indicate the level of difficulty for the audience *Desktop publishing features to help writers produce documents that appear more professional

Documentation Evaluation Criteria

Checklist 1. Content Is the information accurate? Is the coverage of the topic complete?

2. Organization Is the information easy to locate? Are transitions between topics identifiable? Can the user get in and out quickly with the right answer?

3. Format Does the layout help guide the reader? Is the format consistent?

4. Mechanics Are words spelled correctly? Is it grammatical? Is the writing style effective?


Beisse, Fred. A Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk & Support Specialists. 3rd Ed. Canada: Thompson Course Technology, 2004.

25 Questions of Computer Users

I can't open suchandsuch.docx that someone emailed me. Why can't you guys fix Windows?

This is a two part question. First, is who is you guys? And Second why can't I open suchandsuch.docx?

  • First, you guys that you refer to are the technicians who provide and maintain the computer servers, computer lab workstations and the software that runs on each of these systems. Software periodically goes through upgrades and includes new features that either the software companies think you will need. Or, features the users of the software request. The Windows machines and software are doing exactly as they were designed to do. They really are not broken.
  • Why can't I open... First some background. Microsoft Word has used for many years the file extension of .doc. The recent release of Office 2007 now uses the extension of .docx and includes many security features. Earlier versions of Word cannot open files created in Word 2007. This is true for Excel, PowerPoint etc. Believe it or not the software is doing exactly what it was designed to do. The security features are working.
  • The users of Word 2007 should be aware of these new features and be considerate of users who do not have these new features. The user can save their files to an earlier version of Word by doing these steps:
    • Left click the big round button in the upper left corner of your screen (Formerly the File button)
    • Hover over Save As
    • Move your mouse to the right and hover over Word 97 - 2003 Document and do a left click
    • Save the document as you usually do. This will save the file in an earlier version of Word.
  • Microsoft offers a patch that will allow your current version of Office something called "forward compatibility". The download may be found at Once downloaded and installed, Office 2003, or Office XP software will now be able to open Office 2007 .???x documents.
  • Other software packages are now able to open Office 2007 files. Several of these are OpenOffice v3. to be released this fall. If you use a Macintosh the latest version of "Pages" or "iWork 08" will open the documents. NeoOffice will also open and edit these files.

There must be something wrong with Paul's email account because I keep getting a bounce when I send it to him at: why?

Oglala Lakota College uses address called a domain and an extension that designates what kind of a domain it is. Educational institutions use edu. That domain is and not (.com is a commercial web site. Resend your e-mail to and your recipient should have your e-mail without a bounce.

Where did I save that file?

First look in the My Documents folder or the Documents folder on your hard drive.

  • If you are using Windows 98, 2000, or XP follow these mouse tracks:
    • Left click on the Start Button
    • Hover your mouse over My Documents and then left click
    • Your file may be located here.
  • If you are using Windows Vista
    • Left click the big round button on the left bottom of your screen
    • Left click on the Start Button
    • Hover your mouse over Documents and then left click
    • Your file may be located here.

Why is my computer so slow?

Several issues may cause a computer to run slow. If you are a Windows user, rebooting your computer is a good first step. If rebooting does not solve the problem, please read on ... one of the following may may give a clue as to what your problem may be.

  • Disk fragmentation can cause some slow downs. Imagine a very cluttered desk and you have to find a specific document on it, papers scattered everywhere. They may all be there, but not easily found as when they are filed properly. A disk defragmentation program will arrange your files on your hard disk in a manner your PC will be able to access them with faster times.
  • Check for disk errors, run chkdsk command and check for errors such as cross linked files, or physical errors on the hard drive.
  • Improper Web or Internet Surfing habits can play a large role in the speed of your computer. If you are surfing web sites of questionable content such as free game websites, social networks and/or P2P download sites, your computer may be running "Malware" or "Spyware" will affect performance of the computer. These rogue softwares will leave programs running in RAM Memory that conflict with other programs on your computer. The result is a slowing of the PC down to what techs call "a crawl". A good prevention is to install and use a good Virus/Malware/Spyware application program.
  • Insufficient RAM resources for particular software application(s) - You may have too many software programs running in the background. Or, a recent upgrade of software has effectively used up all of you RAM memory. When this happens your PC will start using Swap Space or use your hard drive as it would RAM memory. Additional RAM (Random Access Memory) may be needed.
  • Not enough hard drive space - Over time you hard drive will fill with files. These may include your Internet downloads, a full browser cache, video and music downloads and files you create. When the used space on your hard drive encroaches on the "Swap Space" on your drive the computer will slow to a crawl. The solution to this problem is to remove files from your drive and watch your computers performance.
  • Memory Leaks - Several well known and used pieces of software are known to for code leaking out of memory. This is known as a memory leak. One of these is FireFox. FireFox 3 to be released in the next few months has repaired the leaks.
  • Overclocking - although this may be much more difficult than it sounds, some machines allow the user to adjust the internal clock multiplier, pushing your processor to its limits. This may be a last resort, as a physical processor upgrade or motherboard/processor upgrade may be less of a headache. Overclocking can cause funky errors to happen on your machine, and this could be a headache to fix.
  • Speeding up your boot time in Windows can be accomplished by clicking on run from your START menu. In the run box type in msconfig and press enter. This will load up your configuration file and show you all the programs that start up automatically when you boot into Windows. By deleting some programs from loading automatically at start up, your system will take less time to boot and the faster you can use your computer.

Top 25 PC User Questions


Beisse, Fred. A Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk & Support Specialists. 3rd Ed. Canada: Thompson Course Technology, 2004.

See Also


Operating Systems

What is an Operating System?

An operating system is computer software that allows a user to communicate and manage computer hardware. What is computer hardware? Computer hardware consists of memory, processor, sound, video, networking (internet), etc. in laymans terms.

An operating system is the interface a user sees and interacts with through the use of a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for system data, user input and output via peripherals (keyboard, monitor, mouse, printer, etc.), and communication with other software and programs in a computer system.

There are many different forms of Operating Systems. Linux, Mac OS X (on Apple computers), and Microsoft Windows. The most common operating system that the average person is familiar with is Microsoft Windows. Most people use Windows XP and Microsoft's recent operating system Windows Vista.

Windows has different versions or editions of XP and Vista to meet users needs.

The Windows XP Editions are:

Information taken from

  • Windows XP Media Center Edition

New computers running Windows XP Media Center Edition let you experience video, audio, pictures, and TV through a convenient user interface that makes it easier than ever to enjoy digital media. Use the simple layouts and intuitive menus to comfortably enjoy video, audio, pictures, and television on your computer monitor or TV display. In addition, the new remote control for Windows XP lets you unleash your favorite digital media experience from anywhere in the room.

  • Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition leads the evolution of the notebook computer for businesses of all sizes. Thin and lightweight, but extremely powerful, the new Tablet PC provides the freedom to be truly mobile. By extending pen and speech capabilities, the Tablet PC provides you with a more versatile and natural computing experience. You can use the digital pen to write directly on the screen and control your computer just as you would with a mouse. Use the Tablet PC Input Panel to enter text into any application by using your own handwriting. Plus, the Tablet PC has wireless technologies built right in, so you can use your computer more often and in more places than ever before.

  • Windows XP Home Edition

Experience more than you thought possible with your home computer and the Internet. Windows XP Home Edition brings dependability and simplicity to your personal computer. It includes a cleaner, more intuitive visual design, advanced digital media features that make working with digital photographs or playing digital music simple and fun, and many new Windows experiences to explore.

  • Windows XP Professional

Designed for businesses of all sizes and for home users who demand the most from their computing experience, Windows XP Professional delivers the new standard in reliability and performance. It includes all the great features and new visual design of Windows XP Home Edition, plus premier security and privacy features, advanced recovery options, improved ability to connect to large networks, and much more.

  • Windows XP Professional x64 Edition

Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is designed to provide faster performance, increased reliability, and flexibility to today’s most demanding users, enabling them to run memory- and calculation-intensive applications and processes more efficiently. This new technology arms technical workstation users and cutting-edge home PC enthusiasts with a secure platform that can run new 64-bit applications as well as most existing 32-bit applications for maximum flexibility on a single PC.

The Windows Vista Editions are:

Information taken from

  • Home Basic

Windows Vista Home Basic is ideal for homes with basic computing needs like e-mail, browsing the Internet, and viewing photos. Easy to set up and maintain, it enables you to quickly find what you're looking for on your PC and the Internet, while providing a more secure environment to help protect you from an unpredictable world.

  • Home Premium

Windows Vista Home Premium is the preferred edition for home desktop and mobile PCs. It provides a breakthrough design that brings your world into sharper focus while delivering the productivity, entertainment, and security you need from your PC at home or on the go. Ultimate

  • Ultimate

Windows Vista Ultimate is the choice for those who want to have it all. Easily shift between the worlds of productivity and play with the most complete edition of Windows Vista. Ultimate provides the power, security, and mobility features needed for work, and all the entertainment features that you want for fun.

  • Business

Windows Vista Business is the first edition of Windows designed specifically to meet the needs of small businesses. You'll spend less time on technology support-related issues-so you can spend more time making your business successful. Windows Vista Business is the definitive choice for your business today and tomorrow.

  • Enterprise

Designed to significantly lower IT costs and risks, Windows Vista Enterprise meets the needs of large, global organizations with complex IT infrastructures.

Linux Operating Systems come in all flavors. The different flavors of linux are called distributions. Linux is derived from Unix systems which was developed at Bell Labs beginning in the late 1960s and spawned the development of numerous free and proprietary operating systems.

A listing of Linux distributions can be found at

Some of the most popular and common Linux distributions are Ubuntu, Fedora, Sabayon, Gentoo, Slackware, Zenwalk, OpenSUSE, and KNOPPIX.

Linux is very customizable to fit any users needs and wants. Some of the most commonly used linux distributions are further explained below. The information is taken from


  • Ubuntu is a complete desktop Linux operating system, freely available with both community and professional support. The Ubuntu community is built on the ideas enshrined in the Ubuntu Manifesto: that software should be available free of charge, that software tools should be usable by people in their local language and despite any disabilities, and that people should have the freedom to customise and alter their software in whatever way they see fit. "Ubuntu" is an ancient African word, meaning "humanity to others". The Ubuntu distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.


  • The Fedora Project is an openly-developed project designed by Red Hat, open for general participation, led by a meritocracy, following a set of project objectives. The goal of The Fedora Project is to work with the Linux community to build a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from open source software. Development will be done in a public forum. The project will produce time-based releases of Fedora about 2-3 times a year, with a public release schedule. The Red Hat engineering team will continue to participate in building Fedora and will invite and encourage more outside participation than in past releases. By using this more open process, we hope to provide an operating system more in line with the ideals of free software and more appealing to the open source community.


  • Sabayon Linux is a live DVD designed to transform a computer into a powerful Gentoo Linux system in less than 5 minutes. Gentoo Linux is a Linux distribution powered by a software install manager engine called "Portage". Besides functioning as a live DVD, Sabayon Linux can also be installed on a hard disk, acting effectively as an easy-to-use Gentoo installation disk. The live DVD includes a large range of desktop environments and open source software applications, such as KDE, GNOME, XFce, Fluxbox, KOffice,, FreeNX, amaroK, Kaffeine, etc.


  • The Official Release of Slackware Linux by Patrick Volkerding is an advanced Linux operating system, designed with the twin goals of ease of use and stability as top priorities. Including the latest popular software while retaining a sense of tradition, providing simplicity and ease of use alongside flexibility and power, Slackware brings the best of all worlds to the table. Originally developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991, the UNIX-like Linux operating system now benefits from the contributions of millions of users and developers around the world. Slackware Linux provides new and experienced users alike with a fully-featured system, equipped to serve in any capacity from desktop workstation to machine-room server. Web, ftp, and email servers are ready to go out of the box, as are a wide selection of popular desktop environments. A full range of development tools, editors, and current libraries is included for users who wish to develop or compile additional software.


  • Zenwalk Linux (formerly Minislack) is a Slackware-based GNU/Linux operating system with a goal of being slim and fast by using only one application per task and with focus on graphical desktop and multimedia usage. Zenwalk features the latest Linux technology along with a complete programming environment and libraries to provide an ideal platform for application programmers. Zenwalk's modular approach also provides a simple way to convert Zenwalk Linux into a finely-tuned modern server (e.g. LAMP, messaging, file sharing).

UNIX Operating Systems also come in all different flavors. And just as it's stated above in the Linux Operating Systems the flavors are called distributions, they can also be called variations or implementations. The flavors could either be Open Source or Proprietary. Open Source being the free versions and Proprietary meaning you have to pay for them.

This is an image of the Unix system and how different aspects of the computer interact with it.


A list of Unix flavors can be found at as well as There are similarities as well as differences in these lists. And since Linux was derived from Unix there are lists of Linux flavors within the Unix lists.

The more known flavors of Unix are HP-UX, SunOS and Solaris, IRIX, Digital UNIX (formerly OSF/1), SCO Unix, Linux, and BSD.

  • A Brief History

Unix as stated above had started in 1969 at Bell Laboratories on a PDP-7. It spawned from the MULTICS project which was started in 1965. It started with Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie along with others working on the PDP machine. In the early 1970's it had grown to have an assebler for the PDP-11/20 as well as fork(), rof and ed, and a file system. This in part could be used for text processing for patent documents. Eventually it was rewritten in the C language which was a revolution in itself. It had been through a lot in it's lifetime but without it we would not have programs like Computer Aided Design(CAD), labratory simulations, or even the internet itself.

  • HP-UX


The HP-UX 11i v3 is the latest release of HP-UX which is intended for very large businesses. With this version you would be able to have up to 8 virtual CPU's with Integrity Virtual Machines 4.0. It is also integrated with native multi-pathing as well as mass storage stack and Dynamic nPartitions. You could also have host names as well as user login names be up to 255 characters. The amount of simultaneous group membership has been expanded to 65,536. The HP-UX 11i v3 also delivers self-healing and management simplification. For more information refer to the website.

  • SunOS and Solaris


SunOS was deveolped by Sun Microsystems for workstations as well as server systems. SunOS versions 1.0 through 4.1.4 are based on the BSD flavor of Unix. It was last released in 1994. In 1992 Solaris was created to replace the SunOS and is based on the System V Release 4 flavor of Unix. Solaris uses a code base for the SPARCS and x86 platforms it supports. The latest version of Solaris out today is Solaris 10 operating system. The Solaris 10 operating system is available for Sun UltraSPARC-based systems, Fujitsu SPARC64 platform-based systems, 32 and 64 bit systems based on AMD, and Intel and VIA x86 CPUs. For more information refer to their website.

  • IRIX


The IRIX® operating system is the leading technical high-performance 64-bit operating system according to SGI. They have been designing scaleable platforms for the IRIX OS to connect creative and technicial professionals to innovation and discovery. IRIX enables you to take full advantage of MIPS® processor-based SGI® systems, from visual workstations to advanced visualization systems and high-productivity supercomputers. The latest release for the IRIX operating system is IRIX 6.5. IRIX is designed for users with the most demanding technical compute and visualization needs, IRIX 6.5 readily scales to tackle huge data sets, compute-intensive problems, and real-time 3D visualization enhancements with ease.

  • Digital Unix (Formerly OSF/1)


The Digital Unix operating systems is a 64-bit advanced kernel architecture based on the Mach V2.5 kernel design from Carnegie-Mellon University. It has components from Berkely Software Distribution as well as Unix System V. Digital Unix is a proprietary operating system, and it's main purpose is for servers, minicomputers as well as supercomputers. It also comes in workstations, however if you have no Unix familiarity you probably won't be able to work with it "out the box". The current version of Digital Unix is 5.1 and is a 64-bit operating system.,,, the Vatican, and are all businesses which currently employ Digital Unix to run their servers.

  • SCO Unix

This version of Unix is tailored specifically for business use. Small and medium size businesses are the main focus of SCO Unix. The SCO Group INC. states that their main purpose is to combine Unix and Intel to make a great computer. The SCO Unix comes in workgroup as well as server editions. The current releases are SCO UnixWare 7.1.4 and SCO OpenServer 6. The SCO website,, states that UnixWare 7.1.4 supports up to 32 processors and 64GB of memory, has multiple personalities to run non-UnixWare applications, comes with IPSEC, OpenSSH, and OpenSSL among other features. The website also states that the target audience for UnixWare 7.1.4 are end users and developers. The key points of SCO OpenServer 6 are it can also support up to 32 processors and 64 GB of memory. It has a file support base up to 1 TB and supports both Intel and AMD multi-processors. It comes with the KDE graphical interface and includes the UnixWare kernel. SCO Unix is currently in use in more then 12,000 Mcdonald restaurants worldwide as well as in 22,000 Russian banks. It also runs the German train system as well as the Chinese Post. Seven out of the top ten U.S. retailers are also using SCO Unix according to the SCO website.

  • Linux

See above

  • BSD Unix

Berkley Software Distribution Unix(BSD Unix)also has its own set of flavors or descendants. The more popular of the descendants are FreeBSD, OpenBSD, DragonFlyBSD, and NetBSD. And even them have spawned children of their own. BSD Unix has been around since 1977 when it was developed by a graduate student at Berkley by the name of Bill Joy. 1BSD as it was called was actually "stapled" to Sixth Edition Unix and was not it's own operating system. The first stand alone OS for BSD was 2.9BSD in 1983 which actually took code from 4.1cBSD. Since then it has been being developed and modified both through open source as well as proprietary channels. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings being used on a PDP-11 to VAX to intel and amd chipsets.