Computer Troubleshooting in 5 Easy Steps

May 25, 2016
5 minute read

Have you ever run into a problem on your computer? Did you keep bugging your son or daughter (or nearest relative with any amount of IT experience) to fix it? If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, welcome to the 21st century! We all run into issues with our computers from time to time. They won’t print, they won’t play sound, or they just freeze up right when we need them to work the most.

Thankfully, computer problems are not without solutions – it’s usually knowing how to find and complete those solutions that is difficult for most people. With this in mind, I wrote this post to guide you through my own process of computer troubleshooting. When you run into a computer issue next, just pull this list up and use it to conduct you to the right solution. Now, let’s get started.

Step 1: What’s the Issue?

First off, we’ll need to identify the problem. This seems super obvious, but if you think about it, before we can really solve the issue, we first need to know what the issue is (profound I know). I begin my troubleshooting process by asking myself a few basic questions:

  • What isn’t working exactly?
  • When was the last time this was working?
  • What’s supposed to happen normally?
  • Are there any error messages that tell me what’s wrong?

Getting answers to questions like these will help us in the next step when we start looking for ways to fix the issue online.

Here’s an example from my personal experience: I recently purchased a new Samsung SSD hard drive for my desktop computer. My issue was that even though I had installed the hard drive correctly into my computer, the Windows installation program wouldn’t let me install to the new SSD as my primary drive. I could install to any of my other hard drives - it was just my new SSD that I couldn’t install Windows on.

Step 2: Gather Some Info

Next, let’s gather some important information on the problem. If your issue lies primarily with a device or component of your computer, write down the make and model numbers. If it’s with a piece of software, write the version number. If it’s with your operating system itself, write down where the problem happens and what it does (i.e. When I go to change my account picture in the Control Panel, my picture will just revert to the old one without an error message or anything).

Samsung 850 EVO SSD hard drive

The more info you can gather the better, just as long as it is relevant to the problem in question. Avoid recording the coffee spill on your keyboard (unless of course your keyboard is the problem).

Step 3: Online Research

Now that you’ve gathered some detailed information about the problem in Step 2, it’s time to research some solutions!

Head on over to your favorite search engine. But before you start typing away though, let’s cover an important key to give us the best chance of finding a matching solution: writing good search queries.

In order to get the best results, I try to include as much detailed information as I think is necessary. Here’s an example of a search query I used when I was researching my hard drive issue: “Samsung VIVO 850 can't install Windows 10”

Browser window of correct search query results

Notice how I included the brand, make, and model number of my hard drive as well as a succinct description of the problem I was having. No need to be fancy (or even grammatically correct for that matter!), just make sure that you don’t include any extra keywords that aren’t necessary.

For example: “my hard drive doesn’t work and I can’t install windows this is stupid” is not going to get you very helpful results for your specific situation.

Browser window of incorrect search query results

The main difference between the two example search queries is that the first one includes specific details about the issue and eliminates all the unimportant phrases such as “doesn’t work” and “this is stupid”. It also removes generic terms such as “my”, “I”, and the word “and”. Avoid generic terms like the plague. They won’t get you the results you need.

Once you’ve crafted your perfect search query, click the Search button and go! (or as Han Solo would say: “Punch it, Chewie!”)

Here are a few important things to keep in mind when reading through the results:

Start with the forums. Forums are by far the best places to go to find quality computer solutions. Websites like Tom’s Hardware, Tom’s Guide, and the official Microsoft Forum are literal goldmines of great information. I prefer to start my research looking exclusively in these types of websites as they most often have the best solutions to my issue and usually include detailed, step-by-step instructions to boot! Before you click a link, check the green URL under each one to make sure you’re going to a reputable source.

Example of a good search result

Once you’ve found a great forum thread or article that you believe could solve your issue, save it! You can bookmark it using your browser, use a third party app like Pocket, or use Windows 10’s built-in Reading List feature to make sure that you can access it later without the hassle of searching for it again.

Example of a saving a website as a favorite

I recommend getting at least 2 to 3 different articles that address your issue and include steps to solve it. This makes sure if one of them doesn't work for your situation, you'll have at least a few more to fall back on.

Step 4: Let’s Fix It!

Now that you’ve found and saved at least 2 good articles, we can get started on taking steps to solve the issue. There’s a method to the madness though, so don’t pull out your screwdriver and soldering kit quite yet!

First, I order the articles in order of best to last. Looking through each website, rank them using the following questions:

  • How relevant is this article?
  • Is this a solution for the exact make/model I have or just a similar product?
  • What is my chance of success?
  • How many other people have succeeded using these steps?
  • How simple is the fix?
  • Can I complete these steps myself or do I need to call in some experienced help?

Once you’ve ordered the articles, begin with the best one first. Begin to work your way down the steps, double checking your work as you go.

Example of a good answer on a forum

When you’ve finished all of the steps for that article, check to see if your issue is resolved. If it is, great! Go buy yourself some ice cream. If not, go to the next article in your arsenal and try again!

Step 5: Share Your Success

Did you find a solution that worked for you? Awesome, I’m glad to hear it! Now go be a good digital neighbor and share your solution with the world to help others out. Comment on the forum thread that saved your bacon or even share it over social media – just let others know that this is something that works. Remember in Step 3 how we ranked solutions by how many people were helped by it? Now you have the opportunity to be one of those people!

Example of sharing the solution to your problem on a forum

Conclusion

There you go - a complete step by step process to troubleshoot any computer problem you may run into. I hope this little article was helpful in finding solutions to your computer woes (and saving your techie relationships in the process).