Effective Trouble-shooting

I have been trouble-shooting issues with computers for several years. Whether it’s an easily resolved user issue or a significant problem with the server, the fundamentals of  trouble-shooting are the same.

1. Understand the problem

This is the most important aspect of trouble-shooting. If you don’t know what the problem is, you won’t be able to help resolve it.

You may ask yourself, “Well, how do I understand the problem?”

Simple. You create a list of questions like so to zero in on the problem (list will vary depending on the issue)

  1. Is the issue affecting other users?
  2. Can I reproduce the symptoms?
  3. Issue is intermittent?
  4. Server issue?
  5. Network issue?
  6. Hardware issue?
  7. Software issue?
  8. User issue?
  9. Permission issue?
  10. OS issue?


2. Back to basics. Fishbone diagram

Once you’ve identified the problem and can reproduce it, you can start with the basics

  1. Diagnose the problem specific to what is identified.
  2. Understand whether this problem has occurred before and apply from past experience
  3. Note specific error messages, if any (this will be useful in the coming step)
  4. Ensure there is no disk space issue

This might be a good time to introduce the Root Cause Analysis diagram, Ishikawa, cause-effect, or as it is affectionately called – the fishbone diagram.

Basically you start with a straight horizontal line at the end of which you have the problem. As this is for trouble-shooting IT issues, we take the traditional Fishbone diagram and change it. Instead of a vertical diagonal line (bone) for different categories, you add diagonal vertical lines for each solution or type of trouble-shooting that you have taken. This way, you know that you have already tried each of these and will know what is your next step.

An example of a traditional Fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagram


3. Event logs, a life saver

The event logs can be invoked by clicking Start – Run – eventvwr. This is broken down into Application, Security, System and other logs. Depending on the issue, an event would be triggered in any of these logs. A problem with the hard disk can be triggered in the system log while a office error will be shown in the application logs. More often than not, issues can be diagnosed by just looking at the events in the event log. Some programs will have a log of their own, its best to view these logs in the application directory or under Windows\Systems 32\LogFiles. Sometimes, the answer or resolution may not be very obvious, in which case, the error has to be searched through Google.

4. Your friend. Mr. Google.

Whenever I am stuck, I would consult with Mr. Google. Yes, there are other search engines like Bing or Yahoo, but it just sounds better to Google it. The Internet is a vast treasure trove of knowledge, and chances are someone else might have already experienced the issue you are facing. Being specific in your search, will produced much better results. This is why noting down the error message or event log entry is very important.

5. Keep up to date

It’s very important that you are up to date on your Windows patches and software updates. Chances are, that the issue is resolved in a future update which you haven’t updated. An office related issue may be resolved by a service pack.

6. Always have a backup

Before making any earth-shattering changes, its very important to create a backup. If you know there is a hardware issue, especially with the hard disk drive, immediately backup the data. If this means to shutdown, remove the hard disk, and perform a backup connected to another system, so be it. Nothing is as heart-wrenching as losing all your important work files, family photos, college thesis, etc. Sometimes, it will cost you your job. A backup will save your day.

7. Can the vendor help?

Sometimes you are lucky and you have vendor support. It’s time to call the vendor and take their expert view on this. If you don’t have an AMC or premium support with the vendor, maybe they will agree to help you taking their normal charge.

8. Rebuild and restore

Taken as a last resort, sometimes it might not be worth hours and hours of trouble-shooting only to get nowhere. It’s time to give in and rebuild/restore. This would mean to have a backup and rebuild the system or replace the system depending on how critical it is. This might be the opportunity to rebuild with new hardware or an updated operating system.


21 thoughts on “Effective Trouble-shooting

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