Beginner's Guide to Getting Free Help on the Web
Those wanting assistance from the newsgroups may want to read Chip Pearson's
Hints And Tips For New
Posters In The Excel Newsgroups . However, his article is directed
specifically at the Excel newsgroups. If you don't know what the Microsoft
Newsgroups are, you may want to
here to see their web-based interface or learn
use Outlook Express to view the newsgroups . There are many other newsgroup
Getting free help on the web is fast and easy! You just need to know how to go
about it the right way. I have been answering questions on free tech sites for 7
or 8 years now. I see what people say and do to "get the help" and what others
do that fails them. My manner may not sound very polite in this article, but I
am not trying to be polite; I'm trying to be brutally honest. Here they are:
Things to Think About
Behavior Toward Volunteers
People at free tech support sites help you for free. They are not reimbursed,
nor do I know of any that give away incentives for answering questions. So keep
in mind that the people helping you are doing it out of the kindness of their
Please do a web search on your issue before posting on a forum. More than
likely, many people have had the same problem or want to perform the same task
as you, so at least give it a shot. When I look at a question and do a search
and find the answer right away, I get a bit resentful because I could have been
helping someone who DID "do their homework".
Just because your question is urgent doesn't mean it will be urgent to us. We
may answer your question before other questions if you put "Urgent" somewhere in
the title, but don't EXPECT us to.
Don't ask homework questions. You will learn nothing if you ask us for the
answers. Many forum members will jump all over you for asking homework
questions. Don't think for a minute it won't be recognized as a homework
question. However, it is perfectly fine to ask for guidance or resources. You
might want to qualify your question with a statement like "This is for my
homework. I don't want the answer, but I am looking for some hint toward ..."
Please don't ask us to do your project work. I recently offered to allow
someone to send me their files. As it turns out, they were having difficulty
running a macro. As it turns out, it's work-related. As it turns out, the person
works for a huge bank. If you work for a big company that can well afford to pay
for it, please don't ask us to work on your project for free.
If it is a project and you're a small company or non-profit who can ill-afford a
programmer, or an individual trying to learn by doing a project, no problem. But
don't lay out your whole project for us. No one wants to read that much
information. Take a small piece of it at a time, and ask how to work that part
out by asking specific questions and presenting specific information.
If you are not very literate in the area you're working in, then you should
likely ask for a little guidance BEFORE you start your project, rather than
coming to us after you've begun and hoping we'll "fix it". This ends up saving
you a lot of time.
In most forums, the rule is that you're not allowed to hire someone or
solicit work. If you find someone you just have to hire, send them a private
message or an email. If you cannot do that, try posting that you'd like them to
contact you, and how. Do NOT include your email address or other personal
information on an open web page. If you are willing to pay for the work, most
forums won't mind if you say so, but some do. Check their member agreement
before you violate it by trying to hire someone "out in the open". There are plenty of freelance
consulting sites that provide these services.
There's quite a few acronyms floating around on the internet today. Here's a
few commonly used in the forums:
- OP: Original Poster
- AFAIK, IMHO: As Far As I Know, In My Humble Opinion
- HTH, HAGD: Hope This Helps!, Have a Great Day!
- LOL, ROFL: Laughing Out Loud; Rolling on the Floor Laughing
- MOF: As a Matter Of Fact
Writing the Question Title
For best results, be clear! If you're in a specific forum, there's no need to
use the application name in your title, but if the forum covers many
applications, then please do include it in your question title. If it involves
multiple applications, state it.
Good examples (copied from actual forums!)
What's the best way to create "form field" type templates for reports?
(posted in an Excel-specific forum)
Find Value and Delete Row (posted in an Excel-specific
Unable to Protect Document (posted in an
Excel: IF statement (posted in a non-specific forum)
Bad examples (copied from actual forums!)
- Another plea for help....
- I hate Microsoft.
So you're having a problem. Here's what we'll want to know:
Versions of Software
Many people put this in their signature. Not a bad idea. But what version
were you using when this issue occurred or what version are you running to
perform a task? If you don't know what version, hit Help®About...
You will see both the version and the release number. The release number rarely
Yes, sometimes the operating system IS important! It NEVER hurts to include
Getting an error? We need to know the EXACT error message. Before you post
this as a question to a group, do a search on the web for it (as you should
first do for all questions). Often, you'll find
your answer right away.
Steps to Recreate Problem
If you know what occurred before the problem, let us know how to reproduce
it. Tell us everything that's happened recently, too, such as any updates you've
installed, or what virus scanner you just purchased.
The Problem or How To Question
In as much detail as possible, describe the problem you are having or what it
is you want to accomplish. Tell us what you’ve done to fix the problem or
describe your progress. It will save us suggesting that you try them when you
It is incredibly important to provide feedback. If someone answers your
question, and it's now resolved, please post back and say so. Nothing will get
you help faster than to show how appreciative you are. Nothing makes my day more
than to receive a reply such as "Wow! If you were here right now, I'd KISS
you!!" Yes! I received this recently, and it put me on a cloud for the whole
day! A comment like that will keep me answering questions for months.
Don't expect our answers to be perfect. Many of us are learning, too, and
nobody knows everything! But do try everything suggested and provide feedback to
everyone you can.
Do's and Don'ts
You should always:
- In forums that provide for it, report any spam (threads that try to sell you something), report any
violations of the site's member agreement (after all, YOU have to adhere to
it, don't you?), report any thread where you feel someone is telling someone
else to do something you believe would be damaging to the asker.
Under no circumstances should you:
- Badmouth anyone, including software manufacturers. If you don't like the
software, buy something else. If you think you are frustrated, imagine how
many times the expert who is helping you has been frustrated.
- Post your email or other personal information, confidential data files,
etc. on any website unless it is SECURE. If you don't know what that means,
then don't ever do it.
If you enjoy forums and online help sites, you'll inevitably begin helping
out, too. When you do, please remember that not only the askers, but the other
experts, have feelings, too. I am appalled at the treatment some MVPs (and other
experts, too) give other experts in some of the newsgroups. I recently responded
to a question to create a directory mail merge. Not realizing the easy way, I
gave what might be called a workaround. I was told, I quote "That is NOT the
easiest way!" and that was that. I think if I had done that, I would have said
"Don't forget about this. It's the easiest way." There is absolutely NO
reason for anyone to be cruel to anyone else, and it's much harder to take the
tone correctly when it's written than in person. Everyone: Be nice!!
Feel free to join our forum!
OfficeArtilces.com debuted on May 26, 2005.
MrExcel.com provides examples of Formulas, Functions and Visual Basic procedures
for illustration only, without warranty either expressed or implied, including
but not limited to the implied warranties of merchantability and/or fitness for
a particular purpose. The Formulas, Functions and Visual Basic procedures on
this web site are provided "as is" and we do not guarantee that they can be used
in all situations.
Access®, Excel®, FrontPage®, Outlook®, PowerPoint®, Word® are registered
trademarks of the Microsoft Corporation.
MrExcel® TM is a registered trademark of Tickling Keys, Inc.
All contents © 1998-2014 by MrExcel Consulting | All rights reserved