How to ask for help

I’ve worked in IT for almost 30 years and during that time I’ve been asked for help countless times. More recently I’ve dedicated a bit of time each week to answering questions from the SharePoint community. It occurred to me that many of the questions are poorly written, making it difficult to give a quality answer.

I recently saw and didn’t respond to a question that related to an area of SharePoint where I consider myself to be an expert. Why didn’t I reply? Surely that person deserves as much attention as the next?  The short answer is time. I want to give back to the community but I have a limited amount of time and the answer wasn’t going to be a “quick reply” because the question couldn’t be answered without more questions. It felt like the “quick question” required a consulting engagement to get the answer!

So what could have been done better? A few simple things:

  • Think about the title of the question
  • Include the basic information such as the SharePoint version.
  • If there is an error message, don’t say I get error x. Post the actual error message.
  • Be concise but don’t skip important details
  • Make sure you give context
  • Ask the question in the right forum

There are also many people who ask fantastic questions! These questions can take more time to answer than a lazy question, so why do people respond? For me it’s helping someone who genuinely need help and the challenge of solving the issue.

For extra points, think about other people who may have a similar problem. A better quality question will have enduring benefit for others too. I recently used a response from a forum question in 2008 to solve a problem in SharePoint Online. I bet when the question was asked all those years ago, the person asking wouldn’t have had any idea it would still be a good question today.

Sometimes the answer to your questions might be that the solution doesn’t exist yet. Microsoft provide a few ways to give feedback but the simplest is User Voice. Often others have thought about a solution, especially if a feature that seems like it would be popular is missing. Take time to vote and leave a comment. Make sure the comment explains the business reason for the need, not just “I don’t know why we don’t have this already”. Better User Voice responses help Microsoft understand how you would use the feature.  There are UserVoice forums for SharePoint and Microsoft Teams.

If you want to get a better response, please take a moment to check the basic things first and if you’re still stuck ask for help. Everyone wins!

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