"It was fine just a minute ago, and now I can't get it to work!"
Anyone who has used a computer for longer than five minutes has run into some frustrating, unexpected problem that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Sometimes it can be a serious problem, like a hardware malfunction, and sometimes it can be a tiny little glitch that can be easily fixed. It's definitely scary when the thought "Oh no, have I lost everything?" pops into your head, and that fear may cause you to pick up your phone and call tech support right away. While that's certainly a valid response, you have other options to consider before dialing tech support or calling the IT guy to your home or office (not that there's anything wrong with some of us IT guys!). Below are five easy things for you to do on your own before calling in for backup.
1) Is everything plugged in? This might sound ridiculous, but it's surprising how often this can be the root of your problems. If your keyboard or printer isn't responding, or maybe you cannot connect to the internet, check the connections on your computer or router. Maybe you nudged your computer to the side when you were vacuuming and a cable came loose, or maybe the cat pawed at a USB cable and jiggled it the wrong way. If it seems to be a problem with an external device (like a monitor, printer, keyboard, router, etc.) try making sure everything is plugged in securely. Surely it will save you from some embarrassment if you end up calling someone over for help.
2) Have you tried turning it off and on again? This one is so common that it became a recurring gag on the British sitcom, The IT Crowd. For one reason or another, this often fixes many small issues, from not being able to connect to the internet, to programs not opening up properly, to computers that seem to hang while performing tasks that should not be very memory intensive. Giving the computer a fresh start will often clear up whatever issue there was, and should be done at least a couple of times a week anyway to keep your computer running at its best.
3) Check help contents: If you are experiencing a common issue with your software or are maybe accidentally using the wrong settings, it is quite possible that the Help menu will actually live up to its title. Most programs will have some kind of help contents which you can search using keywords that describe your problem. Searches for information like "saving a template" or "viewing previous contacts" could come up with the information you are looking for. Taking a few minutes to search within the program's help contents is a great way of finding solutions for simple issues.
4) Google it: I'll let you in on a little secret: this is how IT people solve most unfamiliar problems. Chances are you are not the first one to have this problem, and a quick Google search of the error message or a brief description of the problem along with the name of the program will often produce multiple results of other people with the same problem and solutions suggested by others. If you know how to search for your issue and how to pick out the useful results from the not useful ones, searching on Google for a few minutes and following someone's instructions will probably give you a solution to at least 90% of your problems.
5) Gather all appropriate information: If all else fails sometimes you have to call for help. To make the process as painless as possible (or as painless as listening to a 30 second clip of smooth jazz over and over again for 20 minutes can be) make sure you have all relevant information at your disposal. Write down the exact error message and any error codes it gives you, and give them the name of the program giving you the problem, your computer's operating system, and exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred. Having this information at your disposal will make tech support's job easier and will save time in coming up with a solution.
Now you are basically a pro at fixing your own computer problems, or at the very least you have a basic understanding of the process that the tech support or IT people typically go through when trying to help you out. Of course there are some more difficult problems that should be left to professionals, but for most minor issues you now have the knowledge needed to approach a problem on your own time and without having to pay anyone. Usually the first things that tech support will have you do is to check that everything is plugged in securly and to restart your computer. Now you can tell them that you have already done this, and you can move onto more advanced solutions. Hopefully you will not run into computer problems anytime soon, but if you do we hope you remember this quick guideline!