How to Write a Useful Tech Support Ticket
Writing a useful technical support ticket can make a huge difference in the kind of interaction you’ll have with the people providing support. As an analogy, think of it as being the person who comes to the reference desk with a well-constructed research question, vs. “I need to write a paper about cancer” or “I want to reread this book, I know it was blue.” And just like our students learn how to construct that question from a generic one about cancer into a fully-fledged research question, learning to write a useful ticket is a skill one develops. It’s much more helpful to the people providing support and it makes us more mindful of our computer.
Before Writing the Ticket
- Have you tried closing the program and restarting? If so, have you restarted your computer? These are trite questions for a reason, they do resolve a fair number of problems.
- If it’s a website, have you tried in another browser? You may still want to report it, but report that it doesn’t work in Chrome but is fine in Firefox and Safari.
- If the problem is with a website, are you running any browser extensions which may be blocking scripts (adblockers, privacy extensions, https everywhere)? For example, PrivacyBadger will block certain kinds of scripts. It blocks some scripts on my current employer’s ILL lending page. So, I had to whitelist that URL on Privacy Badger.
Environment Points to Cover
This is the context for your question. There will be times when you don’t need to hit all of these, for example “Nobody can login to one of our student worker Macs. Several students and I have all tried.” is all that’s needed to open that ticket. Try to answer as many of these as have answers for your situation:
The basics. Are you on Windows 10? Is your Windows 32 or 64 bit? Are you using OSX El Capitan?
Finding Your OS Version
Microsoft Support has instructions for finding out whether you’re on 32 or 64 bit Windows. The illustrations should assist you if you’re unsure whether you’re running Windows 7, 8, or 10.
On a Mac, click the Apple icon at the top left of your screen. Then choose “About This Mac.” A popup will provide you with the OS name and version.
If the problem is a website, what browser are you using? Does it show that it needs upgrades? If it’s software, at least name the software.
Try to add basic version info like Excel 2016 or oXygen 15.2 if you know it.
Finding Your Software Version
On Windows, click the Help button in the program’s menu, if it exists. Generally this lets you see an “About ____” which contains the version of the software.
On a Mac, navigate to the program and click the name of the program in the top bar just to the right of the Apple icon. E.g. “Chrome” while in Chrome. From the menu, select “About _____” where ___ is the software’s name.
You may also see the version of your software when it starts up.
(These tips assume that your computer is working well enough to find this info. If things have really broken down, you may not be able to do this.)
Description of What Happened
In your narrative of what happened to make you put in a ticket, try to hit the following points.
What You Were Trying to Do
- I was editing the Item titled _____ …
- I was uploading image “Loire-valley.jpg”…
- I was adding a new Image work to the repository…
- I was editing my finding aid…
- I clicked on a link in the catalog to go to our electronic holding of the item…
What You Experienced Next
- …and the Save button wouldn’t work. When I tried to navigate away, it told me I had unsaved changes I’d lose. But I can’t save them.
- …and it doesn’t seem to have uploaded.
- …and after I hit Save, the screen showed me an error that said “500” “Internal server error.”
- …and oXygen 15.2 keeps crashing.
- …and I am getting an error page which says that a certificate is expired.
What You Had Expected
Sometimes this is pretty straightforward (it didn’t save when you pressed save) and you can make the call to leave it out. But think about what you expected to happen next. Some examples:
- “I submitted the contact form and it loaded a blank screen. I expected an acknowledgement that the message had been sent successfully.” (this may have been badly designed and they can pass on that feedback while telling you it went through.)
- If a file doesn’t seem to have uploaded, “I expected to see a thumbnail of it in the media gallery.” (they know your expectation makes sense.)
- “The projector won’t turn on. I expected it to turn on after I pressed the red button on top.” (the projector may need additional instructions taped to it, telling you to also flip the white switch on the side.)
Is there an error message? What does it say? Does it have a code?
If you were trying to upload a file, working with a file that started behaving strangely, or took a screenshot (how to take a screenshot in Windows) (how to take a screenshot in Mac) and the help system lets you upload files, upload these.
Note: Some help systems don’t let you attach files or screenshots when submitting a ticket, but you may want to have them on hand for later and indicate in the ticket that you have a screenshot or can share the file.
Thanks to Ethan Gates for reading the first draft of this document and suggestion a few details I could add. And to Denise at Dreamwidth for pointing out how useful it is to add what you had expected to see.