Troubleshooting is the process of finding the cause of a problem with the aim of fixing said problem.

Once a problem can be defined well (e.g. an error code, a specific process to repeat the problem) then a solution is much more easily found through a search engine or much more easily described to others (e.g. bug reports).

Software/Hardware manuals often come with Troubleshooting Guides. These contain solutions to common problems caused by misconfiguration and should not be overlooked.

Diagnosing a Problem

Here are a couple methods of diagnosing a problem

Divide and Conquer

The golden rule in finding the cause of a problem is to Divide and Conquer.

Ruling out as many possible causes of a problem will narrow your focus to where it's needed.

For example, let's say your computer is unexpectedly rebooting. No error message pops up and there are no warnings before it happens. It just happens, and it's a mystery. Begin by cutting down on the possibilities:

At some point the problem will stop occuring, and then you will know what hardware/software is causing the problem.

Sanity Checking

Boot Failure Flow Chart

A useful technique in troubleshooting is the sanity check: double checking really basic stuff that you've probably discounted without testing:

Any anon worth their salt will have struggled with a problem for hours only to find something wasn't plugged in. Embarassing? Yes. But it happens to all of us.


Reproducability is the ability to recreate the problem at will. Without being able to recreate the problem you cannot fully test your solution.

Also do you best to narrow down the steps required to reproduce a problem. Cutting down the process to produce the problem will tell you more about your problem and eliminate unrelated side steps.

Intermittent Problems

Problems which occur infrequently are some of the hardest to define. If your computer reboots once a month and you're unable to reproduce the problem, it can be very tricky (and frustrating/fatiguing) to narrow down the cause of the problem.

What you can do:

Keep this up, and eventually a pattern will emerge.

Finding Solutions

Once you have a decent idea to the cause of a problem it's time to find the solution. 99.9% of the time someone else has already had this problem before you have. 99% of the time the solution is waiting on the other side of a search engine.

Basic Solution Finding

Use your search engine and give it the good stuff:

Never forget that search engines do not speak english and have no idea what you're talking about. Search engines compare your keywords to their database. "Soft" words and phrases like "i have a problem with" will either fill your results with junk or give you no results.

Good searching:

Bad searching:

Finding Problem Communities

If you can't find a solution to your problem, you can problably find other people with the same issue.

They may have other things to try which you haven't thought of, or may be searching for someone just like you who has a slightly different setup to help find the cause of the issue. You're likely to find links to official bugtrackers or manufacturer websites where the problem is acknowledged.

Participate and add your voice. Another "me too" comment with your specs and settings will not hurt.

You may also find out that the problem you're having is a known issue and unresolved (which tells you that you successfully diagnosed the problem and that there's no solution yet).

You may also find workarounds for your problem.

Reporting a Unique Problem

If you're convinced you're experiencing a problem that nobody else has come across, report it! This is especially true if you're running current or beta software.

Find the official forum/bugtracker for the problem you're having, sign up, and post:

While this step doesn't immediately solve you problem, it does make you a key figure in resolving the problem, and for that you should feel pride.

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