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2012-06-19

A+: Troubleshooting and a six-step process

Two factors make for successful troubleshooting: extensive computer knowledge and an understanding of human psychology. You must understand how hardware and software work to troubleshoot them. You also must treat customers with respect. By combining these two factors, you can quickly detect and solve computer problems.

To become a successful troubleshooter, you need to

    • Learn as much as possible during the client interview
    • Evaluate the client’s environment
    • Use testing and reporting software to gather information about the system
    • Form a hypothesis (a theory you will try to prove or disprove)
    • Use the troubleshooting cycle and the CompTIA six-step troubleshooting process to isolate and solve the problem, to wit:

1 Identify the problem
2 Establish a theory of probable cause (and question the obvious)
3 Test the theory to determine the cause
4 Establish a plan of action to resolve the problem and implement the solution
5 Verify full system functionality and, if applicable, implement preventative measures
6 Document findings, actions and outcomes

It is necessary to approach computer problems from a logical standpoint. To best accomplish this, PC technicians will implement a troubleshooting methodology (or maybe more than one).

As you attempt to troubleshoot computer issues, think in terms of that six-step process. Plug the problem directly into these steps.

For example, in Step 1 you might identify an issue; maybe the computer won’t turn on. For Step 2, a possible theory could be that the computer is not plugged in to the AC outlet. To test the theory in Step 3, you would plug the computer in. If it works, then great, but if it doesn’t, you would go back to Step 2 and establish a new theory. When you have reached a theory that tests positive, move on to Step 4 and establish the plan of action based on that theory, and then implement your solution. (Keep in mind that many plans of action will be more complicated than just plugging the computer in! Perhaps the AC outlet was loose, which would require a licensed electrician to fix it.) Next, in Step 5 you want to test. Always test and verify that the system is functioning correctly. If need be, implement preventative measures; for example, re-route the power cable so that it is out of the way and can’t be disconnected easily. Finally, in Step 6, you want to document your findings and the outcome. In many companies, documentation begins right when you first get a troubleshooting call (or trouble ticket), and the documentation continues throughout the entire process. You can track documentation on paper, or in an online system; it depends on your company’s procedures. Be sure to keep track of what happened, why it happened, and how you fixed the problem.

Because computer failures happen to the customer (who usually is less technically aware than you of the possible causes for the problem), you must work with the customer to create a complete list of symptoms so that you can find the right solution quickly and accurately. To do this, you need to

    • Carefully observe the customer’s environment to look for potential causes of computer problems, such as interference sources, power problems, and user error.

    • Ask the customer what (if anything) has changed recently about the computer or its environment. Anything from new hardware or software being installed, new telephone or network being installed, or even a new coffee maker or air-conditioning unit could be at the root of the problem. A simple way to ask this would be to say, “What has changed since the last time it (the PC) worked?”

    • Determine what tasks the customer was performing on the PC. You can determine this not only by asking the customer questions, but by reviewing system log files, browser history, and so on

    • Ask the customer detailed questions about the symptoms, including unusual system behavior, such as noises or beeps, office events taking place around the same time, onscreen error messages, and so on.

Because some types of computer problems aren’t easy to replicate away from the customer site, your customer might see system problems you never will, even if you attempt to reproduce the problem.


Remember, troubleshooting is the art and science of quickly and accurately determining what is wrong with a customer’s system. Troubleshooting is an art because every technician will bring his or her own experience and personality to the task. Troubleshooting is also a science because you can apply a definite method that will bring you a great degree of success.


Note: Windows generates several log files during routine use that can be useful for determining what went wrong. Many of these can be viewed through the Event Viewer. To view the contents of the Event Viewer, right-click Computer/My Computer, click Manage and click Event Viewer. The Event Viewer captures three types of information: Application errors, security audits, and system errors.

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