Identifying Hardware, Software & Network Problems

Instructor: David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

Many of us have become so dependent on our technology that we become very frustrated when it doesn't work. In this lesson, we'll examine some basic troubleshooting guidelines that are useful in resolving a technical issue.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems

When something goes wrong with a personal computer, it can make for a very daunting situation. There are so many different elements to consider that could be part of the problem. For example, is it a hardware, software or connectivity issue? Many computer users have little patience for resolving technical glitches, especially given their busy schedules and lack of downtime.

When it comes to solving computer problems, you don't have to be a technical wizard to do some basic troubleshooting, a systematic way of diagnosing a complex problem. You just have to be methodical in your approach and apply a little common sense. The Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) principle is applicable to troubleshooting: look for the simplest cause first. If you've ever called a tech support line, you've probably noticed that they begin with simple questions as they gather information, try to eliminate potential causes and get to the core problem.

Computer issues can be extremely frustrating.
Computer frustration

Define the Problem

Let's look at an example. If your printer won't print, the cause could be a variety of things, such as:

  • It's out of paper.
  • It's offline.
  • It's out of toner.

The trick is to move from a general cause (it won't print) to a specific cause (it won't print because it's out of ink). Moving from a general to a specific cause is a basic principle of troubleshooting applicable to issues with hardware, software or network connectivity. How do you get there? Begin by asking yourself questions about the situation.

Isolate The Cause

After you define the problem, it's time to look for clues. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are there any warning lights or error messages?
  • Is there a built-in diagnostic routine you can run?
  • Is there an owner's manual you can consult?
  • Did you Google the problem?
  • Can you replicate the problem?
  • Has the system been moved recently (possible loose connections)?
  • Has anything changed on the system lately (new hardware of software)?

If you think you might have to contact tech support, you'll want to write down any error messages, or take screenshots if the error messages come and go. If you're having a problem with your computer and can't connect to your network or the Internet, your smartphone can be a useful tool for looking up things online until you get the computer problem solved.

Develop a Theory and Take Action

By asking questions and through trial and error, you can begin to eliminate some possible causes of your computer problem. Tweak settings, check connections, reboot the device and update hardware and software drivers. Each problem you encounter has the potential to be unique because there are so many elements involved. However, it's helpful to make notes that could be useful in future scenarios.

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