How to Ask a Question in the Newsgroups or Forums

The Microsoft Support Forums are a community for peer-support on Microsoft products.  While SOME Microsoft employees occasionally visit, the newsgroups are not always monitored or staffed by Microsoft Support People.  Please remember when you're posting that your responses will usually come from Microsoft MVPs or peers.

What's an MVP?

A Microsoft MVP is a volunteer who has been recognized by Microsoft as an expert in their particular subject.  MVPs are often computer professionals but not always.  Some MVPs are doctors, lawyers, teachers, name it.  There are approximately 2500 MVPs world-wide.

Before Asking Your Question

Google is your friend.  Ask Google your question first and see if somebody else has already posted an answer to it.  At least 50% of the time your question has been asked and answered, perhaps repeatedly, and you can quickly find a solution that way.  There is even a handy Google Search box right here you can use.


Don't forget to check Google Groups.  This searches the newsgroups (including the one you intend to post your question in) for previous answers to the question.

Browse the Group Itself...

Didn't find anything useful with Google?  Well, maybe you're just phrasing it wrong.  Take a few minutes to actually look back through the forum where you're about to post it.  Very often the question you're about to ask was recently asked (and answered) by somebody else.  At the very least taking a few minutes to browse the group before you post will help you get a better feel for who the participants in the group are and what the big issues are.

When Asking Your Question...

1. Make sure you're in the right group.  Frequently questions are posted in the Microsoft Outlook groups, for example, that are actually for Microsoft Outlook Express.  Double-check the group you're posting to and see that you're in the right group.

Also, be careful how many groups you post in.  Your question may be relevant for 2 or more groups and that's o.k.  But try not to blast your question out to 10 different groups.  Pick one, or maybe two, and post the question there.  If the question is actually better posted elsewhere you may get a gentle nudge from an MVP or other peer suggesting you post the question in the other group.

2. Don't just add onto an existing thread and say "Me too!" (especially an old thread).  Your scenario might NOT be exactly like the existing issue described and even if it is the same, "Me too" doesn't tell potential answerers anything. You need to tell them what your environment is (see below), what operating system, what version of the application, what EXACT steps you've taken, etc.  In're probably better off creating a new thread. But if you do add on to an existing thread be sure to follow the guidelines below. "Me too" is a "no no.

3. Use a good subject line.  A good subject line is like the headline on a news story.  It should convey to the reader what the story is about, but shouldn't try to tell the whole story in just the headline.

Examples of Bad Subject Lines

  • "Question"
  • "Please Help"
  • "How can I..."
  • "I installed Outlook and now every time I try to download e-mail from my sister I get an error that says that I can't get her messages and I just want to know if my brother is feeling better so that I can plan my next trip to visit them."
  • "How can I create a workbook in Excel that takes the average of 92 cells in 4 different columns and then compares that to the results in 3 different rows of data imported from an Access 2000 database?"

Examples of Good Subject Lines

  • "Outlook 2007 Installation Fails"
  • "Setting up a shared notebook in OneNote 2007"
  • "How do I edit the master slide in PowerPoint 2003?"

4. Now that you've used a good subject line it's time to compose a good message. A good message gives us complete information but in a succinct and to-the-point way.  The peers who are reading the group are volunteers and they probably have a LOT of messages to sift through.  If your message is 5 screens long a lot of them will just skip it because it takes too long.  If your message doesn't explain the problem or leaves out a lot of important information then they will have to ask a lot of questions and that will prolong your answer.  A good question includes:

  • What version(s) of the product(s) you are using.  "Outlook 2007", "PowerPoint 2003", etc.
  • What operating system you are using them on.  Vista?  Windows XP Pro?  Windows XP Home?  Mac OSX?
  • What specifically are you trying to do? "I want to create a document with Word 2007 as a form letter and mail merge addresses and relevant details from my Outlook 2007 contacts folder"
  • What, specifically, happens when you try?  "Every time I try to print the document I get an error message that says....:"
  • What, specifically does the error message say: "The error says 'Error 12345 - Can't print the document because your coprocessor is out of memory.'"
  • What steps have you already taken to try and fix the problem?  "I've already applied Service Pack 1, and I followed the steps in KB Article 3332222."

5. Now that you've composed a good question and posted patient.  Again, the folks who offer answers in these groups are mostly volunteers.  They aren't "on-duty" 24x7x365 and there isn't any service-level agreement here.  If your question is urgent then you're better off calling Product Support Services.  The support here in the forums is free and sometimes you get what you pay for.

Thanks for reading, thanks for participating and hopefully we can help you get your issue sorted out quickly and easily!  As long as you're in the forums don't be shy about chipping in - if you happen to see a question you know the answer to, why not offer your knowledge to your peer?