Handling Error Messages – Don’t Panic

In spite of our best efforts and investment in up to date computer and software networks, everyone gets an error message on occasion.

While some errors are truly disastrous (ie: “Database Corruption…”), others are merely an inconvenience (ie: “You do not have enough licenses…”).

There are 2 things that you must do:

1)    Stay calm!

2)    Address the error message immediately. Do not let an error message drag on for weeks, hoping it will go away. It rarely does and can create serious complications.

Now you can take some steps to help resolve the error.

First, write down the complete error message, word for word.  Document what steps you took (or what you were trying to do), as well as what other programs or windows you may have had open when the error message appeared.  Some information may not be pertinent to the issue, but too much information is rarely a problem.  Keep these notes in case it happens again!

If a “Details” box appears, click on it and write that information down as well.

Instead of writing down the message, if you are able, you can make a screen shot that includes the error message. There are software programs you can get inexpensively or you can do it for free In most versions of Windows. Hold down the ALT key and press the PrtScr button on your keyboard. This will capture the image. Then open Paint (Start – All Programs – Accessories – Paint) or Word and Paste (CTRL-V) the image. Windows 7 has a built in tool for screen shots that is called the snipping tool.  Whatever method you will use, it’s a good idea to test the process before you need it.

Second, try closing all open windows and exiting any programs in use. Restart the program in which the error occurred to see if the error can be recreated.

Try rebooting your computer with all programs and windows closed. Go back into the program and see if the problem persists.  Sometimes a good reboot is all it takes!

If you restart your program in Safe Mode, and the program works, the error is likely the result of a conflict with another program on your computer.  You can try starting each program until you find the source of the conflict, or work with your IT supplier.

If the program in which the error appeared runs on other workstations in your office, determine if other users are having the same problem.  If you are the only user with the problem, try your log in name/ password on another workstation (log that user out of the program first).  Or have someone else try their log in to the program with the name and password you use on your workstation.  If the problem is unique to your user id you have narrowed down the problem and your computer consultant should be able to help you fix the problem. Alternatively, you now have good information with which to search for a solution, as described below.

For the “DIYer” (Do It Yourselfer), go to the vendor website for the product with which you are having the issue.  Many software companies have knowledge bases or user forums on their websites (or linked to their sites) where you can search for information or post questions to be answered by fellow users or consultants.  If you post your question on a forum, be sure to state your issue clearly, including the full error message, name of the software you are using, including edition, version and any service releases if possible.

You might also try “Google-ing” your error message. Try it with the error in quotes and the name of the software program (ie: “Address violation, code 2” Timeslips). If you don’t get results, broaden the search by removing the quotes or using less detail (ie: Timeslips address violations errors).

If you are unable to solve the problem or correct the error on your own, it’s time to call your IT person, software consultant, or technical support division for the software program you are using. Yes, you might incur a fee, but better to consider it an investment in your system’s well being, than to ignore the issue and have it multiply, which could cost considerably more in lost time and revenue-or worse- due to a corrupt database.  Prompt attention to the issue will also save you time and frustration – if you let an error drag on for weeks, letting it become an emergency, you might call your consultant in a panic, only to find out that their schedule is completely full for the next few days.  Believe me, this causes dismay for your consultant almost as much as it does you!

Before you call your IT provider, software consultant or technical support, be sure that you have enough free space on your hard drive. This is most easily done by going to Start – My Computer then right click and choose Open. The screen will open showing you your hard drives. If the C drive or the drive on which the program is installed, shows  less than 5% free space, you need to do some cleaning.

And be sure to clear out your temporary files. This is most easily done by going to Start – All Programs – Accessories – System Tools – Disk Cleanup. Make sure to check the box for Temp Files.

If you decide you need to call for support , have on hand the following information:

1)    Name of software product and software edition, version and service release if applicable.  You should be able to determine this information by going to the top menu bar, click on “Help”, then click on “About” and information regarding the software you are using should appear on the screen.

Example: Amicus Attorney 2010 Small Firm Edition

2)    License number or registered phone number or email address associated with the software.

3)    Provide the person you call with the details of the error message as you documented, the steps you have taken to try to fix or diagnose the issue and any recent changes that might have occurred with the system (new user, workstation, hardware, driver updates or additional software added).

Whomever you choose to contact, always get the name of the person you speak to, as well as the incident number or code for your call.  If you need to call back, this can reduce your time spent waiting to speak to someone, the need to explain yourself repeatedly, or additional fees.

If you feel that the call is dragging on, or that the person with whom you are speaking doesn’t understand what you are saying, ask for a manager. Get a name and phone number before you are transferred, in case of a disconnect.You also have the option of just calling back later and hoping you get someone with whom you can better communicate.

However you handle it, errors are never fun and sometimes frightening, but with a little effort you can be back on track very quickly!

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