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More Effective Research
by Dan Speziale

I don't need to know a lot about computers to effectively research topics online.

I've solved many computing problems because I know where to find solutions and experts online.

It's rare that your problem hasn't been addressed on a web page, on a discussion board.

1. Start with the Manufacturer

Nearly every manufacturer of computers or computer parts has a site with a technical support area, and that should be your first stop. Check for the specific item that's causing problems. Look for Downloads or Support for "patch". You might find something to download and install that's specifically designed to fix your problem.

To find a company's website, head to Yahoo. Type the company's name into the Search box and click the Search button. The search engine will then list sites pertaining to that company or its products.

Some computer manufacturers, like Dell and Gateway, create a customized Web page for every computer they sell. Go to their site, type in your computer's system tag numbers (they are printed on a sticker attached to your computer's case), and a web page lists your computer's purchase date, parts, warranty information, spare parts availability, and other personalized information. Best yet, the page usually lists updated drivers and fixes for you to download. If you're having problems with a video card, for instance, download and install the latest video card drivers.

2. Use the Microsoft Knowledge Base

Go to Microsoft's Knowledge Base: An extensive database containing information about faults and fixes for all of Microsoft's programs.

Start there for software questions, especially if you suspect a Microsoft program or Windows might be causing problems.

The Knowledge Base has two search boxes -- one for choosing a Microsoft product, and the other to type in some key words. If you don't know which product is causing the problem, leave the first search box set to "- All Microsoft Products -". Beneath it, type in a few key words to describe your problem: words from an error message, for instance, or some symptoms. The more specific you are, the better your results will be.

3. Use Google To Search the Web

The internet is a wealth of information and chances are good that there is a page out there with information to help you. Many users have not only suffered from the same problem, but they've fixed it. When you load Yahoo, or Google, type in a few words describing your problem, again the more specific, the better results you will get.

Click the Search button, and the search engine brings up the first few Web sites relating to your topic. Check them out, looking for possible solutions.

One more tip: To find answers to frequently asked questions about your problematic computer model, part, or software, type in its name and the word "FAQ". Standing for Frequently Asked Questions, a FAQ is a file containing answers to the most commonly asked questions about that subject.

4. Use Google To Search Newsgroups

One huge part of the Internet overlooked by many users is called the Usenet. Part of the "old-school" style of computing, it's a vast collection of topics where people discuss all aspects of life - especially computing problems. Chances are, somebody has already asked your question on Usenet. Even better, somebody has probably already answered that question.

To search through Usenet instead of Web sites, head to Google's Groups area, and type in a few key words about your problem. Click the Google Search button, and Google searches through its database and lists any messages mentioning your problem. Look at the messages starting with the word "Re:". These are the ones that have been answered.

As a web developer and strategic content consultant in the Chicago area, Dan Speziale helps others manage technology and get more out of the internet.

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