Windows 7 : Troubleshooting Strategies - Determining the Source of a Problem (part 1)

12/28/2010 7:42:37 PM
One of the ongoing mysteries that all Windows users experience at one time or another is what might be called the “now you see it, now you don’t” problem. This is a glitch that plagues you for a while and then mysteriously vanishes without any intervention on your part. (This also tends to occur when you ask a nearby user or someone from the IT department to look at the problem. Like the automotive problem that goes away when you take the car to a mechanic, computer problems will often resolve themselves as soon as a knowledgeable user sits down at the keyboard.) When this happens, most people just shake their heads and resume working, grateful to no longer have to deal with the problem.

Unfortunately, most computer ills aren’t resolved so easily. For these more intractable problems, your first order of business is to track down the source of the glitch. This is, at best, a black art, but it can be done if you take a systematic approach. Over the years, I’ve found that the best approach is to ask a series of questions designed to gather the required information or to narrow down what might be the culprit. The next few sections take you through these questions.

Did You Get an Error Message?

Unfortunately, most computer error messages are obscure and do little to help you resolve a problem directly. However, error codes and error text can help you down the road, either by giving you something to search for in an online database  or by providing information to a tech support person. Therefore, you should always write down the full text of any error message that appears.


If the error message is lengthy and you can still use other programs on your computer, don’t bother writing down the full message. Instead, while the message is displayed, press Print Screen to place an image of the current screen on the clipboard. Then open Paint or some other graphics program, paste the screen into a new image, and save the image. If you think you’ll be sending the image via email to a tech support employee or someone else that can help with the problem, consider saving the image as a monochrome or 16-color bitmap or, if possible, a JPEG file, to keep the image size small.


If the error message appears before Windows 7 starts, but you don’t have time to write it down, press the Pause Break key to pause the startup. After you record the error, press Ctrl+Pause Break to resume the startup.

Does an Error or Warning Appear in the Event Viewer Logs?

Launch the Event Viewer, open the Windows Logs branch, and then examine the Application and System logs.  In particular, look in the Level column for Error or Warning events. If you see any, double-click each one to read the event description. Figure 1 shows an example.

Figure 1. In the Event Viewer, look for Error and Warning events in the Application and System logs.

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