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This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Taking charge of VM allocation, troubleshooting methods
Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Troubleshooting is a systematic approach to problem solving that is often used to find and correct issues with complex machines, electronics, computers and software systems.

The first step in troubleshooting is gathering information on the issue, such as an undesired behavior or a lack of expected functionality. Other important information includes related symptoms and special circumstances that may be required to reproduce the issue.

Once the issue and how to reproduce it are understood, the next step might be to eliminate unnecessary components in the system and verify that the issue persists, to rule out incompatibility and third-party causes. 

Continuing, assuming the issue remains, one might next check common causes. Depending on the particular issue and the troubleshooter’s experience, they may have some ideas. They may also check product documentation and/or conduct research on a support database or through a search engine.

After common causes are ruled out, the troubleshooter may resort to the more systematic and logical process of verifying the expected function of parts of a system. One common method is the split-half troubleshooting approach: With a problem resulting from a number of possible parts in series, one tests half-way down the line of components. If the middle component works, one goes to the middle of the remaining parts, approaching the end. If the test finds a problem at the mid-point, one does a split towards the start of the line until the problem part is found. The split-half process can save time in systems that depend on many components.

Once the problem part is identified, it may be adjusted, repaired or replaced as needed. Evidence of effective troubleshooting is indicated when the issue is no longer reproducible and function is restored one.  

The success of troubleshooting often depends on the thoroughness and experience of the troubleshooter. That said, the majority of those who develop tech savvy are likely to have friends, coworkers and family who call on them for help.

People who don’t have the time or patience to solve their own issues might forgive the odd grumble or a tongue-in-cheek LMGTFY (Let Me Google That For You) link now and then.

See a screencast guide to fixing Windows 7 startup issues:

This was last updated in April 2014

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