Advanced search tips for finding Microsoft troubleshooting content

Summary

Microsoft publishes thousands of useful articles for IT Professionals seeking help with solving problems. Searching the web for that one useful article can be a daunting task. The answer is probably out there, but how do we find it among the thousands of support articles published by Microsoft?

In this article we will cover some advanced search tips and tricks that will improve your odds of finding the right self-help content using a web search.

Browser Tips

Don’t let your browsing history and preferences affect your search. Use InPrivate (Bing) or Incognito (Chrome) mode in your browser.

InPrivate Browsing

Gather and Review Log Files

Check the System, Application and operational event logs for items related to the problem, and search using the error messages. Some errors are generic, such as MSI install errors or permissions errors (Error 5), go back through the log and look for a more specific error before the generic one

Keywords

Use quotes around events, errors and strings after removing any machine-specific information.

For example: “a user account is required"

A user account is required


 

If the error is in a log, add the log name.

For example: System log AND “a user account is required”

System log AND “a user account is required”


 

Add the product name (for Windows 10 you can narrow to a version by adding the version number to your search string. Use assets like the Wikipedia Windows 10 version history to understand the different naming conventions for a given product and use that in your query.

For example: “domain join” AND 1903

“Domain join” and 1903


 

If searching for a specific KB article by number, try adding ‘KB’ to the number.

For example:

KB12345678  or KB 12345678

(Exercise: Try finding this article using both methods - KB4550049 or KB 4550049)



KB12345678

kb search example

Site Search

Scope searches to well-known domains using the “site:” operand

The search string "a user account is required” site:Microsoft.com  targets only the microsoft.com domain: 

Microsoft search results

 

The search string “a user account is required” site:reddit.com targets just the reddit.com domain: 

Reddit search results



Scope searches starting with the most relevant to the least relevant sites

This excludes answers.microsoft.com and social.microsoft.com: “a user account is required” site:Microsoft.com -answers -social

TIP:

Start searches narrow then increase the scope of the search if you fail to find relevant content

 

Trusted Sites

Build a list of trusted sites to use during your investigation.

Asset

Comments

Support.microsoft.com

# 1 site for break / fix content for Microsoft on-prem products.

Docs.microsoft.com

For most IT Pro content for cloud-based products, includes break-fix content.

Windows Health Release Dashboard @ https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/release-information/status-windows-10-1909
 

OS version specific information describing friction ranging from intentional hardening changes to unintended regressions introduced by quality updates and sometimes feature updates.

Also describes interop issues with 1st / 3rd party hardware / software that may be caused by Windows updates or 1st party / 3rd party hardware / software.

Known issue and release note text in the header Monthly Windows Update KB articles


See KB 4534310 as a recent example

Known issue text identifies friction including interop issues or regressions introduced by a given windows update.

Release notes identify fixes resolved in that months update.

An fix that resolves an issue will generally use the same “known issue” or “release note” text across all affected OS versions.

Other Sites

Don’t overlook these valuable resources! Visit these sites and search using their own search engines.

Forums

Blogs

Microsoft Support Portals (An overlooked resource for troubleshooting)

You don’t have to open a support ticket just yet! The Microsoft support portals offer a wealth of troubleshooting assistance before you open a support case. Just begin the support experience, describe your issue as accurately as possible, and you will be presented with troubleshooting steps and recommended self-help articles. Here is an example from the Azure portal. If the recommended steps or articles enable you to resolve your issue, there is no need to proceed with opening a support request.

Microsoft support portals

If you must open a support case

If you want your case resolved as quickly as possible, follow this tips to avoid delays:

Action

Examples

Comments

Use the appropriate severity

 

The severity should accurately reflect the impact of the problem. Sev-A should be restricted to problems that completely block a user or service very frequently and have no workarounds.

Provide a meaningful title

Bad examples

  • Operation X

  • OS version Y

  • Error message Z

  • Operation X on Windows 10

Better

  • Operation X fails on major / minor version Y with Error Z

  • Operation W intermittently fails on major / minor version X with error Y due to triggering configuration Z

Remove ambiguity, and try to capture “what”, “who” “how” and “when” context in your title.

Microsoft has released 10 versions of Windows 10 to date. Each version contains new capabilities and behavior changes and bug fixes.

Provide a meaningful problem description and repro steps that allow Microsoft to understand the problem and reproduce it in-house if the customer is unable to collect data

The single biggest contributors to slow root cause determination are poor problem description and lack of steps to reproduce the issue.

Having the right data often enables Microsoft to identify root cause within hours or days for many type of issues. Some issues (memory or kernel related, for example) may take longer.

Include “IS | DOES” and "IS | DOES NOT” context in your problem statement

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