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How to Create a Good Help Request

Getting accurate and timely help starts with crafting a good help request. Here are a few tips that you can use.

As part of IT Services, Stanford Web Services provides support for the Stanford Sites hosting platform. Unfortunately, sometimes things do go wrong, or break, and we encourage members of the Stanford community to submit help requests via Service Now. There are a few things that you can do to help us help you (and this advice can be generally applicable to any tech support service, not just HelpSU).

The Five Ws

Journalists use the "Five Ws" for information-gathering.

  • Who are you?
  • What happened? What were you doing at the time? What was the expected result?
  • When did it take place? (and how often?)
  • Where is it (e.g., a URL)? Where were you when it happened?
  • Why did it happen? (You may not know the answer to this, but then again, sometimes you might.)
  • How can someone else reproduce the problem?

A Good Example

We recently received this help request via HelpSU:

Description: I got this email after applying for a sites-dev site, but gives me a 500 Internal Server Error.

****************** DO NOT REPLY TO THIS AUTOMATED MESSAGE ******************

Your site is now enabled on the servers.  You can
go to the following URL to start using:

If you have any problems with this URL, please submit a HelpSU request at:

Please do not reply to this automated message since all replies will be

****************** DO NOT REPLY TO THIS AUTOMATED MESSAGE ******************

What's good about this request?

  1. It contains a URL ("")
  2. It contains the text of the error message ("500 Internal Server Error")
  3. It contains the text of the email that was sent

With this information, I (your friendly helper) can take the following steps:

  1. Go to the affected URL
  2. Reproduce the error
  3. Fix it!

Taking it to Eleven

Adding a screenshot, when possible, makes your help request even more awesome, and people will be singing your praises from on high. (Note: you cannot add screenshots directly in the HelpSU request form, but you can do so by replying to the automated confirmation email that you get from HelpSU once you've submitted your request. You also can include screenshots when emailing user lists such as,, etc.)

Screenshot showing with an