How To Ask For Support

Michael TorbertThis is a guest blog post written by Michael Torbert, owner of SemperfiWebdesign.com.

Hopefully if you’re reading this, you’re already familiar with the wordpress.org support forums. However, sometimes you may have a dire need for one-on-one support with the actual developer or designer of a plugin or theme. When asking for advice, the most important aspect to consider is forming the query in such a manner that will allow the developer or designer to quickly know what you want and all the information they need to help you.

In general, you want to be clear, concise, complete, and polite.

Before you ask for support, use Google. Make a concerted effort to search for resolutions to your issue. This will help increase the clarity of communication with the developer about the problem you’re having. This helps to find and resolve the issue more quickly and ultimately means, saving you money.

When you ask a plugin or theme developer for support for their products, please understand that depending on the number of questions they receive, job requirements, social life and various other factors, they may not be able to answer or even acknowledge your question. They may also have a backlog of emails, pushing yours back further in the queue. Also understand that if your question is already addressed in the support forums or theme/plugin documentation, you stand less chance of receiving a response. Generally, when a theme/plugin developer receives enough of the same question, they will post the information publicly for the benefit of the other users.

Make sure you supply legitimate contact information. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to contact someone, but couldn’t due to a wrong or misspelled email address in my contact form. Obviously, this will make getting back to you take much longer, or impossible.

Understand that if you’re asking for free help, you need to be respectful of the time they’ve dedicated to the free theme/plugin and of the additional time you’re asking them to spend with you. Supply them with as much information as possible.

Here is a list of standard information that is extremely helpful when dealing with an issue:

  1. If you’re hosting WordPress on a Windows server instead of Linux, and/or on IIS instead of Apache, this should be the first thing you tell them. This is often the source of issues in a WordPress installation.
  2. Let them know the name of the theme/plugin you’re having an issue with. Many developers and designers have many contributions to the WordPress community.
  3. Offer the author your WordPress version, and active plugins and their versions if there’s the possibility of a plugin conflict.
  4. Test for your issue in every browser and operating system you have, and let them know the combination’s you used: Internet Explorer 6/XP, IE7/Vista, Safari/Vista, Firefox/Vista, Opera/OS X, Safari/OSX, Firefox/OS X, etc. You can help them out a lot by doing this part for them.
  5. In notepad, make a file called anything.php, type

    in it, upload it to your server, and point your browser at it’s location. You should see various bits of information about your hosting environment, which may be useful in assisting you. Give this link to the developer. *For technical users only.

  6. Let the developer know the name of your hosting company.
  7. Make a new FTP/SSH user and WordPress adminstrator. If they ask for login information, given them the temporary accounts. Delete when finished.
  8. Don’t include extra information. Keep communications focused on the issue. Anything else is going to make the process take longer and in the end.
  9. Be polite. Wrong: “ Hey Buddy, there’s … problem with your !@#$ plugin/theme. What gives?” Right: “Thank you for your great theme/plugin, called [insert name here], I’m having an issue with …. and I’ve tried…. could you find the time to help me out?”
  10. Refrain from spamming the developer. If you send an email and don’t receive a reply within 5 minutes, that doesn’t mean you should send another email. This will likely move you down or off the queue, rather than to the head of the line.
  11. Unless explicitly otherwise authorized, do not call the developer on the phone. Just remember how you would feel if someone called you at 2am in the morning while you’re sleeping, or 2pm in the afternoon while you’re working.
  12. If you see an error message, copy the entire error message and include that in your initial support query. Often times, these error messages help to narrow down the problem making for quicker resolution times.

The more clear and concise the information you offer, the faster you can hope to receive a resolution.

Final Thoughts:

Remember that this is some peoples’ lively hood. Be ready to pay for the support you request ahead of time. Most developers are ok with helping with a few small things, but each developer has a different point in which they will want to be paid for the extra support they are providing. Remember that the more respectful and thankful you are to a developer, the more inclined they will be at helping you out for little or no charge.

Finally, once you have received your satisfactory resolution, make sure to spread the word. Other people will often have the same issue. Submit the helpful information to the wordpress.org support forums, or make a post on your own blog.

13 Comments


  1. Great advice Michael, I wish more people would do their research before asking for help, or at least be more thorough when asking questions.

    As a support volunteer, I think this would be great instructions to follow when seeking help from anyone, not just a theme or plugin developer.

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  2. If you’re not paying me money, #9 and #10 usually gets you the quickest reply. But, it probably won’t be helpful, and it definitely won’t be pretty. ;)

    Just to add to number 10: The issue with this isn’t necessarily the “!@#$” words but how the sentence is phrased. You should almost never tell a developer that there’s a problem with the theme/plugin. It’s always best to talk in terms of “I” in this regard.

    While running an actual support forum, I find the most common problem is that users don’t give me enough information to help them. Many times, my first reply to a user is a list of several questions I need answered before proceeding.

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  3. Michael nailed it. I go through this all the time with clients and other support forums that I provide support on.

    It can be extremely frustrating to play “20 questions” with someone when trying to provide answers to their problems. What should have taken only 2-3 responses ends up at 10+ (and several hours/days) before the real problem is found and a resolution provided.

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  4. #7 Should only be done if you know and trust the developer. Even then I don’t recommend it unless it is absolutely necessary. I gave Alex Rabe admin access to my WP install once to help figure out a totally bizarre problem I had with his NextGen plugin, but there is no way I would have done that for a random plugin developer who wasn’t ‘known’ in the community.

    #10 Only applies for those who allow free questions via email. I never answer freebie questions by email as the replies are of no help to anyone else since they’re hidden in my email archives. By forcing people to use my support forum it makes the advice available to everyone. Plus it makes it easier for me to separate paid work from non-paid work and doesn’t clog up my inbox if I go on holiday for a week.

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  5. Very nice list. As Andrea_R said, it should be a sticky everywhere. If people asking for help in support forums would follow your instructions, they’d have their problems fixed in half the time.

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  6. Thank you for great advices. Could i translate in Turkish & publish them on my own blog with your orginal post link above it?

    Sincerely.

    Taylan

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  7. great tips. i dont usually ask for help though cause i never get a response. so i just figure it out myself.

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  8. This is a great set of tips. Number one, mein gott, number one… If half the people who had questions tried google before ripping off an email or phone call, then perhaps we wouldn’t need this site:
    http://tinyurl.com/r4ubdb

    Seriously though, I would strongly caution against leaving a phpinfo() page out there for any length of time. The info from phpinfo can give a malicious person information that makes your server an easy target. And even if you don’t care about your project so much, if you have shared hosting (most do) you are also exposing your server-neighbors.

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  9. Michael,

    Thanks for writing this up. It will prove helpful for the many WordPress enthusiasts like myself who introduce people to the joy of it all the time. Often my challenge comes in the fact that people are unwilling, or afraid to take that first step and get into the support forums – or even google for the answers. Any tips on meeting that challenge? :-)

    I also agree with Kim, playing 20 questions gets really old… especially when you get to email 65. Internally I have a ‘refuse to answer’ response if there are three or more repeated posts/emails with a rising sense of panic or threat. Who has time to loose over that. Take a deep breath and try to articulate the problem with clarity, detail and describe what has already been tried. A person who can’t do this probably shouldn’t be on WordPress? ;-0

    Time and again I have found WP developers to be some of the most helpful people I’ve run into. You Michael are definitely in that category. Keep up the good work!

    Tim’s last blog post..All Things Good | Best of WordPress

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  10. Great article Michael!

    I have one to add…
    13. If you are a user/member of a Support Forum, post your question/problem in the forum. Don’t do a form of #10 by sending repeated Private Messages. That is why they created a support forum in the first place, to better handle the volume of support they provide.

    @Kim … I feel your pain. I just treat everyone as a newbie, until I know them well enough, thru repeated interactions, to change the types of questions & responses to a more advanced level.

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  11. Here’s my #1 and only rule regarding support.

    1) If you are visiting the StudioPress contact page and can’t (or don’t bother to) read this paragraph:

    If you are looking for theme support, please use the support forums. This is the quickest way to receive support, so please do not send any support question in the form below.

    You will not receive a reply back from me.

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