Asking For WordPress Plugin Help And Support Without Tears

When you release some code you’ve written under one of the many open source licenses that exist today, if you’re lucky then you can expect to get asked for help using that code. Note that I say if you’re lucky. Some people I know view giving help and support as, frankly, a pain; it gets in the way and stops them thinking about a new feature or the next big thing. I take the opposite view though, I see being asked for help as a compliment; it means someone has found the code I’ve written and actually thinks it might, maybe, be useful, so they’re using it and need a bit of support in getting it to do what they want it to do.

So if getting asked questions about code I’ve written isn’t a problem for me, then why am I writing this? It’s not the being asked as much as it is what is being asked. Support questions such as …

“It doesn’t work, can you help me?”

… will almost always be answered with …

“Of course, I’ll do my best, but what doesn’t work? What’s happening? I need a bit more information to try to help you”.

This is the reason I’m writing this. This is a handy, cut-out-and-keep, guide to the questions I will probably be asking you, if you ask me for help. Put simply, I’ll need to know about your WordPress installation, your theme, the plugin that isn’t working the way you expected or want it to and what has actually happened.

WordPress is simple, easy to use and extremely powerful. It’s also almost infinitely extensible; there’s almost 19,000 plugins and 1,500 themes in the official WordPress repositories alone. It’s impossible to test every plugin against every other plugin and theme and that means that sometimes things break or don’t play well together. So when this does happen, and it does happen, here’s the first steps you need to take.

Firstly, there’s your WordPress installation …

  • What version of WordPress are you running?
  • Is is a self-hosted WordPress installation or one hosted as part of wordpress.com?
  • If it’s self-hosted, are you running a single site for yourself, a single site for multiple authors or contributors or even a network/WordPress MU site?

Secondly, there’s the site’s theme …

  • What theme are you using?
  • What version is the theme?
  • Is the theme free or a premium or paid theme. If it’s a free theme, where did it come from? If not from the WordPress Theme directory, then a URL where I can download the theme would be helpful. If it’s a paid for theme, then it’s less likely I can help as I can’t pay out of my own pocket to test every theme (and there’s 10’s of thousands of these out there).
  • Is the theme standalone, a child theme or does it build on top of a theme framework, such as Genesis?

Thirdly, there’s the plugin …

  • What version of the plugin are you running?
  • What settings and options have you configured? A listing of these, a screen shot of the admin screens, or the contents of the settings from your WordPress database will help here. If you’re running one of my plugins, you’ll find the settings in a field called wp_'plugin-name'_settings which is usually found in the wp_options field.
    • For WP Biographia, this information can be found in the Colophon tab of the plugin’s admin settings, from v3.1 of the plugin onwards.

Finally, there’s what’s happening that shouldn’t, or what should be happening that isn’t …

  • What, exactly, is happening?
  • Did this happen as soon as you installed the plugin? Or has this been happening since a plugin upgrade?
  • What else happened on your site when this started happening? Did you upgrade WordPress, your theme or another plugin or plugins?
  • Have you tried disabling your other plugins? Does this help?
  • Have you tried swapping to one of the WordPress supplied themes, such as TwentyTen or TwentyEleven? Did this help?
  • Have you got screenshots of what’s happening (or not happening) or a URL where I can see this for myself?

All of this may seem like a lot of work on your part, but trust me, I’ll probably end up needing most, if not all, of this information and if it’s there upfront, then I’ll probably be able to help a lot quicker and we can both get on with the other, interesting and cool stuff, which is probably want we want at the end of the day.

Photo Credits: Mark Hillary on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)