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How To E-Mail Me

As I mentioned on Friday, I'm off this week. So don't bother calling me, because I won't pick up. And if you e-mail me, you'll have to wait until next week to get a response. (I will still have a column on Thursday.)

In the meantime, and in the hope of not being completely inundated with reader mail on my return -- not to mention our ombudsman's professed interest in having the Post make it easier for readers to reach us -- I'd like to share a few tips about the most effective ways to talk to me in e-mail. (You can also call me at 202-334-6394 or write me c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington DC 20071, but I can't lie: Your odds of getting a response aren't as good, and it's a lot easier for me to point you to a helpful Web site in e-mail.)

First off: Yes, I do read all my reader mail. I try to answer all of it as well, but that's not an instant or a guaranteed thing. If you're writing just to say "great story" or "you suck," you should expect a reasonably quick acknowledgment along the lines of "thanks for the input." If you see the same wording in repeated responses to successive e-mails, it's not because I'm stuck in a rut; I use an add-on to my mail software to paste in these canned replies to save a little time (not to mention wear and tear on my wrists).

If you're writing a "what about this issue?" type of message, that will take a little longer for me to answer, but I can usually come through.

If you're e-mailing me to ask what to buy, give me some idea of how you'd use the product in question. Some of the most frustrating messages for me to read are context-free requests for my advice on "a good laptop" or "a decent HDTV": I'd have to read people's minds and/or break into their houses to give any sort of useful answer to those e-mails.

The tough e-mails are the ones I most need to answer -- the "how do I fix this problem?" queries that keep Help File filled. I've written before about the best way to send me a Help File question, but that was years ago, so let me update that advice:

* First, see if I've already answered your question in Help File. The majority of the tech-support queries I get address old topics. I admit that our archive of old Help File columns is not terribly helpful; fortunately, any good search engine should find what you're looking for, thanks to my distinctive last name (there are other Pegoraros, but I can assure you that I'm the only one writing a tech column for an English-language newspaper). Type a brief description of what you want to do, plus "Pegoraro," into your favorite search site: For example, "copy from iPod Pegoraro" lead to this 2007 item.

* If I haven't covered your problem before, help me help you by providing as much specifics as possible. Don't say "my Web browser is acting funny"; give me the details. Look up its version number (in any Windows program, go to the Help menu and select the "About" item; in a Mac application, go to the top-left corner of the screen, hit the menu named after the application and choose the "About" item there) and copy whatever error message you see. You can also try to take a screenshot and send that to me; instructions on how to do so come after the jump.

* A clear and informative subject header works too. I have received way too many e-mails headlined "HELP!!!" for that all-caps header to get my attention anymore.

* Please understand that there are some issues I can't help you with. I'm a personal-tech columnist, so I don't address office-computing topics -- I'm not the guy to ask about your Exchange server issues. And if you're asking about an extremely old consumer product, your odds aren't good either. On one hand, I'm not likely to have access to the software you're using (it's been years since I've used a Windows 95 system); on the other, time I spend researching a problem that few readers are likely to experience is time I can't spend digging into issues that affect far more people. Finally, there are some situations that I won't help you with because they'd leave your computer in an unsafe situation -- say, going online without a firewall or sticking with Internet Explorer 6.

If I don't get to your message right away, please show some patience. Nagging me for a reply 48 hours after you sent your first message is not a terribly polite way to ask for free help. But if weeks go by -- or if you've got new information to add to your first report -- go ahead and send me a follow-up e-mail.

Years ago, I tried to answer every message, no matter how long it took. I gave up on that a while back and am now trying to stick to a two-month rule; anything I haven't replied to by then gets filed away for reference in some folder besides my inbox. My assumption there is that by two months, either the reader's gotten an answer from somebody else or the problem has worked itself out somehow. If that's not the case, feel free to bug me again.

Does this help? If not, I'm sure you'll let me know in the comments...

How to take a screen shot:

If you use Windows:

See that "Print Screen" key? It actually does something useful! Hit Print Screen to copy everything on the screen; hit the Alt and Print Screen keys simultaneously to copy only the current window (i.e., your Web browser). Then go to the Start Menu, select All Programs, then scroll up that menu until you hit its Accessories sub-folder, then select Paint. When the Paint program opens, hit Ctrl-V to paste the screen shot you just took.

Go to Paint's File menu and select Save As... From the save-as window's "Save as type" menu, choose JPEG (the default format, .bmp, yields huge, e-mail-unfriendly files), then make sure to save the file someplace where you can find it later on.

Windows Vista simplifies this process by including a "Snipping Tool" program for the task. To find it, type "snip" into the search box at the base of the Start menu.

If you use a Mac:

To take a picture of the entire screen, hold down the Command (aka, Apple-logo), Shift and 3 keys to take a picture of the entire screen; it will automatically be saved to your desktop as a file named "Picture 1." Subsequent screen shots will be saved as Picture 2, Picture 3 and so on.

To shoot only a single window or a selected area of the screen, hit Command-Shift-4, after which the cursor will turn into a set of cross hairs. To grab a specific window, tap the space bar and click once on that window; to capture a particular area, drag to select it and let go of the mouse. As before, your picture will be saved automatically to your desktop.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 2, 2008; 8:49 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: What Did You Not Do (Online) For Your Summer Vacation?
Next: Dell's Little Idea: the Studio Hybrid Desktop


I'd be delighted to contact you by e-mail, but I couldn't find your e-mail address anywhere in the posting. Phone number and snail mail address are included, but no e-mail address.

Posted by: Bob | September 2, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Great info. Thanks. Haven't had the need to contact you so far, but good to know that I can (and how to do it).

You and Sietsema should commiserate. He gets a lot of "what's the best restaurant to take my family of picky eaters to" questions without any clue about location, cost, food type, etc.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 2, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Hope you enjoy your time off...hope it does not include any tech consultations like "while you're here, could you look at this problem I'm having?"

Posted by: Tina in Falls Church | September 2, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

He did (kind of) tell you how to find his email address. Go to a search engine and type in "email pegoraro".

On Google, the first link is to his email contact page, :-)

Posted by: That Blair Guy | September 2, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Have a great vacation and thanks for responding to my iPhone 3G e-mail earlier in the summer!

Posted by: Malcolm Furgol | September 2, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

It's easy to find Rob's email on the site. Just go to the bottom of any Help File column. He's great about answering!

Posted by: LBinVA | September 2, 2008 8:46 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: LBinVA | September 2, 2008 8:47 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the help you give others. A while back one of your articles even solved a problem for me, though I cannot remember which article it was. Explaining the rules of communication is a good idea. It would be even better if every one of your articles had a link to this "rules" article.

I just hope that one day you will write an article that explains why my computer has two large pull-out cup holders on its front side. Who makes that DVD drink, anyway?

Posted by: Dave Beedon | September 3, 2008 1:50 AM | Report abuse



Posted by: BRUCEREALTOR | September 3, 2008 3:17 AM | Report abuse



Posted by: Moto | September 3, 2008 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Rob is the best. Has helped me twice and I really appreciated it.

Posted by: Marcia | September 4, 2008 6:43 PM | Report abuse

I think you need to do a column about who really delivers 1920x1080 to your TV. Dish, Directv and many cable provider dont.
Directv only delivers 1280x1080 max. It isnt as good a Blue Ray as they claim in their ads. Verizon FIOS does deliver

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

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