Please tell us what you were trying to do.

"Please tell us what you were trying to do."

"Oh no! The dreaded error message pops up on my screen again. Frustration starts to build up as I try to decipher what went wrong. Like a detective, I go through my recent actions, trying to retrace my steps and identify the source of the problem. Then, there it is, a simple yet ambiguous question staring back at me: 'Please tell us what you were trying to do.'

Error messages like this, with their somewhat vague instructions, can make anyone's blood boil. It seems like they are designed to test our patience and problem-solving skills. However, if we take a step back and look at it from a different perspective, we may find that there is a genuine reason behind their existence.

When we encounter errors while using software or websites, it is essential to understand that these messages are not trying to add insult to injury. Instead, they serve as a lifeline for developers and support teams to diagnose and resolve the issue swiftly. By asking users to describe their intentions, the error message provides valuable context that can lead to a more accurate assessment of the problem.

Imagine a scenario where you are struggling to complete a transaction on an online shopping website. Suddenly, an error message interrupts your progress, asking, 'Please tell us what you were trying to do.' Initially, you may be annoyed by this seemingly pointless question. However, if you take a moment to reflect, you will realize that the developers behind the scenes need to understand the user's goal in order to identify what went wrong.

Error messages often act as a communication bridge between users and developers. By encouraging users to explain their intentions, these messages prompt them to provide valuable insights into their actions and expectations. This, in turn, allows developers to reproduce the issue and find a solution faster. Without such context, developers might be left in the dark, trying to grasp at straws and wasting valuable time in the process.

Moreover, error messages that ask users to describe what they were trying to do can be an opportunity for users to reflect on their actions. In many cases, the error is caused by a misstep or misunderstanding on the user's part. By requesting an explanation, the message indirectly encourages users to reevaluate their approach, helping them to identify and rectify their mistakes.

However, it is crucial to note that the burden of understanding error messages should not solely rest on the users' shoulders. Developers have a responsibility to ensure that error messages are clear, concise, and helpful. A poorly crafted or confusing message can worsen the frustration and confusion experienced by users, leading to further dissatisfaction.

To create effective error messages, developers should consider the following guidelines:

1. Provide a clear explanation: The error message should clearly state what went wrong in simple and understandable language. Avoid technical jargon that may confuse users further.

2. Request specific details: Instead of a generic plea, ask users to provide specific information about their actions. For example, if the error occurred during a file upload, ask users to specify the file name or type.

3. Offer troubleshooting suggestions: If possible, provide potential solutions or troubleshooting steps that users can take to resolve the issue. This can help users feel empowered and lessen their frustration.

4. Display contact information: Sometimes, users encounter errors that they cannot resolve on their own. In such cases, display contact information or a link to customer support, so they can seek assistance if needed.

Error messages are an integral part of any software or website. While they may be frustrating to users initially, they serve a vital purpose in the development and troubleshooting process. By prompting users to explain their intentions, these messages act as a vital source of information for developers, helping them understand and resolve issues more efficiently.

So, the next time you encounter an error message that asks, 'Please tell us what you were trying to do,' take a breath and think of it as an opportunity to provide valuable context. Your understanding and cooperation can contribute to improving the overall user experience and help developers create better software and websites for everyone."


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