Hands Up, Write It Down

Enable productive outcomes by responding to errors better

Wed, 19 Sep 2018


If you’re working around software, running into errors, bugs, and other unintended outcomes is unfortunately probably a common occurrence. The majority of the people I’ve worked with tend to click away when they encounter these kinds of problems. This behavior may be ok as a consumer or a user. Obviously, you just want to reach your desired outcome, but as a team member, it leads to issues that can’t be easily actioned by your development team. So how do we do better? We have to resist the impulse to bypass the problem and take stock of how we reached it. When I’ve taught people how to submit higher quality bugs one of my favorite approaches is “Hands up, Write it down.”


When you encounter a problem

Don’t click anything else. Don’t do anything else. Take your hands off keyboard entirely if you need to.

Recall how you got there

Write down the steps that lead up to the problem. Use as much detail as you can while it’s fresh in your head. Don’t just say “I found an error while doing _action_.”

Look for additional clues

What is other information that is available? For most web applications there may be visible errors. If you’re a technical user Developer Tools or a similar browser tool may offer even more information. If you’re a non-technical user including visible information like the time of day when you encountered the error, the web page address, or taking screenshots can greatly increase the developer’s chance of fixing your issue.

Be clear about facts and speculation

Sometimes you might have a hunch, an incomplete thought, or may not remember the exact steps. Don’t fake confidence! Feel free to include this information but be clear what’s speculation and what you’re confident is fact. False claims will waste others’ time and make it harder to fix the issue you found.


As with most exercises, don’t expect to be perfect right away. This practice is about forming a more productive habit when you encounter a problem. You will get better with repetition and practice. If you feel like you’re struggling to find useful information, work with your team to learn more about tools and strategies to enable and raise your comfort cataloging issues.

If you have your own strategies for responding to application errors, I’d love to hear about them!

Michael Cherry-Leigh

Written by Michael Cherry-Leigh - I’m a software developer focused on QA and the testing process. I write about my experiences with this role and many of the tools I use. You can follow me on Twitter or contact me through this site.

  • Copyright 2018 Michael Cherry-Leigh