I receive emails and read newsgroup posts where the author talks about a “crash”, “lockup”, “hang”… as if the reader should know what those terms mean. Let me tell you that in almost all cases these terms are well defined to the author, but have no meaning to the reader.
Why is that? It is because there is no technical definition of any of those terms. Ask a dozen engineers what crash means, and I would be willing to bet that you will hear many definitions. Some of them might even be in the context of some specific system, like a Windows XP system where crash might be equated to the famous “Blue Screen”. But that wouldn’t have any meaning on non-WinTel system, would it? Not to mention that if you contact Microsoft support, they most likely would want to know about the content of output to the “Blue Screen.” 
Microsoft, in this example, would be quite interested in the context, which is what was the user or system doing before the failure and the content output on the display.
I received this email today:
Hi,
i have a problem with my application but i can understand where. After about 14 hours it crash with no error message. Can you help to understand why it crash?
Do you know some way to undestarnd in wich routine is the crash?
 
Thank you
Now, how can I help this person understand where the problem is? Crash only means something to him. And he used “crash” three times in this short email.
Since crash has no defined meaning, let’s replace it with “something happened” and see how I, the reader, interpret this email:
Hi,
i have a problem with my application but i can understand where. After about 14 hours it something happened with no error message. Can you help to understand why it something happened?
Do you know some way to undestarnd in wich routine is the something happened?
 
Thank you
Notice, that it doesn’t change the meaning of the email in any way? Crash might sound more serious than something happened, but it still is an email with absolutely no meaning to the reader.
Now, I could easily make some guesses, like:
·         The application disappeared from the display, or stopped running
·         The application stopped responding to user input
·         The system rebooted
·         The system stopped responding to user input
·         The outputs stopped
·         The system caught on fire
·         The display turned black
I suppose that we could even insert one of these in the email:
Hi,
i have a problem with my application but i can understand where. After about 14 hours it The system caught on fire with no error message. Can you help to understand why it The system caught on fire?
Do you know some way to undestarnd in wich routine is the The system caught on fire?
 
Thank you
Hmm, that actually is beginning to have value to the reader, isn’t it? Of course having more information about what was happening before the system caught fire would really be valuable.
Don’t get me wrong, once two parties start to talk about a problem and describe the problem clearly so that both parties understand what the symptoms are, then shortening the discussion to use crash makes sense. But until both parties understand what the symptoms really are, crash, lockup, hang and other similar terms don’t add any value to a discussion.
 
Copyright © 2009 – Bruce Eitman
All Rights Reserved