Learn to Use Books Online

, 2012-08-06

On ReadingOne of the first questions I hear from folks wanting to grow in their Microsoft SQL Server DBA or database developer careers is, "What tools/books do you recommend?" I've noticed my first answer catches quite a few folks off guard:

"Learn to use Books Online."

To the old hat SQL Server DBAs, this is one of those obvious answers. Yes, there are a few bugs here and there in the documentation. However, Books Online (BOL) contains a ton of information. Whether you're working in the GUI or typing in T-SQL, the steps are there. Examples are given. You'd be hard pressed to find a better example of documentation for a product. Yet it seems like most folks completely ignore it. That leaves me scratching my head.

When I was more active in the various forums, one of the things I noted was how many times a SQL Server question could have been answered by a quick look in Books Online. A lot of times BOL had an example which adequately answered their question. This told me one of three things were true:

  • The person had never looked in Books Online.
  • The person didn't know how to use Books Online.
  • The person could find the information but it didn't "click" that he or she had found the answer.

I can help with the first issue. Books Online comes on the install DVD or .iso for SQL Server. However, you don't have to have the media to get to it. Here are two other ways:

As for the second, my advice is to get into Books Online and use it. Go through the topical hierarchy and read up on something you want to learn about. Understand how it's organized. Then click the Index tab and learn to search for what you're wanting to find. Learn how to use filters. If you're looking for a T-SQL answer, you likely only want to have Books Online pull from the Database Engine.

And when you've done #1 and #2, that's what the forums are for. That's what #sqlhelp is for on Twitter. By doing the research yourself before you ask others for help, you are more likely to understand the solution that someone else might present. You also might have ruled out certain potential solutions because of your given environment. The key, though, is to try and find the answer yourself with the excellent document provided. It's the starting point.

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