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When your internet connection comes and goes, it can be an extremely frustrating experience. Just when you hit send on an email that’s taken an hour to compose, you see the message “unable to send, no internet connection.” Intermittent internet is a common problem, and what to do about it depends on the cause. Here is a simple guide on how to troubleshoot an unreliable connection and a few tricks to minimize the disruption.

Pay attention to the alerts that pop up when your internet goes down. When this happens, your top objective is to save your work. In the middle of a lengthy email? Before you do anything else, copy your email and paste it into a text document. Mac users should open TextEdit from the Launchpad, while PC users can open Wordpad by typing “wordpad” in the taskbar search and then clicking on the result. Do the same thing if you’re working on a Word document.

But sometimes this won’t work. For instance, if you’re in Google Drive and haven’t turned on offline mode, you won’t be able to copy and paste. Instead, take a screenshot. PC users, press Ctrl plus Print Screen (Print Scrn). Mac users, press Shift plus Command-4, which turns the cursor into a crosshair tool. Move the crosshair to where you want to start the screenshot, then drag to select an area. When you’ve selected the area you want, release your mouse or trackpad button. You will find the screenshot as a .png file on your desktop.

Now it’s time to find out what’s wrong with your internet. In most cases, the trouble lies in your router. Reset it by unplugging the router, wait a couple of minutes and then plug it back in. Wait a few more minutes while the router powers itself back up and makes all of its connections.

If this works — and it usually does — you’ll want to determine what caused the router to fail in the first place. Because a router is a fairly delicate piece of computing hardware, it is susceptible to overheating. Make sure your router is positioned in a fairly cool, open area, where its cooling fans can do their job.

If overheating is not the problem, it may be interference, which is caused by too many households using the same channel. You can change the channel on your router to find the least congested one. Mac users can use their system’s built-in tool called Wireless Diagnostics. Go to “Applications,” search for “Wireless Diagnostics” and then select “Scan.” Windows users will have to use a third party tool such as NirSoft’s WifiInfoView. Launch the tool, locate the Channel header and click it to sort by WiFi channel. To actually change the channel, you will have to log in to your router online. (Google the brand of your router with your IP address, which is found by visiting www.whatismyip.com, where the number will show instantly.)

If the problem continues, it may be time to buy a new router, particularly if yours is more than five years old.

However, there may be something wrong with the wiring or even the provider’s service. Unfortunately, you will have to call your internet service provider and go through a long series of troubleshooting steps before the tech support representative will agree to send a repair person to your home. You will have to pay for the visit if it turns out that your equipment is at fault, but sometimes, calling your provider is the only option left.

I have yet to find a company that won’t go to great lengths to avoid a house call, including taking an hour or more for the troubleshooting steps, but once convinced, the repair crews are usually very competent. I have received new routers free of charge, had the wire replaced on the back patio because it had been burned from the heat of a barbecue placed too close, but the most interesting problem came from a surprising source.

As he was replacing the melted wire, I asked why the connection always wavered when it rained. “Squirrels,” he said. Apparently, squirrels like to nibble the wires, which leaves little holes where the rain can disrupt the signal. He then replaced the rest of the outside wiring — at no charge — and I’ve had no trouble since then.

Lesson learned: Talk to your repairman about any internet problems; he may have the answer.

Leslie Meredith has designed international websites and now runs marketing for a global events company. She writes about personal technology. You can email her at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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