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The classic use of a scope is to diagnose a failing piece of
electronic equipment. In a radio, for example, one looks at the
schematic and tries to locate the connections between stages (e.g.
electronic mixers, electronic oscillators, amplifiers).
Then one puts the scope's ground on the circuit's ground, and
the probe of the scope on a connection between two of the stages in
the middle of the train of stages.
When the expected signal is absent, one knows that some
preceding stage of the electronics has failed. Since most failures
occur because of a single faulty component, each measurement can
prove that half of the stages of a complex piece of equipment
either work, or probably did not cause the fault.
Once the failing stage is found, further probing of the
defective stage can usually tell a skilled technician exactly which
component is broken. Once the technician replaces the component,
the unit can be restored to service, or at least the next fault can
Another use is to check newly designed circuitry. Very often a
newly-designed circuit will misbehave because of bad voltage
levels, electrical noise or design errors. Digital electronics
usually operates from a clock, so a dual-trace scope is needed to
check digital circuits. "Storage scopes" are helpful for
"capturing" rare electronic events that cause defective
Another use is for software engineers who must program
electronics. Often a scope is the only way to see if the software
is running the electronics properly.