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I was reading an article about steps we can do to make out computers fast.

If you want to improve the speed of your computer, that’s great. However, above all, do no harm and beyond the scope of this Windows forum, ask for help from those you know if you get in over your head. Remember: you have time. You can stop most processes I discuss without causing harm. Caution and common sense go a long way when working with computers; problems are often much easier to fix than they appear.

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    I disagree with the close votes (on grounds that the answer can be looked up in a dictionary). Idiomatic phrases such as "go a long way" are hard to look up in dictionaries. If the phrase merely meant "travel a large distance", I would agree, but it does not. – David Richerby Nov 20 '14 at 10:50
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    As all three answers given thus far have erred in thinking the phrase is used here the same way as in he's going to go a long way, I have to agree with David Richerby. This meaning is the first or only one given in various dictionaries, but makes no sense here; caution and common sense won't be very successful. The meaning of be very effective is harder to suss out. – choster Nov 21 '14 at 0:33
  • @DavidRicherby I tend to want to close questions like this with the "add the research you've done" reason instead of the "answerable with a dictionary" reason to encourage more explanation of why the asker is confused, but I'm starting to think I'm tilting at windmills and I've moved my CV threshold :) I agree it should be left open, especially because native speakers are confused about which definition applies. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 21 '14 at 0:41
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This is an idiomatic usage which might be more commonly expressed as to go a long way toward sth. The toward sth prepositional phrase is omitted here, but toward some kind of success is implied. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms definition states

Have considerable effect or influence on. For example, This argument goes a long way toward proving the scientists are wrong.

ODO offers its definition under go:

1.8 Used to indicate how many people a supply of food, money, or another resource is sufficient for or how much can be achieved using it:
the sale will go a long way toward easing the huge debt burden
a little luck can go a long way

A popular formulation is to say a little [of something] goes a long way, meaning a small amount of something has a greater effect than one might expect. A little kindness goes a long way means that showing a small amount of kindness repays itself manifold in the kindness received. Or, a cookbook might caution that a little ghost pepper goes a long way, meaning that a small amount of ghost pepper contributes greatly to the spiciness— in other words, don't use too much!

To be more explicit, the sentence could be written as

Caution and common sense contribute greatly towards success when working with computers; problems are often much easier to fix than they appear.

Caution and common sense will be very useful when working with computers; problems are often much easier to fix than they appear.

It can also be expressed using other words for distance, as in go far, to go miles towards sth:

Hoffmans' deep and lasting sympathy for his characters goes far toward explaining his particular genius as an actor. [American Film Magazine]

Something as simple as [good packaging] goes miles towards making it more enjoyable to bring a lunch. [Lifehacker Australa]

For an older related thread at EL&U, see “Go a long way to” + gerund vs infinitive.

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Is an equivalent of to be very successful:

You'll be successful if you're cautious and you have common sense while working with computers; problems are often much easier to fix than they appear.

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The idiom "go a long way" is especially used for money or food to mean to last for a long time such as we have to be thrifty if we want to make our money go a long way.

However, if this idiom is used with the preposition "towards" i.e. "go a long way towards", it means to be very helpful in achieving something. For example, your suggestion will go a long way towards solving this problem.

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https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/go_a_long_way there you go, it means to be successful. next time google it yourself, please.

  • Actually the first definition, "To be adequate or helpful for a significant amount of time." is more appropriate to the context than the second. I don't disagree that it would be nice if some sort of attempt was made to find an answer before asking here, but sometimes definitions that seem clear to native speakers aren't that clear, especially when an idiom is involved. – ColleenV parted ways Nov 21 '14 at 0:34

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