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How To Talk To People On A Discussion Forum
Article © MAIL User: Blaise

After years of participation in online forums, I've identified a few important rules to follow if you want both respect from your peers and results from your queries. I've listed these points below, with explanations of each. If you feel that one or more of these points describes you, please don't take offense, these are general observations, not personal attacks.

Forum Subjects
If you are on a board that has multiple forums, each with its own description of what kind of stuff should go into that forum, read the blasted descriptions before you post! Nothing pisses moderators off faster than having to police your poorly aimed topics, and even if they let you be, your fellow posters will probably chew you out for wasting their time.

Subject Lines
Folks, these are there for a reason. They let other people know what you want to talk about. Don't make them impossible to figure out, with meaningless drivel like "Wanted to know", or "My Opinion". Put real, useful clues in them to explain the post topic. This gets the attention of people who have an interest in the subject, rather than either a)being ignored, which gets you no responses/help, or b) annoying people who open your message just in case, because they don't want to miss anything, and find their time wasted.
Please consider. If you are reading the posts on a board, and see a subject like "A Question...", what does this tell you about the post inside?

Absolutely nothing! What does it tell you about the poster? Probably that they can't organize their thoughts well enough to be worth reading in the first place!

Language Skills
Look, no one expects a PhD in literature on a forum, but if you write as though you were an idiot, people will think you are an idiot. The basics of spelling, punctuation, and grammar are not beyond the grasp of an 8-year-old, so you should probably do OK, if you at least try. And don't give me any crap about how you never went to school, have a learning disability, or no one on your MMORPG has any trouble understanding you! All we're asking is that you try, just a little. This isn't just about people being anal, WE DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING! The harder people have to work to read your post, the more negatively inclined they will be toward you and your subject.

Spelling's a big one. It's really a no-brainer. If you have spelling issues, use a spell checker. You don't even have to do any of the work yourself, for Pete's sake! Also, if you choose to use an unfamiliar word, make sure it's the right one. Many words sound the same, but are spelled differently, and mean completely different things. Picking the wrong one makes you look like an uneducated boob. If I write a post about taking the sun to school this morning, you'll probably figure out what I really meant, but you'll think I'm a dumb-ass...

Punctuation is also a huge deal, despite what you might think. Again, we don't need thesis-level work on the correct usage of semicolons in the case of multiple adjectival clauses here, just follow three simple rules:

  1. When you reach the end of a complete thought, put in a period and a space or two. We call this a sentence. Start the next one with a capital letter.
  2. Wherever you would pause while saying the sentence out loud, put in a comma. This way we know what parts of a sentence are linked together.
  3. When you've put together a bunch of sentences that relate to a common point, and are going to move on to a new point, you have completed a paragraph. In honor of this rare and joyous event, skip a line before you start the next one.

Grammar's a tough one, I'll admit it. Even the most anal board posters will sometimes disagree on what's the right way to say something. Just give it your best shot, and know that of the three language skills, this is the one most people will give you a pass on, as long as you get the others right.

Message Length
Throw us a bone here, folks, if you've answered a post with a one or two word response, you are wasting all our time and resources at the very least, and are risking banishment for trying to boost your post count at the worst. This will not make you any friends.

Likewise, give our eyeballs a break on the long ones, people! This is a tough one. How do you find the line between a well reasoned, detailed response versus a droning, endless lecture/sermon? Well, here's a simple guideline. If your logic to describe a single point requires more than one paragraph, and you have more than one point to make, you are writing a lecture. I refer you to my basic point from the language skills section: "The harder people have to work to read your post, the more negatively inclined they will be toward you and your subject." If you find yourself writing a lecture, consider a) putting it in multiple posts, if you only have two or three points, b) assuming your audience can think rationally and only writing a couple of sentences per point (this has risks, including the need to re-explain misunderstood points later), or c) summarizing your essay in your post, and then putting in links to one or more articles (like this one) which give your detailed rationales for those invested enough in the topic to go read them.

Discussions vs. Arguments
You will *NEVER* win a debate by attacking your opponent individually. Period. You can pick apart their logic. You can even quote their own previous statements back to them. However, as soon as you use a phrase like "You always do this", "The problem with people like you is", or "You don't seem to be capable of understanding my simple logic", you have crossed the line. In fact, if you even say something that implies a personal attack, you have crossed the line. From that point on, barring well orchestrated outside intervention and/or mediation, your exchange will no longer bear any fruit, because an attacked mind is on the defensive, and closed to anything further you have to say. All you can do from there is gather supporters and let the flame war begin.

So before you let your frustration, however understandable or warranted, be expressed in your message, consider that a) you may have misunderstood them, b) they may have misunderstood you, and c) even if neither of the previous are true, the moment you click the send button on an attacking message, you've already conceded defeat.
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