Some simple forum netiquette: 2 – Starting a discussion

When you’re new on a forum, either you’re an idiot or you want to be at least a bit careful about not getting up other people’s noses. Here are some clues about how to be accepted rather than despised.

A fresh start

The golden rule on subjects and forum topics/threads is simple: there should be only one topic on any given subject, and only one subject discussed in any given topic.

So when should you start a new topic? Obviously, you’ll want to check what’s already been posted to make sure that your chosen subject hasn’t been raised before.

Having done that, if you find that you really have got something genuinely new to post about, then please start a new topic about it. Please don’t hijack an existing discussion and take it off-topic – including if it’s one you’ve started yourself! – as this only buries information and irritates other users.

Don’t forget to give your new topic a sensible subject title too (see “Subjected to torture” below).

Déjà vu

Ever been reading a topic on a forum and felt as if you’ve seen something very similar before? The chances are that it’s because some twit has come along and posted their message without bothering to read through previous topics to see what’s been discussed previously.

Many forum members are willing to be helpful and share their knowledge with others; that’s what forum discussion’s all about. Asking them to share the same knowledge over and over again, instead of taking the trouble to find and read what they’ve already written, is an abuse of their good nature.

So please take a little bit of time to check what’s been posted earlier – scan the topic titles, and use the search facility if there is one. You may find what you were looking for that way.

Déjà vu all over again

Some people have the irritating habit of starting a topic and then copying what they’ve written to several forums on the same board – even when it’s clear from the forum descriptions exactly where their topic belongs. This is called cross-posting, not least because of its effect on Site Admins’ tempers.

If it’s genuinely unclear to you where your chosen subject belongs, then either contact the Site Admins to ask them (if that possibility exists) or post it just once, in the forum you think is most likely to be the correct one – and add a polite note to apologise in case you’ve got it wrong.

Subjected to torture

Make sure that the subject of your message summarises the message – in other words, it gives the reader a good idea of what the message is about.

Subjects with one word are generally more cryptic than your reader will understand. This is fine if it’s just a bit of chat and you want to intrigue your reader. But if you’re asking for information, and particularly if you’re asking for help, you’re likely to find that the less information you convey in your subject, the less people are inclined to spend the time finding out what it is you want help with.

Subject titles such as “Help!” or even “Please help!” are particularly uninformative, and waste the time of anyone who bothers to read the message, only to find that it’s about something they know nothing about and have no interest in.

The same goes for subject titles which simply repeat or rehash the title of the forum or forum category they’re posted in. That’s just sheer laziness, as well as stating the bleeding obvious – if the forum category is “Breadmaking”, a subject title “Making bread” conveys absolutely no new information at all.

If you’re asking for help, you should always – and that means always – make it clear in your title what you need help with. If you don’t make that small effort, then don’t be surprised if others aren’t willing to expend considerably more effort in reading your message – and simply click away.

Let’s look at a few examples. Say we’re looking at a forum about baking:

Good subject titles look something like:

  • Shortbread – can you use marge instead of butter?
  • How long does pastry keep in the fridge?
  • Are domestic food processor dough hooks any good?

Less good would be:

  • Shortbread
  • Keeping pastry
  • Dough hooks

Worst of all would be:

  • Help
    (and its many variants: Can you help?, Help needed, Help wanted, Please help!, etc…)
  • Problem
  • Anything which simply repeats the title of the forum or forum category it’s posted in
  • Hello
  • My Aunt Betty is coming to visit
    (or anything else which gives no clue about what you’re asking. Remember, keep it relevant, not hatstand – I’ll be saying more about that in my next post on forum netiquette.)

2 Responses to “Some simple forum netiquette: 2 – Starting a discussion”

  1. Elaine

    This makes complete sense to me. I’ll remember it for the new forum I am setting up. One question – how to you get people to obey this rule. You see posts with bad headings on forums all over the internet so it must be the norm to do it that way. It must be difficult to change people’s normal behaviour.

  2. Kay

    Hi Elaine,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is very difficult to enforce this. Even if you put it in the forum rules, most people don’t read them anyway and start posting before they know what’s acceptable. Then if you start correcting people, eg by editing their posts, a lot of them get huffy. I suppose you have to ask yourself if those are the kind of people you want to have around anyway.

    You have a bit of an advantage in that you’re starting a new forum. Make sure you start how you mean to continue or you’ll find it’s a nightmare to change things afterwards.

    You can try constantly preaching this message – which probably won’t endear you to people either.

    I guess it really depends on how businesslike you want your forum to be. A group of friends or fellow farmers’ market stall holders might not mind if people don’t behave ‘correctly’, whereas if it’s more like a business group or if the forum gets very busy, this kind of thing starts to matter more.

    Good luck with your new forum and do come back and tell us how you get on with it.



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