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Newsgroup Tips (part 8)

"If you are at Rome, live in the Roman style; if you are elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere" (Jeremy Taylor)

Just like any other society, types of "behaviour" learnt in one particular newsgroup may not automatically apply to another. Before even considering posting to a newsgroup, try and locate any group posting guidelines or FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Reading any such documents now can save you a lot of problems later on.

After you've done that, run through the following, general, list:

DO cut mercilessly.

When responding to a post, leave just enough quoted material to indicate what you're responding to - replacing the missing text with the term '<snip>' or similar. Never include headers except maybe the "From:" line. If you can't figure out how to delete lines in your news software, paraphrase or type the quoted material in.

DON'T include the entire contents of a previous posting in your reply.

Many people will pay to download your post. They'd rather not read old material all over again. Others will simply refuse to scroll through reams of quoted text,.

DO quote (briefly) or paraphrase.

If the original "Subject:"line was "Big dogs" make sure yours says "Re: Big dogs".

Some Followup To Newsgroup functions do this automatically. If yours doesn't, edit the Subject line accordingly.

By convention, quoted lines are preceded by ">"(greater-than signs). Again, most newsreaders do this automatically. A few require you to do it manually or set the "indent character" to ">".

DON'T reply to a point in a post without quoting or paraphrasing what you're responding to and who said it.

A dozen articles may occur between the original post and your followup. In some extreme cases, your reply may even get there before the original!

DO post articles cautiously.

It's always a risk to start a new topic (often called a thread) before you've had a reasonable chance to acclimatise yourself to the group's particular sub-culture. The group may have just finished a long, bitter war about the very subject you're about to raise. A safer approach is to stick to following up existing threads for your first few postings until you get the hang of the whole "group behaviour" thing.

DON'T send a message saying "Why doesn't anybody say anything about X?" or "Who wants to talk about X?"

If you want to start a new topic, say something about the subject yourself rather than implicitly demanding that others do first.

DO learn what your newsreader does.

Download and read your own newsgroup messages to check their layout etc. Apologise for any reading problems that your messages may be causing and try to correct those problems before your next message.

DON'T ignore comments, or emails, from other posters regarding the formatting of your articles.

Most people are trying to help you by alerting you to problems which you may be unaware of. Try to view these comments in a positive light and correct any obvious problems within your news software.

DO remember to use proper punctuation and other correct grammatical standards.

If people are going to bother to download your posts, make the effor worth their while. Try to remember that you are posting material for an audience of hundreds, or even thousands, of readers and construct your posts to maiximise readability.

DON'T use abbreviations such as "ne" for "any" or "4 u" for "for you" unless you are sure that this is the "norm" within the group.

The above is sometimes referred to a "kewl talk" and is considered a sure sign, in many newsgroups, of an immature individual. In some groups, it’s almost a hanging offence.

DO be aware that newsgroups are often international

Do not assume that your personal experiences within your local culture will be reflected worldwide. Try to be open to new ideas and sensitive to the experiences of others.

DON'T immediately criticise others for their misuse of grammar etc.

Some posters may be using a language that isn't their native tongue. Stop and think before you criticise another’s use of English. Could you express yourself perfectly in Finnish, for example? DO treat every post as though you were sending a copy to your boss, your mother-in-law, and your worst enemy. It's possible that one of those very people could be reading the same newsgroup!

DON'T make authorative statements or quote statistics without the evidence to back them up.

You might be called upon to cite references. Get your facts straight before you post and be willing to provide online references for others to read.

DO remember that no one can hear your tone of voice.

Use ‘Net conventions for italics and underlines such as: That *is* what I meant. I _told_ him about this.

DO read and re-read your own articles before you post them.

Could they be misinterpeted? If in doubt, try to make your meaning clearer to avoid causing confusion or bad feeling.

DON'T rely on the ability of your readers to tell the difference between serious statements and satire or sarcasm.

It's hard to write for comic effect. It's even harder to write satire successfuly.

DO use emoticons if you feel they are necessary

Smileys can help convey your intended tone. Just don't overuse them. It's irritating.

DON'T assume that the inclusion of a smiley will wipe out an otherwise insulting comment.

If there's any doubt that your words could be misinterpreted (even with the inclusion of a "smiley"), then consider re-writing the post.

DO remember the immortal words of Martin F. Tupper (1810-1889):

"Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech."

DON'T make a posting that says nothing but "Me, too. " (or "AOL!").

In general, it's a good idea to check all similar posts in a thread before responding to a given article. Sometimes a person who has asked a question will already have received an answer from another poster. Duplication is pointless and simply increases the general "noise" on a group.

DON’T post when angry.

You’ll almost certainly regret it tomorrow. Wait until you have calmed down before composing a reply. A Good Rule of Thumb: Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you receive but above all, try to remember that you're participating in Usenet as an enjoyable activity - or, at the very least, because you want to.

When it ceases to be enjoyable or pleasant, STOP and do something else instead.

Mel Pedley is a professional web developer at Black Widow Web Design ( specialises in the production, and management, of standards based, accessible, web sites.

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Newsgroup tips