ADMIN: Civility and content

Subject: ADMIN: Civility and content
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2003 08:35:51 -0600 (MDT)

As you've probably noticed, the tone and quality
of the communication on TECHWR-L continues
to decline, with a variety of remarkably rude
behavior onlist and worse behavior that's come to
my attention offlist (and there's undoubtedly
yet worse that I'm mercifully unaware of).

Oh, yeah, and much of it is just chit-chat--not
at all about technical communication. At rough
glance, I'd say that 75% or more of the messages
posted in the last two days had nothing to do with
technical communication except for the arguable
fact that they were posted by technical communicators.

It's simply not reasonable that adults require a
behavior cop to call everyone on unacceptable behavior,
and I don't think that policing every comment
will work anyway. I can't see that either students or
working technical writers don't _know_ what acceptable
professional behavior is--they just choose not to care.

I repeat: In my opinion, the root cause of the problem
is not that people do not know what acceptable
professional behavior is; the cause is that many list
members do not choose to demonstrate professional

Before you post, folks, ask yourself if you'd say
the SAME THING in the SAME WAY in that context in
face to face communication. Try it out: Read your
posting to your officemate, partner, boss, or co-workers
before you click Send. Remember that your email
contains none of the tonal/facial cues to irony or
humor, and the oft overused ;-) symbols don't really

I'm pretty much at a loss...the usual carrots of
reminding people of the permanance of archives
and reputations, reminding of the number of people who
read the list (~10,000), general pleas, and
badgering are increasingly ineffective, and ever more

With my tech writer hat on (dusty and underused though
it may be), I'm personally disappointed in the
current status quo--there's a lot of interesting
stuff happening in the industry that would be fun
to discuss. Knowledge management, intra-organizational
collaboration, shifting roles of technical writers,
and a positive twist on what tech writers really
bring to the table come to only a start.

I'm partially just thinking aloud, and partially
looking for suggestions. What I've considered,
and rejected for now:
* Kicking everyone who is rude off the list.
Well, it'd be lonely for Geoff Hart and the other
few people left. And this option is very dependent
on individual judgement of "rude", which in my case
varies depending on my circumstances.
* Moderating everything.
Given that I'm often away from the computer for
hours at a stretch, it'd slow discourse unacceptably.
* Appoint a moderating committee.
I think this would simply change the focus of effort
from monitoring the list to monitoring the moderators.
The likely acceptable volunteers/candidates for this
are valuable contributors, and I can
say from experience that people who moderate/monitor
the list aren't likely to have the energy to contribute.
That doesn't seem to be a good direction to go.
* Requiring subject flags ala the copyediting list.
Current TECHWR-L subscribers won't even be civil to
each other and post stuff about technical communication--
adding requirements seems unrealistic.
* Mediating disputes offline.
I already spend 2+ hours each week in attempting--in
vain--to resolve disputes when subscriber A complains
about subscriber B, and subscriber B counters with
complaints about subscriber A. First, it doesn't work,
and second, it's REALLY a time-consuming way to fail
to resolve conflicts. As many of us have realized,
people who want to see issues and conflict will see it,
and nothing anyone else says will make a difference.
You can lead a horse...
* Splitting TECHWR-L into sub-lists, including one for
Setting bandwidth issues aside, I don't see that as
viable because people would probably go ahead and
cross-post to all lists to hit all interested
subscribers, which would just perpetuate the problem.
* Continue as we are.
Might as well pull the plug now, 'cause there'd be no
list worth having in another 6-12 months. I don't
see that as acceptable either.

If you have comments or ideas, I'd welcome them. I've
wondered about voting people off/on the island, but
can't see how that would be immune to vendettas or
clique-ish behavior. The karma ratings associated with
a slashdot-type forum could be valuable, but that
requires a huge change to a different form and forum for
TECHWR-L, and the loss of immediacy would likely be
problematic. If we had the means to issue warning
cards, that'd be good, but I've no idea right off how
that might happen.

Do keep in mind that suggestions that would require close
monitoring (on an ongoing basis) are potentially
problematic. Basically, I think that it would be better to
spend time on helping develop TECHWR-L as a resource, on
providing substantive contributions to the list, and helping
keep things running smoothly on the TECHWR-L site and list
than to spend additional time on directly
policing/upbraiding rude and inappropriate (not to mention
off-topic) behavior. (I continue to think--possibly
naively--that adults should be able to monitor their own
behavior, given sufficient encouragement.)

Please don't be offended if you don't get a timely response.
That doesn't mean that I'm not considering your
comments--it just means that I may not be able to respond
with anything of value right away.

I'll sign off with a neat quote from Benjamin Franklin
(courtesy of a recent Time magazine article, and the
impetus to seek out some new biographies):

Would you win the hearts of others, you must not seem
to vie with them, but to admire them. Give them every
opportunity of displaying their own qualifications, and
when you have indulged their vanity, they will praise
you in turn and prefer you above others. ... Such is
the vanity of mankind that minding what others say is
a much surer way of pleasing them than talking well
--Benjamin Franklin

ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
TECHWR-L Listowner


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