Re: what makes a good post

Subject: Re: what makes a good post
From: Tom Eagles <teagles -at- BLACKANDMCDONALD -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1998 11:18:06 -0600

This is a question that doesn't deserve a response as long as the one I've made. But I have time on my hands, so here's my opinion - FWIW:

> From: Miki Magyar
> Sent: Monday, December 21, 1998 3:08 PM
> To: techwr-l -at- listserv -dot- okstate -dot- edu
> Subject: what makes a good post

> Attributes of a really good post to TECHWR_L:

A good post is one that readers wish to read. What might readers wish to read on a list such as this? Something that addresses their needs or interests. Technical queries, including obscure problems with software, is only ONE reason to be on this list. What follows tends to give one the impression that we're all each other's tech support, and have no other reason to be on this list.

> One that asks a question -
> indicates in the first few sentences that the
> poster has done the homework of looking in
> references, searching the archives, asking
> SMEs, or whatever is appropriate.

If you spend two sentences telling me all the sources you've already searched, you've already lost me. That should come later, when you determine that a more in-depth review is required. A short post is better than a long post in almost every case.

> puts query: or ? as the first
> thing in the subject line, and identifies
> it well enough so someone searching the
> archives would find it.

Good, clear subject lines are important.

> clearly states the problem and its context,
> with enough background so that someone who
> has the information to answer the question
> will understand what question is being asked.

Clearly. But again, is problem solving the (only) point (the raison d'etre) of the list?

> does not include a lot of history, personal
> anguish, angry rants, or other irrelevant

(or rhetorical?)

> stuff (except maybe a little bit at the end,
> if it been a really horrible day).

Rants, if tongue-in-cheek, are okay with me.

> supplies an off-list address for responses.

All do. If you look in the header, you should see the return address, depending on which mail client you use. But it is a nice courtesy to put your return address in your sig.

> summarizes responses to the list if and
> only if someone asks.

Huh? Why have a list if the responses aren't going to be put online? Why summarize responses? Sounds like a lot of work. If someone's interested enough to want a summary, chances are they followed along with the thread(s). If it's an obscure problem and is taken off-line, anyone wishing to be included can ask.

> says thank you.

Thank you.

> One that answers a question -
> repeats or summarizes the question -
> enough to identify what is being answered.
> Does not re-post the whole query!

IMHO, the whole netiquette issue of not including the whole previous post is a matter of personal preference. On the one hand, you want to do your readers a service by editing the previous post to make your responses to it more readable and relevant. OTOH, the bandwidth issue is less an issue now, and has become (nearly) anachronistic.

> summarizes the answer in the first few paragraphs.
> expands on the summary enough to be useful
> to someone who understands the question,
> but offers an off-list address or web site for
> more details.

Goes without saying that you don't want to drag the whole list down with long emails that are irrelevant to most members. The list-owner's request to "take it off-line" is a common one on mailing lists since people sometimes get side-tracked.

> assumes that the poster is intelligent but
> ignorant, and not stupid or lazy.

Flame wars are NEVER welcome on any list. Again, it goes without saying.

> if appropriate, links the specific response to a more general issue of tech writing.

Not sure that we need to be everything to everybody. Inclusive is usually better than exclusive.

> All posts -
> has been spell-checked and re-read before
> posting.
> has referred to the guidelines for
> appropriate topics and ground rules.

This is a list about tech writing. What else is there to know, other than common sense?

> uses <snips> or a summary for context,
> not the entire text of someone else's post.

See above. Editing is good manners, but the whole bandwidth argument is anachronistic for text files. Make it clear what you're responding to by placing your response near the comment in the previous post that you are responding to, rather than at the end of the previous post. Or edit out all but the relevant stuff so that readers can refer to the original post to see what was said. Many leave in the whole previous post to not be accused of twisting someone else's words to suit their argument.

One other comment I'd make is posting in mime format is bad etiquette (IMHO). To be universally readable, posts to a mailing list should be in simple text format.

> makes a point, clearly, intelligently,
> and with regard to the amazing variety
> of people who comprise The List.

Egads! Trudeau's multiculturalism infects The List. <bg>

> includes an e-mail address in the sig line.

Unless you're a troll... <g>

> adds something new and interesting to the discussion.

.. is specific and doesn't make rhetorical suggestions, but rather gives examples to support its suggestions. For example, a new and interesting addition to the discussion might be an exploration of what PageMaker can do that FrameMaker cannot (I'd certainly be interested in reading responses to that!).

> Happy Solstice!
> Miki

Merry Christmas.

Tom Eagles
Communications Coordinator
Black & McDonald Limited
(416)366-2541 ext. 219
teagles -at- blackandmcdonald -dot- com

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