A Pocket Guide to Successful Commenting

As I was sorting through my comments today, trying to separate the humans and the robots, I was thinking about what makes a successful commenter. Most websites love to get comments, as they stimulate discussion, clarify issues, and get people thinking. However, many of these websites are also forced to heavily moderate their comments, thanks to spam and idiocy.

I thought that assembling a brief set of guidelines might be useful, but this should not be viewed as a “code of conduct” or any such nonsense…it’s simply a way to enhance the probability of your comments surviving on a website, and getting productive and interesting responses to them.

1. Do not be a robot.

I really cannot stress this enough. Robots somewhere may have interesting things to say, but the majority of robots that comment leave messages with contents too foul to even fully contemplate. Usually they contain improbable sex acts and advertisements for drugs. It’s annoying. If you are a robot, follow the guidelines below for much better commenting success.

2. Grammar and spelling.

A great comment has been spell checked and proof read for grammar errors. It shows other readers and the host that you care about the topic, and are not just dashing off a note. It’s also just a generally good habit. It will also make it easier for someone reading your comment to understand it.

3. Read the thread.

I know that comment threads can get long (not here, alas, yet), but take the time to actually read through the thread. See what other people are saying, and make sure that your statement will be something new. You might also want to consider responding to comments which other people have left, to up the level of conversation, rather than leaving a standalone comment.

4. Provide new information or insight.

Comments such as “I agree” or “right on” are not really contributing to the overall state of dialog. Comments like “I was reading a study about this the other day, and they said that…” or “as a member of this organization, I think it might interest you to know that…” are helpful, because they help unfold the situation a little more. Shed new light on a subject, or approach something from a new angle. If someone in the thread says “I don’t understand how…” and you know the answer, provide it.

5. Provoke discussion with responses, questions, or useful comments.

If you have questions about an issue which are not answered, pose them. Respond to comments that other people have left. Spark a dialog which expands the issue, thinks about it from multiple perspectives, and covers it on multiple levels. Link to relevant information which might benefit the conversation. Beware tangents.

6. Avoid the knee jerk.

Oh, how tempting it is. Perhaps you’ve been reading a site for a long time and something gets you riled up. Maybe you’re Googling for something and you find a post that just infuriates you. Avoid the knee jerk response. Take the time to formulate a thoughtful, constructive, respectful comment, even if you radically disagree about the issue. Disagreement does not have to be disagreeable, as has been said elsewhere, and most people enjoy hearing an alternate view on a topic. They do not, however, enjoy being insulted and treated roughly, or seeing a commenter beat up on another commenter. After you have finished a comment about a sensitive issue, read through it and ask yourself how you would feel if it was directed at you.

7. Language!

Use of profanity should be sparing and elegant, the better to make your fucking point. But you should also use language in general with care. Find the right word to express how you feel. Look it up in the dictionary if you’re not exactly sure how to use it. Make sure that your words are clear, and cannot be misconstrued. Your language is your voice, but also your face on the Internet.

8. Separate people and ideas.

A person can have an idea that you feel strongly about. But remember that you hate the idea, not the person. Attacking people does not contribute to effective dialog. Focus on picking apart the logic of the idea, rather than an ad lib attack. It only shows your ignorance, and lack of cogent arguments against the idea. In addition, a personal attack is a great way to get people to ignore your comment, or to make your comment disappear into the ether.