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Forum Etiquette Guide
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Old 21-10-2006, 20:44   #1
Jon M
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Forum Etiquette Guide


Etiquette is another word for acceptable codes of conduct.

It applies to you whilst not only using these forums, but any forum, newsgroup or online community.

Good etiquette is not a set of rules, it is a guidebook.

Imagine you're in a foreign country, you don't want to blindly run around offending people by acting and talking exactly the same way you do at home. You will want to learn about the culture, what actions and words to avoid that would cause offence, and also.. all the things that will bring out a good response from people, which is especially important if you need something from them.

Now apply that metaphor to life online and you won't go far wrong.

General Hints
  • Lurk before you leap. Get a feel for what is considered to be acceptable in the online community before posting.
  • Behave as you would in a real life conversation and remember it is other people you are talking to.
  • The Internet brings so many people together, yet, makes conversation very impersonal without the use of gesture or expression. To prevent misunderstandings use smilies to show your mood or intent. Also avoid the use of capital letters as this is deemed to be shouting and thus rude.
  • Be tolerant of other people, particularly when their opinion differs from your own.
  • Be forgiving of mistakes or lack of Internet knowledge. Many people are new to the Internet so they may ask questions that seem obvious or stupid. Think twice before reacting, it is better to politely educate people rather than insult them.
  • One of the most important tips is: Do not over react, particularly as many comments are made in jest. Banter, wind-ups and put downs are acceptable within forum etiquette.
  • Do not post any message that is obscene, vulgar, sexually orientated, homophobic, hateful, racist, threatening or that may violate any laws.
  • Do not post or request links for warez, crackz, pornography, infected files (for example a trojan or virus), hacking web sites or to content that is in breach of copyright, including but not limited to music files.
  • If you have to have a signature, make it informative, neutral in color and small. A large signature image will be a considerable hinderance to low bandwidth users and more importantly no-one wants to scroll down half a page for each comment in a conversation.
  • Do not post "FAO" (for the attention of) posts, instead use the PM (private message) facility on the board.
  • "Me Too" Posts
    If a post already has replies attached to it, please read all of these follow-ups before posting your own reply. One of the other replies might already covered the answer or comment which you were going to make. Please do not post an additional reply unless you have something new to add to the conversation. Just saying "I agree", or re-answering a question in slightly different words than a previous poster, is unnecessary and wastes space.

How to ask a Question

(applies to all types of post, not just questions)

Before you post
  • Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
  • Try to find an answer by reading the manual.
  • Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.
  • Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
  • Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.
When you ask your question, display the fact that you have done the things listed above first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge and wasting people's time.
Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. People like answering questions for those who have demonstrated that they can learn from the answers.

Use tactics like doing a Google search on the text of whatever error message you get (and search Google groups as well as web pages). This might well take you straight to fix documentation or a mailing list thread that will answer your question. Even if it doesn't, saying "I googled on the following phrase but didn't get anything that looked useful" is a good thing to be able to put in your email or post requesting help.

Prepare your question. Think it through. Hasty-sounding questions get hasty answers, or none at all.
The more you do to demonstrate that you have put thought and effort into solving your problem before asking for help, the more likely you are to actually get help.
Beware of asking the wrong question. If you ask one that is based on faulty assumptions, Mr.Random Forum Member is quite likely to reply with a useless literal answer while thinking "Stupid question...", and hoping that the experience of getting what you asked for rather than what you needed will teach you a lesson.

Never assume you are entitled to an answer.
You are not.
You aren't, after all, paying for the service.
You will earn an answer, if you earn it, by asking a question that is substantial, interesting, and thought-provoking, one that contributes to the experience of the community rather than merely passively demanding knowledge from others.

On the other hand, making it clear that you are able and willing to help in the process of developing the solution is a very good start.
"Would someone provide a pointer?", "What am I doing wrong?" and "What site should I have checked?" are more likely to get answered
"Please post the exact procedure I should use." won't get a good respons
because you're making it clear that you're truly willing to complete the process if someone can simply point you in the right direction.

Where to Post

Choose your forum carefully. Be sensitive in choosing where you ask your question. You are likely to be ignored, or written off as a loser, if you:
  • Post your question to a forum where it is off topic
  • Post a very elementary question to a forum where advanced technical questions are expected, or vice-versa
  • Send a personal email to somebody who is neither an acquaintance of yours nor personally responsible for solving your problem

Subject Lines

The subject header is your golden opportunity to attract qualified experts' attention.
Don't waste it on babble like "Please help me" (let alone "PLEASE HELP ME!!!!"; messages with subjects like that get discarded by reflex).
Don't try to impress viewers with the depth of your anguish; use the space for a super-concise problem description instead.
A good convention for subject headers, used by many tech support organizations, is: "object - deviation".
The "object" part specifies what thing or group of things is having a problem, and the "deviation" part describes the deviation from expected behavior.
Example: "My set-top box (object) is rebooting spontaneously (deviation)"

The Message Itself

Write in clear, grammatical, correctly-spelled language.

People who are careless and sloppy writers are usually also careless and sloppy at thinking and applying (often enough to bet on, anyway). Answering questions for careless and sloppy thinkers is not rewarding; the readers will rather spend their time elsewhere.

So expressing your question clearly and well is important.

Writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r is the absolute kiss of death and guarantees you will receive nothing but stony silence (or, at best, a heaped helping of scorn and sarcasm) in return.
  • Describe the symptoms of your problem carefully and clearly.
  • Describe the environment in which it occurs (machine, OS, application, whatever).
  • Describe the research you did to try and understand the problem before you asked the question.
  • Describe the diagnostic steps you took to try and pin down the problem yourself before you asked the question.
  • Describe any recent changes in your computer or software configuration that might be relevant.
  • Do the best you can to anticipate the questions people will ask, and to answer them in advance in your request for help.
Courtesy never hurts, and sometimes helps.

Be courteous. Use "Please" and "Thanks for your time" or "Thanks for your help". Make it clear that you appreciate the time people spend helping you for free. To be honest, this isn't as important as (and cannot substitute for) being grammatical, clear, precise and descriptive. However, if you've got your technical ducks in a row, politeness does increase your chances of getting a useful answer.

When your problem is solved

Follow up with a brief note on the solution.

Make a post after the problem has been solved to all who helped you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help. If the problem attracted general interest, it's appropriate to post the followup there.

Last, and not least, this sort of followup helps everybody who assisted feel a satisfying sense of closure about the problem. If you are not a techie or geek yourself, trust us that this feeling is very important to the gurus and experts you tapped for help. Problem narratives that trail off into unresolved nothingness are frustrating things; we itch to see them resolved. The good karma that scratching that itch earns you will be very, very helpful to you next time you need to pose a question. Consider how you might be able to prevent others from having the same problem in the future.

If you don't understand...

If you don't understand the answer, do not immediately post a reply with a demand for clarification.

Use the same tools that you used to try and answer your original question (manuals, FAQs, the Web, skilled friends) to understand the answer.

Then, if you still need to ask for clarification, exhibit what you have learned.
For example, suppose I tell you: "It sounds like you've got a dead NIC"
Here's a bad followup question: "What's a NIC?"
Here's a good followup question: "OK, I looked on google for "NIC" and it says that it is a network card, should I replace it?"
Originally posted by Paul M, based on the original thread by S1lv3r
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