Forum etiquette

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Forum etiquette

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this page are mine and do not necessarily accord with those of any of my employers, past or present.

This topic is intended to help you post relevant and understandable text and photos that do not disrupt the operation of others’ browsers (or lock up their computers) regardless of their screen resolution and speed of internet connection (bandwidth).

Do not use all capitals

Do not use all capitals because it looks like shouting. Most forums are quiet rooms. That applies to topic titles as well as to body text.

Use the preview facility

Always preview your work before publishing it. If you have a malformed link or other typing error, you will see it and you can correct it before anyone else sees it. If your web browser does not check spelling, the forum might have a spelling checker, so use that.

The So what? test

A forum is not a replacement for your personal diary. It is for communicating to others. When you have written something, ask yourself So what? For example, if you agree strongly with a point of view and you feel the urge to say so with a reply that consists only of the text “I agree,” look at it from the point of view of someone browsing the forum:

  1. He (or she) sees that part of the forum has new posts after he last visited, so he visits that part of the forum.

    The browser refreshes to display new topics and topics with new posts.

  2. He notices the topic you updated has a new post and so he visits that topic.

    The browser refreshes to display new replies. (That might take a while if he has an old computer and/or a dial-up internet connection.)

  3. He then sees that the only new reply is an anonymous forum member (you) agrees with a preceding post.

What a waste of people’s time!

Creating a topic title

When you create a topic, expend some effort in making the title meaningful. For example, a topic titled Question will likely be ignored by the person who knows the answer and is willing to explain it, but who does not have time to waste investigating topics with meaningless titles.

Write in clear English

English (or whatever language the forum uses) might not be your first language. However, it is the language of the forum, so you need to make yourself understood.

Avoid unnecessary abbreviations

Abbreviations might be quick to type, but they are often meaningless. For example, a topic titled ILS in an aviation forum is likely meaningless to new visitors. Experienced aviators are likely to interpret it as instrument landing system, so if you are using it to mean something else, you have a problem. (I used to work in a place that made exactly that mistake, but they carried on misusing the abbreviation almost as if to deliberately mislead their customers.)

Including photos in a forum post

Do not post a huge photo directly in a forum. It renders the topic unreadable on low resolution monitors (horizontal scroll bars appear). At the moment, we think 800 pixels is the maximum width of an image you should display directly in a topic.

If you want to reduce the size of your photos and you cannot afford Photoshop or a similar program, I recommend IrfanView (free for non commercial use). If you have a high-resolution image to display that is wider than that, post a ‘thumbnail’ size photo that links to the full size photo.

If you are posting your newest photo of a series, add it as a reply to the topic containing your previous photos unless there is something different about it that needs to be brought to other members’ attentions in the form of a new topic. Consider going one further: If the last reply in your topic was yours, simply edit the reply and add the link to your new photo.

Attachments and links

An exceptionally large file (such as some animated GIFs) in a forum post can cause older computers and those with slow internet connections to grind to a halt. As a rough guide, do not include an image file larger than 1MB in a post. Use a link instead.

Do not cause sound files to play automatically. That can cause slower computers to lock up. Always provide a link instead so that others with less powerful computers can avoid videos and sound (at least until they have time to spare).

Internal link

Technical Writing and Programming

External links

Articles (formerly Alertbox: Current Issues in Web Usability) by Nielsen Norman Group

Netiquette on Wikipedia

What is Forum Etiquette?

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