Discussion Group Etiquette and FAQ's

1. How do I post to the list?

When you subscribed, you most likely received an email about the list. Included in this information is the mail address to which posts should be mailed.

When replying to messages you receive from the list, note whether your reply is going to the author of the original message, or the entire list itself. Mailing lists can be configured many different ways.

Please make sure that your postings have a meaningful subject line, as many people use this to help determine which posts to read and which to ignore when they're operating under time constraints. If you're replying to a message and the topic of your reply is drifting from the original subject, then edit it. A common convention is to change a subject of ``Wilma's hair'' to ``Betty's hair (was Wilma's hair)'' when you do this to provide continuity between the threads. Try to snip off any obsolete ``was'' bits though, or subject lines can get unmanageably long.

Finally, do not use deceptive subject lines that you think may help attract attention. It may work once or twice, but like the boy who cried wolf, if you keep wasting people's time in this way, they'll soon start ignoring your posts entirely. Honesty, clarity and conciseness are the best policy when composing your subject line.

2. Is there anything I should not post to the list?

The basic rule is that as long as your post has some content related to the primary subject of the list, and does not contain much off-topic material, then it is fine for the list. Specifically, for almost every list, this will immediately rule out many or all commercial ads, postings on how to make money (such as MAKE MONEY FAST), sociology surveys, help with homework, hot international news, new virus announcements, and requests for people to send birthday greetings to your friend.

Also, you should not post inflammatory (aka flame) mail to the list. It is perfectly fine to disagree with people publicly, but be careful how you do it. For example, if you think someone is lying on a subject, it may be fine to say "Betty's claims about Wilma's hair stylist are a lie," but it is over the line to say "Betty is a liar".

On the flip side, if someone posts something with which you are in particular agreement, that's great. You should not, however, follow up to the list with a post containing no more than "Me too!" or "Right on, brother!" If you have something of substance to add to the discussion, then by all means do so, but if you simply wish to express a simple agreement, then do it in private mail to the author, not the list.

You should not post subscribe or unsubscribe requests to the list. They won't do any good there, and will do little more than annoy other subscribers look at the bottom of every email sent to the list. It should (by default) contain easy, one-click, unsubscribe information.

You should also not repost private email to the list unless you have obtained prior consent from the author. Such reposting is at best considered extremely rude, and in some legal jurisdictions may be a violation of copyright, or other rights of the original author.

See also the related section on binaries and other large files.

3. Is properly grammar and spelling important?

Like formatting, grammar and spelling are also very important in a textual medium. One author, whose name I have forgotten, has compared posting material containing glaring grammar and spelling mistakes with being dirty and unkempt in personal contacts. In any case, your postings reflect on you, so you should be proud of them.

Also keep in mind, that with the proliferation of network indexing services, it is becoming easier all the time to quickly compile a personality profile of a network user based on what he or she posts, both to Usenet, and (currently to a lesser extent) on mailing lists. Be aware that your friends, family, romantic interests, and employers (current and future) will all have access to this information. Again, others will judge you based on both what you say, and how you say it, so give each posting careful thought.

On the flip side, it is generally not worthwhile to publicly correct the spelling or grammar in something written by someone else. For many users on the net, English is not their first language, and even for some for whom it is, they may have disabilities which prevent them from using it as easily as others. Some people will appreciate correction, and take it as a learning experience, but it should always be done via private mail (never publicly), and you should tread carefully.

Finally, do use punctuation, and put spaces in the right places around it. Also, use capitalization properly (NO SHOUTING, please), and avoid using short forms such as dropping vowels, or substituting 4/for, u/you, r/are and so on. Such practices might make things easier for you, but it makes deciphering your writing that much harder for everyone else who you're expecting to read it. You can make an exception for smilies and common acronyms, such as OTOH (on the other hand), IMO (in my opinion), BTW (by the way), and such, but don't overdo it, and be careful not to confuse your audience.

In short, to borrow from the informal guideline given in many network protocols: be conservative in what you produce and liberal in what you accept.

4. How long can I make my signature file (.sig)?

Ideally it should be as short as possible while still getting across whatever you feel is important that it contain. The very best signature file (.sig) of all is probably just a single line with your name and email address. Remember that while an ASCII graphic or witty saying may be cool the first time, it's going to be boring by the time someone sees it five times, and if it's large enough to attract the eye, will get annoying very quickly.

5. Should I "crosspost'' to multiple lists?

Almost always, the answer to this is no. Most mailing lists are topically disjoint, and there is very little that is equally appropriate for posting to a number of them. It can also be annoying, as usually subscribers will get a copy of your message for each list they're on that you post to -- more than two or three of those and you can have a lot of annoyed people knocking on your mailbox.

That said, there may be some occasional instances where it would be appropriate to post to a number of lists at once. If you think this is the case, then you should probably contact the owner of each list and make sure that they agree before proceeding.

6.When replying, should I quote the previous message?

Most certainly. You should always provide some context to your replies so that people who may not have been following the thread closely, or who have other things on their minds will easily be able to determine what you're talking about.

However, when quoting, be very careful to edit the quoted sections down to the bare minimum of text needed to maintain the context for your reply. There is very little on a mailing list that is more annoying than paging through a few pages of quoted text only to read a few lines at the end. Also be careful that you clearly indicate what text you're quoting (as opposed to what you're writing), and if possible, cite the author of the original text.

If your mail program wants to attach the whole message you're replying to on the end of your replies, please do not let it do this if you can possibly avoid it. It is a good thing to include excerpts from previous messages with your replies to maintain a logical flow of discussion, but it is almost always a bad thing to include the entire text of a message being replied to, be it at the start or end of your reply.

7.Should I mail a copy to the person I'm replying to?

That depends, but usually the answer is no. Private copies of postings to mailing lists will result in multiple copies arriving in the recipient's mailbox, rather than just one. Unless you have good reason to believe that the person needs your answer as soon as possible, then they'll probably thank you if you stick with just sending it to the list.

8. I've been insulted! How should I respond?

Ah, congratulations. You've never been properly welcomed to the net until you've been flamed. Your response can take a number of forms. The first and most important thing you should do is to take a break and cool off. Replies written in the heat of anger are seldom any better than the postings which inspire them. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as they say.

Now that you've cooled off, go back and consider the offending material again. If it's nothing but baseless lies and fabrications that no rational person would believe, then the best response is to completely ignore it. If it contains material that you would consider to be of a slanderous or threatening nature, then you may wish to forward a copy to the user's postmaster and request that they have a word with the individual about the proper use of the net.

If, on the other hand, the posting contains inaccuracies which you feel need to be addressed, then it is perfectly reasonable to send a followup message which does so. However, the ideal approach is to ignore any hysteria, and stick with the facts. Be reasonable and rational, point out your attacker's errors, and their attack will usually collapse around them. In particular, avoid any personal attacks on an individual's intelligence, age, character, etc. At the very least, if you cultivate a reputation of being level-headed, then most people will gladly give you the benefit of the doubt over a knee-jerk flamer.

The final option is to flame them in return, but be very careful when deciding on this course of action. Well crafted flames are a thing of beauty, but are extremely difficult to write. The ultimate goal of a flame should be that the recipient know deep in his or her heart that s/he has been terribly insulted, but s/he should not consciously be able to figure out why s/he feels this way.

9. My posting hasn't shown up on the list! What do I do?

Just wait a couple minutes. Most posts and discussion lists will go out within a matter of a few minutes.

10. I'm not getting any mail from the list! What's wrong!

Well, most likely this simply means that no one is posting anything. If you've got something to say, then post it and see if you can start up the discussion again. Do not, however, send a "test message" to the list, as it's unlikely that all the subscribers want to receive such junk mail. It's perfectly reasonable for a list to be dormant for long periods between bursts of traffic, as not all topics can be interesting all the time.

On the other hand, it is also possible that you are no longer subscribed to the list, whether due to your mailbox bouncing for too long, or due to some other system error. The easiest way to determine if this is the case is simply to resubscribe to the list. If you're already on the list, then the list server will return a message stating as much; if not, then you're back on the list and the problem is solved.