From RISC OS
By Peter Naulls 30th May 2005. Minor Additions by David Ruck.
Over the recent few years, the quality of posts to the comp.sys.acorn Usenet hierarchy and RISC OS mailing lists has deteriorated markedly. The reason for this isn't entirely clear, although part of the blame lies with Google Groups, and possibly a growing number of RISC OS users who simply haven't learnt netiquette.
Correct posting style has been around for about 20 years. It was democratically decided, and designed to enable as much clarity as possible in what remains a somewhat limited medium for communication. I didn't make up the following rules - they apply equally to many other parts of Usenet or mailing lists and indeed to email - although they have been tailored for RISC OS users.
Why post correctly at all? In most cases, posts are made to ask for help. That is, you are asking someone to use their free time to go out of their way to give you advice. It is in your best interests to phrase your query appropriately and in a manner that is clear and makes effective use of their time. If you do not, you may just be ignored. You think your time is short? A large proportion of questions on RISC OS forums are answered by a small number of developers who are also trying very hard to improve RISC OS software.
A well-phrased question and response may prove to be a valuable future resource in a mailing list or Usenet archive, and save someone else time in years to come.
Some guides on correct posting
- Bottom vs. top posting
- The news.newusers.questions FAQ
- How to post to uk news groups
- Proper quoting style explained
Outlook/Outlook Express QuoteFix
Never ever top post on RISC OS forums. Ever. Top-posting may be acceptable on some non-RISC OS forums, but there is no RISC OS forum I am aware of where it is ok. There are a large number of reasons why it's a bad idea, but the most important when asking for help is that invariably, people do not read replies fully and end up avoiding answering questions from developers that are important in giving you an effective response. Again, don't do it.
There are many guides on how to reply properly, so I don't want to repeat them, but I will mention some highlights:
- White space
- Use it, lots of it. There should be at least one blank line between quoted text and what you write. Crammed together text is difficult to read. At the same time, please don't double space posts.
- Quoting signatures and headers
- Don't. They add nothing to the content, and if your news/mail client isn't trimming them, it is broken. The rare exception of course is if you are commenting on them explicitly.
- your message should be hard-wrapped to 76 columns or so. Don't assume people aren't using text consoles by choice or necessity. Exceptions apply when posting URLs and similar which ideally should not be broken up.
- Quoting no text at all
- This is not ok. If you are replying to a message, quote just enough of the previous message to retain context and indicate precisely which bits are you responding to. Don't assume that people have the previous message or that they can be bothered to check through the threading to figure out just what you're responding to.
- Excessive quoting
- This is also not ok. We do not want to scroll down two or three pages just to read a single line reply. Again, quote just enough to retain context and no more. There are no strict rules here, but as a guideline, if more than 80% of your reply is quoted text, something is probably wrong.
- Did you use Google first?
- If you didn't, and it turns out your answer turns up in the first page of hits by giving precisely the query you've posed, then we must assume you were being lazy and you should expect precisely the curt replies you get. If however, you did and it turned up nothing useful, then please say so. We're much more likely to help those who are willing to help themselves and have made an effort. Did you also try Google groups too? There's a good chance your question has been asked before. We appreciate that effective searching can take practice, but there is no excuse for not trying.
- You should also check drobe first. drobe.co.uk has articles on a huge range of RISC OS topics, and your question may have already been covered there.
- Give the exact error message
- And I do mean exact - I have seen instances where a problem went on for months simply because someone wasn't careful when indicating what the problem was. When it was finally extracted from them, it was resolved in a few days.
- Give as much information as you think relevant
- and possibly some you do not. This extra information may just be the clue needed to respond to your question. But you can be sure that if you don't give enough, or if we have to extract it piece by piece, they people replying may simply not bother.
- Do not speculate unless you have good reason to. Guessing is counter-productive, and all too often leads everyone down the garden path.
- Use an appropriate forum.
comp.sys.acorn.miscis not a dumping ground for questions when you can't make an effort to post it somewhere more suitable. Many RISC OS topics have specific mailing lists - and although there's often overlap with comp.sys.acorn groups, posting to a dedicated forum is much more likely to give an appropriate and speedy response.
- In particular, IYONIX pc-specific questions should be posted to the IYONIX pc support list, but generic questions about 32-bit applications should be posted to comp.sys.acorn.apps. This is worth pointing out since the IYONIX pc mailing list is the busiest of any RISC OS mailing list, and appropriate use is important to keep volume manageable for those providing help.
- Iconbar.com maintains a list of RISC OS mailing lists
Do not treat mailing lists and Usenet as your personal inbox. It is common for several people to respond to query in a short period of time. Replying to each one individually, especially if they have said much the same thing is not only annoying, but all too often causes a great deal of confusion with an explosion of sub-threads with potentially conflicting advice.
If you find it necessary to respond to several people, it may be more appropriate to respond to them in the same post. This is easily done, but rarely practised, even though it can result in a much clearer reply.
Again, mailing lists and Usenet are not your personal inbox. Please save the chatty replies for your email.
If several people did respond and your question was resolved, it is recommended practice to do a final reply - perhaps quoting your original question - giving the solution and thanking all those who helped.
As well as phrasing questions appropriately, it is just as important that answers are given correctly. Fortunately, most people giving answers are well aware of this, but it needs to be repeated nevertheless.
- Don't guess
- Guessing is not ok unless there is no other recourse. If you're guessing, then there's a good chance that you are wrong - it is much better to post nothing at all, and allow someone who really does know the answer to respond. For the same reason it is much better to post to a specific mailing list rather than email a particular developer who may not know the answer. Partial replies are ok, as long as you're being accurate about the bits you are responding to.
- Are you sure?
- Where did you get this information and can you provide a URL reference or can you justify it when questioned further? If you post something bogus in reply, then there's a good chance you'll be caught. If you don't know, then don't reply.
Proper Use of English
It's important to use language properly. Occasional typos and mistakes are understandable, but not making an effort is a sure way to be ignored.
- "alot", "alittle", "abit"
- These are not real words. Don't use them.
- Homonym confusion
- Common errors occur with words that sound the same but have different meanings and are written differently.
- you're is short for you are. You're not an idiot. Avoid the contraction and simply use you are for clarity.
- your is the possessive of you. Is this your book? You wrote in your post...
- they're is short for they are. See the examples above? They're intended to be clear. Again, avoid the contraction and use they are.
- their is the possessive of they. The developers are enthusiastic about their new application.
- there is an adverb indicating place. The book is over there. With the verb to be it indicates existence. Is there a solution to this problem.
- it's is short for it is. It's a great solution. Avoid the contraction and simply use it is for clarity.
- its is the possessive of it, indicating 'belonging to it'. There is no apostrophe, by analogy with his/hers/yours etc. The dog has fleas on its back.
- Rule of thumb: If you can write it as it is, then do so. If not, then write its.
- Too many people are dropping possessive apostrophes, presumably due to laziness or ignorance. "Castles" or "ROLs" do not refer to anything to do with RISC OS. Please refer to things belonging to companies or people correctly. e.g. "Castle's IYONIX pc".
- My name is not, and has never been, "Paul". If you call me that, then I may simply ignore or delete any reply. Others may feel similarly. Also, refer to things belonging to me correctly. There are a couple of ways to do this, but "Peter Naulls' thing" is correct - use this if you are unsure. Placing the apostrophe elsewhere (except before an optional trailing 's') is absolutely not correct. Other RISC OS developers have an 's' as the last letter in their name, and are likely insist likewise, and may justifiably take offence if you do not refer to them correctly.
- Use of ellipsis, or "..."
- Whilst an ellipsis is valid punctuation, it has little use in what is essentially a technical forum. Ending a sentence in "..." indicates either you are not sure (and if you aren't, as above, then don't reply) or that you could not be bothered to finish the sentence. Do not use it unless you have very good reason, such as indicating an omission in quoted (often, spoken) text. If you start a sentence, then finish it, or remove it from your post.
- If you want to indicate removal of parts of a quoted message for clarity, you may want to use "[...]".
- Similarly, ".." is not valid English punctuation. Don't use it, ever. If you find yourself writing run-on sentences using ".." or "...", then stop, and rewrite your post. It is much much better to write a series of discrete sentences or questions. Clarity is everything.
- Use of "??", "?!?", etc, or other indications of incredulity, etc.
- Computers often do odd or apparently inexplicable things. Normally, there is a straightforward answer. If you find yourself using such things, then you're probably too wound up to post a useful question or perhaps fully appreciate any answers. I recommend you give yourself a few minutes to calm down before thinking about how best to ask about your computer's odd behaviour, and please keep your question and exclamation marks in check.
Cars are very different types of machines from computers. Comparisons drawn between them are at best, tenuous. Please don't try to make them.
Keep on topic
Most groups have a clear charter or description of relevant topics. comp.sys.acorn.misc is not a suitable forum for your take on national politics. If you must post something off topic, then put "OT:" before your message topic. This can allow people who really don't want to read such posts to filter them out or skip them. There are a small number of exceptions - the Archive-on-Line mailing list doesn't discourage general discussion, and because of the nature and low-volume of comp.sys.acorn.advocacy, there is a much looser requirement for what is valid. If you want to post random off-topic things, then you might like to check out Iconbar.com's web-based playpen forum.
Asking for help with your PC
Unless it is strictly relevant to RISC OS in some way (such as networking), comp.sys.acorn is not appropriate for asking about the numerous problems you might have with Windows. We might be "helpful", but I can assure you that there are plenty of equally helpful people out there, on more appropriate forums who are in a much better position to answer your query.
Because of the very technical nature of this group, it's important to make a real effort to be as accurate as possible. Don't post code that doesn't compile (unless the question is on why it doesn't) or you haven't tested.
At the same time, we would like to encourage new programmers, since they are such a scarce resource on RISC OS, and we'll be happy to answer even the most basic of questions as long as you've first demonstrated an effort to find the answer yourself.
Also, don't post programming questions to other groups. They are almost always off topic there.