Comment Etiquette

By Maeve Maddox

Paul Krugman, in his capacity of Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, recently felt the need to remind his readers to stay on topic when commenting on his posts.

The admonition to stay on topic is found in every article on the subject of web comment etiquette.

etiquette: the customary code of polite behavior in society; good manners.

“Stay on topic” is one of the five basic rules offered by the editors at WordPress.com:

1. Be specific.
2. Don’t leave a link.
3. Stay on topic.
4. Be nice.
5. Keep it brief.

In Online Community Management for Dummies, Deborah Ng offers a longer list of rules; “stay on topic” is in there, as are these two useful recommendations:

Practice respectful disagreement, not personal attacks.
Be brief and don’t turn every comment into your own personal blog post.

In her article “Are You a Blog Hog?”, blogging coach Molly Greene gives this definition of a “blog hog”:

You might be a blog hog if you hijack someone else’s blog and use your comment to toot your own horn, discuss your accomplishments ad infinitum without being asked, hog the thread, dominate the conversation vs. join it, or take it upon yourself to jump in and reply to every question or comment other visitors make.

She follows this definition with specific remedies for bloghogitis. Two of her recommendations are to tailor comment length to the type of post being responded to, and to avoid turning the comment into a lengthy rewrite of what the author of the blog has already written.

Although the term “blog hog” isn’t used, Leigh Alexander seems to be describing one in an article about the kinds of comment people leave:

The Person Who Wants To Talk About Something Else Entirely. This individual typically devotes several paragraphs to a personal anecdote tangentially related to a sentence or two in the article. They seem oblivious to the fact that they are spiraling off into their own universe.

Readers’ comments are a valuable addition to a blog. The most appreciated comments are the good-natured ones that focus on the post topic.

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12 Responses to “Comment Etiquette”

  • John

    “Blog hog. The Person Who Wants To Talk About Something Else Entirely. This individual typically devotes several paragraphs to a personal anecdote …”
    It reminds me of someone here 🙂

  • Bill

    The advice I try to follow online is simple: Never say anything to anyone online you wouldn’t say to his or her face.

  • Roberta B.

    Good topic! Good advice. The Molly Greene and Leigh Alexander quotes are spot on. There is at least one regular commenter here who really should (as I’ve said many times) go start his own blog. Thanks for posting.

  • Roberta B.

    To be clear for my poor choice of words, I should have referenced a “frequent commenter” not here today…………..so far.

  • Larry Czaplyski

    Don’t these folks realize if they go off topic, no one is interested?

  • Rich Wheeler

    After reading Roberta B’s comments, I read at least a dozen posts to see whether she was talking about me. I saw others who are even worse than me. I try to keep it informative and relevant… or at least tangential. And I do hold back to avoid dominating conversations.

  • Roberta B.

    @Rich Wheeler – You have nothing to worry about…..but I’ve been sucked into it. You can see some really bad etiquette (and frustration) among a number of us in the discussion under “bridges” (May-2014). So, the post on etiquette was due. Whether the advice will be taken remains to be seen.

  • thebluebird11

    IMNSHO this post was more than timely; it was way overdue. @Rich Wheeler, I agree with Roberta that you have nothing to worry about, and I hope I don’t have to worry either. I know we all probably occasionally go off-topic, but none of the above posters has ever committed the other faux pas mentioned. As John and Roberta said, one particular violator of blog etiquette has not posted above. I also try not to antagonize or lash out at people, but have once or twice become so frustrated with and, frankly, appalled by, the abuse and violations here (by one particular person), that I have said something. Let us all take these suggestions seriously, and let us hope that the intended people will recognize themselves and take these suggestions to heart, to refrain from continuing their transgressions. Can I get an Amen LOL

  • Lisa

    Amen, bluebird! 🙂

  • Bob

    So what I have to ask is, why do you think there has there been such a proliferation in the use of the word, “so,” at the beginning of sentences? The word does not contribute to understanding, but merely seems to serve as a sort of ice-breaker, like “Anyway…”

    So makes sense when it’s in the middle of a thought or argument, such as, “I was an an eye-witness to the theft, so I have a right to speak out.” But when it comes out of the blue? It doesn’t make sense.

    Can you shed some light on this relatively new use of “so?”

  • Sharon H

    I read various blogs (and it’s true of facebook posts too) where it appears that commenters are just angry, unhappy people who can’t manage to say anything worth reading at all.

    If more people could just say nothing if they truly have nothing to say, things would be much better in the world of comments. I don’t have a problem with someone expressing his/her different point of view, but certainly we can try to be civil!

    (I’m not talking about this blog — or anyone here — it’s just frustrating to have to wade through some of the ugliness out there. Most of what’s in here is quite interesting and often amusing!)

  • thebluebird11

    @Bob: May I be so bold as to reply, a bit late…a bit off topic there, your post, but no matter. Maybe it was meant to defuse all the hot-under-the-collar posts before it.
    When “so” means “therefore,” as in your example (“I was an eyewitness to the theft; therefore I have the right to speak out”), that’s understandable. So, in this sentence and in Roberta’s post, for examples, the use of “so” is correct. To start a whole post with “so,” as you did, is sort of a non sequitur because you have not stated anything which the word “therefore” would logically follow.

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