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Write To Move Discussion Forward

I just sent this to the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group (which is the best place to discuss philosophy. and everyone needs philosophy. so you should join!) I'm putting it on my blog because it's of general interest. It gives some pointers on how to write at FI which also apply to other forums. And it has ideas for making productive contributions to discussions.

in general, some of the recent threads have had some boring parts. that is ok so far. it's ok to try posting different ways and see what happens. i'd like to suggest some adjustments. i don't expect everything to change immediately and that's fine. but people can start discussing whether there's better ways to post and, if persuaded, start making some changes.

keep in mind that every email gets sent to over 100 people, plus people read on the website. and some people are bad at organizing lots of emails, or deciding what to read. people can get overwhelmed people can click on posts somewhat at random and read a post they aren't interested in rather than a much better post they would have loved. sending out posts has costs. it affects people.

so try to make each post count. try to make it have some interesting point anyone would be glad to have read (at least if they cared about the topic – if you're posting about psychiatry and someone isn't interested in psychiatry, that's no problem, and they ought to just recognize that and read a different post.) or at minimum, keep your post short (including quoting) and have it move the discussion forward in some way. if you need to post some clarifying question that doesn't have an interesting point, that can be ok. try to make a point if possible. try to say something about your thinking. it's possible to ask bad or boring questions. but now and then, only occasionally, a question without an interesting point can be OK. but really look for a point you can make, something you can say, to go with the question, to share some of your thinking on the topic or help explain why the question matters or something. there's usually something worth saying.

and please pay attention to what you quote. pretend you're writing a blog post and then think about what you'd actually copy into a blockquote on your blog. just quote that – the text you're actually replying to that people need to read. if necessary, do some paraphrasing so you can keep the amount of quoting small, like you would do on a blog. if your post is short, e.g. only a few paragraphs of quoting, then you don't worry about this. because like one computer screen worth of quoting doesn't get in the way, that isn't a hassle for people. but once it's a couple screens full of quoting for people to scroll through, then you should definitely be trimming it and just quoting the relevant part.

when you quote a ton, people are going to just skip it. they won't know which is relevant, and won't trust you that it's necessary for them to read all of it. (and they'll almost always be right – they didn't need to read everything you quoted. so that's your fault). please don't do this to people. there's no point having text in your email which no one is going to read (or a few beginners might waste time reading). and what if someone does need some context? what if they need to read some quoting to follow it? then you aren't telling them what quotes to read. if you quote the right amount, the communicates what they can read to catch up. if you quote the wrong amount, they have to figure that out themselves without your help.

and please stop being overly ambitious with posts that have 10 different sections which aren't related. almost all of you you aren't that good at organizing long posts. and most people aren't that good at reading long posts either. try to keep your posts to 1-4 separate sections. 1 and 2 should be the most common, sometimes 3, and rarely 4.

(what's a section? if you quote something and reply, then quote something else and reply, that's two sections. a section is each time you have some quoting and then an area where you reply.)

it's also important not to put 20 hours into each post. don't get prevented from discussing because each post takes you forever. you should try to find a reasonable way of writing where your posts aren't a big burden for you, aren't too heavyweight, and you get feedback frequently. but your posts are also pretty good quality and say something (even if short. short is fine.)

to keep writing time down, keep your posts short but high quality. put a bit more time into quality, but less into length.

try to make your posts focus more on interesting issues and less on back and forth arguing. try not to get lost in arguing details that just aren't that important in the big picture.

in some threads, i've noticed people argue back and forth but the discussion isn't really going anywhere. it lacks a clear purpose and goals. discussions should either keep saying interesting stuff (about topics like economics or parenting or whatever) or else should have some kinda reasonably clear purpose or goal that is being moved towards. don't discuss aimlessly. either try to talk about an interesting topic or else state what your goal is (like to get someone to understand a specific point) and try to have each post move a step towards the goal. try to have somewhere the discussion is going, something it's trying to accomplish (and, often, share what that is).

don't argue just because someone is wrong about something. consider if it's important. consider if it will be useful for you, for the other person, or for the audience. and if you do argue, try to either be clear about why you think it's worth arguing or have your arguments say generally interesting content. (like you can argue by just saying a bunch of cool knowledge on the topic. great. or if you wanna argue with the details of what a specific poster said, that has less general interest, informs people about the topic less, so think about and maybe state why it's worth doing in this case, what you're trying to accomplish, etc)

try to watch out for when a discussion isn't being productive, or when a particular post didn't work well. sometimes you get a reply and you think, "umm, this basically leaves me with the same information as before. it doesn't help me say something better than i could have in my last post". try to watch out for when other people will react that way to your own posts.

Elliot Temple on November 5, 2015

Comments (6)

"keep in mind that every email gets sent to over 100 people, plus people read on the website. and some people are bad at organizing lots of emails, or deciding what to read. people can get overwhelmed people can click on posts somewhat at random and read a post they aren't interested in rather than a much better post they would have loved. sending out posts has costs. it affects people."

How is this not asking people to self-sacrifice?

Anonymous at 2:47 PM on November 5, 2015 | #4386
shitty posts dilute the quality of the list.

Anonymous at 2:58 PM on November 5, 2015 | #4387
You should only want to deal with others for mutual benefit. Posting shit violates that idea, since others don't benefit from reading it. And refraining from posting shit is not self sacrifice for a rational person.

Anonymous at 4:42 PM on November 5, 2015 | #4388
Also, (unless you are the list owner) it's not your list. It should not be a self-sacrifice to not be able to post in whatever way you want on someone else's list. You should change your preferences.

Anonymous at 6:29 PM on November 5, 2015 | #4389
So, if someone got the idea to murder someone, and then if he read a sign saying "no murder allowed", you would interpret the message to be asking the murder-wanter to sacrifice?

Anonymous at 4:42 AM on November 6, 2015 | #4391
Heh, would you rather they change the sign from

"No murder allowed"

To

"No murder allowed, but don't sacrifice, change your mind instead"

Anonymous at 4:45 AM on November 6, 2015 | #4392

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)