Forum Etiquette

Online Aquarium Fish Magazine | Forum Etiquette

One Definition of Etiquette:

"The rules governing socially acceptable behavior."

Forum Guidelines
Anytime a group of people come together and interact there must be rules set in place to make that interaction go as smoothly and comfortably as possible. Rules are there to be enforced and followed, but there are also suggestions that can go along with the rules. Some of the reasons for having etiquette above and beyond the enforced rules are to enable people of various lifestyles, backgrounds, and nationalities to gain equal enjoyment potential from the material.

Online forums are a unique situation for the etiquette guidelines. When speaking to a person face to face one can see their facial expressions, body language, and hear the tone of their voice. When using only text to communicate with other people it becomes much harder to detect things such as sarcasm, jokes, and even seriousness. The etiquette guidelines, if followed, help ensure that everyone enjoys their time spent on the forums rather than getting offended.

Some of the Etiquette guidelines are enforced as rules, such as: no cursing, avoiding flame wars and personal disputes, giving respect, avoiding plagiarism, slander, and keeping civil. Others are left as suggested tools of communication, enforced only if situations become problematic. Some of the suggested tools would include: staying on topic, not cluttering the forum, use of proper grammar, and providing enough information.

As for cursing, unless the forum's 'Terms of Service' agreement explicitly endorses the use of profanity, it is a bad idea to use such language. Foul language is hardly ever acceptable in mature public conversations, such as most forums are intended to be. If you are prone to the use of foul language in your life off the forum (as many of us are) it is probably best to proof read your posts until you get in the habit of not using such language.

Flame wars are probably the worst situation to encounter on a forum. They basically consist of extremely hostile verbal jabs back and forth, which often result in nothing but hurt feelings and juvenile behavior. Flaming another poster for any reason shows an extraordinarily childish level of thinking. Of course these behaviors all lead back to respect.

Personal disputes would include flame wars, but as a whole personal disputes should be kept to private messages between the parties involved and possibly a mediator if needed. It is extremely immature to allow the people on the forum to know of private disputes. Even better would be to let things go and not have personal disputes in the first place, it saves a lot of hassle.

Often times the number one rule is to respect your fellow posters. "Respect must be earned", we hear that from the time when we are small children, but sometimes it is easier to earn respect by giving it freely. If you exude respect in your posts it will "rub off" onto others and everyone will be happier to visit the forum and more and more people will join, which would make the forum a more fun place to be. After all, aren't those things the goal of a forum, to be a fun, happy, people-rich environments to visit?

Some of the more serious problems would include Plagiarism and Slander. Plagiarism is, of course, the use of someone else's material without their express permission, when not citing the source. If you were to quote a website's information on a subject there are two ways for that to not be Plagiarism:

A) Cite the source by saying, "I got this from"
B) Show the website link, ""

Plagiarism is a misdemeanor criminal offense in which the innocent party may sue the guilty party in a court of law, for damages. Slander is the other problem that could get actual legal action. Slander is the act of spreading harmful, untrue information. (Ex. Man, everything ____ sells is crap. Whereas it would've been better to have said, "Everything I've bought from ___ is crap.")

Civility is one of the most encountered violations for forum-goers. Sometimes it can be very difficult to remain civil to folks that annoy, infuriate, embarrass, or appear stupid to you. Situations are always easier if the discussions remain civil.

Forum Suggestions
The aforementioned etiquette guidelines are all some of the things that are required of members to most online forums. We are about to discuss some of the polite rules to follow on forums, but these polite rules are often not enforced. While most of the yet to be mentioned ideas are not enforced, they are strongly encouraged.

The first is probably the most important. Stay on topic. It sounds simple, but often people read a post and whatever comes to mind they feel they must share with everyone. That is fine to feel and fine to do, but usually is only alright if the person starts their own thread for their thought. It often seems okay to mention the thought in response within the thread, but if sharing the thought changes the subject of the thread it becomes hijacking. Hijacking occurs when someone changes the subject of someone else's thread and is considered very rude.

Avoiding forum clutter is a very good idea also. If you have a question and post it in one area, that should suffice. There is no benefit to posting the question in multiple areas of the forum. (Most forums have a space to show most recent posts, and as far as Fishlore goes just about everyone checks the entire forum, not just a few areas.) Another form of cluttering the forum is done quite often. When people respond to a post and make multiple separate responses back to back to each other, even if responding to different points of the thread. There is a button for multiple quoting for a reason, it is suggested to use the button rather than jacking one's post count in a rather cluttering manner.

Another thought to keep in mind is that the forum is usually owned by one person or a small group of people. The owners have ultimate decision as to what occurs as far as rules and disciplining rule-breakers. Moderators are the second line of leadership. The moderator team is usually appointed by the administrator (which is often the owner(s)). Moderators are entrusted to handle problems as soon as possible and to be advisors to the administrator. With all of that said, often times people forget that the forum is usually made to please the majority of the people involved in the decision making process. Sometimes those that forget that try to get the forum to meld into what they would be most comfortable with, and are often very self-centered people. That is obviously a very rude behavior.

Grammatical skills are extremely important when it comes to online forums. If your message is not easy to understand it will inevitably either be misunderstood or not read at all. If your primary language is not that of the forum you are a member of just do your best and let it be known that the language is not your primary language. If it is the same language as your primary then follow the rules of the language and do not treat the forum as a text message on a cell phone, it is rude and immature.

Providing enough information is one of the hardest things to get people to do. If you are going to ask a question try to include any possible information no matter how minor it may seem, but do so in an organized manner. For example, on our fish forum include the following:

Q: My fish are sick, what do I do?

Response 1:

There are many other questions that could be asked, but you probably get the point, huh?

Now lets talk about a problem that is rampant on forums. Jacking post counts. It is kind of immature to post with the express intent of raising one's post count. We all know each post we make raises our post count, but when posting a large number of insignificant posts just to surpass other's post counts it is considered very much a juvenile behavior. (Saying it is a juvenile behavior doesn't make it alright for juveniles to do! J)

Some of the self explanatory actions would include: bumping/reviving dead threads (if it has not been posted on in over a month, start a new thread rather than reviving), taking things personally, and use of proper font. It is considered rude to post messages in all CAPITAL LETTERS. Another good idea is to use an easily read font. If the background is white or gray, use a black font. The default forum font is usually sufficient and there is no need to change it. For example, don't use a light green or pink font on a white background! If you are one of those that need your own special font, realize that you are virtually assuring that no one will read your post.

One of the last situations to be mentioned is, when posting follow-up posts it is considered appropriate only to quote the part of the message that is needed for context of your post. Quoting the entire message when only part of it is needed is a form of clutter for the forum. You can use the forum tools to get the quoted text into your reply, but go into the quoted part and remove everything except for what you need to quote. Tech forums are notorious for this and make it miserable for readers to sift through to find an answer.

A finishing thought for everyone: Etiquette and manners go hand in hand, and if used properly you will appear mature beyond your years. (Unless you're really old, then you'll appear as mature as you look!) Go out there, follow the rules, use as much etiquette as possible, and most of all HAVE FUN!


Thanks go to the following websites for the ideas I gathered from their forum etiquette page:

About the Author

Chief_WaterChanger (Ross)

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