II. B. The Basics of Netiquette

  1. What is the proper subject line for my post?

    Make sure that the "Subject:" line of your post matches the topic that you are discussing. Be concise, but specific: subject lines such as "The Lord of the Rings" or "Tolkien" give no useful information about the contents of your post. Note that this does not only apply to the first post in a thread: if you see that the subject line no longer matches the topic of a thread, change it when you reply! Also, follow the "OT:" convention for off-topic posts (mentioned in question II.A.4 above).

    When you do change the subject line, it is polite to indicate the subject of the previous post. For example, "Balrog Wings" might become "Balrog Flight (was Balrog Wings)" and then "Eagles (was Balrog Flight)". This helps people follow the history of the thread.

  2. What should I do when replying to an earlier article?
    For example, should I "top post" or "bottom post"?

    First and foremost, make sure to retain the attribution of any quoted text, so others know who said the things you are replying to. Almost equally important, make sure that you trim the previous post as much as possible:

    • If you are replying to one specific comment in the previous article, delete all of the previous text except that comment. If the comment is at all long, try to trim it down to its essence. Type your reply directly beneath the quoted comment.
    • If you are replying to several distinct points individually, quote each one as above and type your reply immediately below it (and above the next point).
    • If you are replying to a long section that cannot be easily trimmed down (for example, an original poem or story), quote only its first and last lines (and perhaps put "[snip]" or "..." on a line in between the two). If there are particular pieces that you want to respond to individually, do so as described above.

    There are two general rules of thumb to follow in connection with the above guidelines:

    • Any article you post should have more lines of new text than lines of quoted text. It is generally acceptable to ignore this rule if the entire post (including basic headers and any signature) is short enough to fit on a single 24 line screen.
    • Any comments specifically replying to the previous article should come below the relevant part of the previous article. This makes reading the article more like reading a conversation, and therefore much easier to follow.

    This obviously means that "top posting" is strongly discouraged: it forces readers to scroll up and down between the new and old material, and it usually involves quoting the entire previous post(s) untrimmed.. Whether you call our practice "bottom posting", "middle posting", or "standard netiquette" is up to you.

    An example of a post that follows these guidelines can be found on the web at

    This long message (from a discussion of my essay on Tom Bombadil) would be all but impossible to follow if the point by point replies were not organized as described above.

    Finally, make sure to keep the subject line up to date, as discussed in question II.B.1.

  3. When should I "cross-post" to multiple newsgroups?

    Generally, you should post an article to the single most appropriate group: a question about The Hobbit is more appropriate on rec.arts.books.tolkien than on rec.arts.books. However, there are cases when several groups are appropriate: a discussion of the influence of Tolkien's faith on his writings could be interesting to readers of both soc.religion.christian.roman-catholic and rec.arts.books.tolkien. (Cases in which more than two or three groups are truly appropriate are extremely rare!)

    In such cases, it is almost always better to "cross-post" the article to multiple groups than to post separately to each. To do this, list all of the relevant groups together on the "Newsgroups:" line, separated by commas but no spaces (many posts here list "Newsgroups: alt.fan.tolkien,rec.arts.books.tolkien" ). Cross-posting has several advantages, the most important being that responses to a cross-posted article are also cross-posted. That ensures that everyone involved in the discussion sees every reply.

    Some internet service providers (notably AOL) misguidedly forbid cross-posting, probably because inappropriate cross-posting is very bad netiquette and is often used to "spam" many groups at once. If you have this problem, it may be better to choose just one "best" group for your post than to post separate copies to multiple groups.

  4. I am able to post my messages with HTML formatting. Should I?

    Generally, no. Many of us use simple text-based programs to read news, and posts with HTML formatting can be very difficult to read. You can generally turn off this behavior from the "Preferences" or "Options" section of your newsreader. For some newsreaders, you will need to change more than one setting to completely eliminate this behavior.

  5. If someone insults me or otherwise makes me upset, should I flame them back?


  6. Even if my reputation and honor are at stake?

    Feel free to post any corrections or differences in opinion that you feel are necessary. Feel free to indicate that you are hurt, unhappy, or insulted because of their comments. But by no means escalate the budding flame war, and try your hardest to be polite in your response: this tends to get the group's sentiments on your side far better than any exchange of name-calling ever could. People are usually fairly good at recognizing when someone is being terribly unfair. Yes, it is undoubtedly your right to flame if you want to, but the vast majority of the group would be happier if you did not.

    In general, try to give others the benefit of the doubt: with only text to go on, it's hard to judge their real intent. Could you have misread the insulting lines in their post? Could they have been speaking tongue in cheek? Maybe they only meant to tease you, not realizing that you would really be insulted. Assuming the worst is a depressing way to live one's life.

    Finally, be particularly careful not to reply to a "troll", someone who intentionally fishes for arguments and flames. These people seem to take great personal delight in inspiring people to anger or indignation; the best reaction to them is generally to ignore them altogether.

  7. Where can I go for more information on netiquette, and on Usenet in general?

    One of the best places to start has always been the newsgroup news.announce.newusers. This group is home to a wide range of articles that provide introductory information about many aspects of Usenet news. Unfortunately, most of these articles are no longer being posted regularly to the group. It may be more effective to read archived copies of them at

    Read the "Welcome to Usenet!" article there first.

    The information on netiquette and on Usenet in general in the news.announce.newusers articles remains very relevant today, but those articles are several years old. More recent information on similar topics can be found at the web sites associated with the news.newusers.questions newsgroup. A list of these sites around the world can be found at

    (among many other places).

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