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Trimming List Posts

When people first join lists, they are frequently confused about the rules, the protocols.

Writing messages to mail lists (called posting) uses different rules than corresponding by email. It is important to learn the rules.

How Lists Are Different

When you correspond with an individual, the "standard" is to keep the entire history. Your reply just stacks on top of all the other messages in the thread.

You don't edit. You don't modify. You just click reply, type the reply and send.

But this protocol creates major problems on lists.

Lists aren't between two people. Lists are between many people, perhaps hundreds of people. Some people on the list are interested, some are not. And, some people on lists receive their messages in "bundles" called digests. That is, they don't receive each message as sent, but see all the messages stacked in one huge email.

If everyone on the list just clicked reply, typed and send, each individual message would become larger and larger. And the digests would become huge.

And all of this would happen to people who weren't even necessarily interested in that particular topic.

List Posting Protocols

Because of this, lists have developed their own protocols. Not all lists will tell you this. They just take it for granted that you understand.

1. Remove headers. When you reply in normal correspondence, you leave the headers ... the From and To and Date and Subject. Those headers show the history. They are useful in personal correspondence. They are redundant in list postings.

2. Remove trailers. Most lists add trailers to posts. The trailers tell things like how to contact the moderator and how to unsubscribe. These are useful for each individual post. But since your post will add new trailers, you don't need to keep the old ones.

3. Quote only what is necessary, but whatever is necessary. Remove anything that won't help the next reader understand. But don't remove too much. This is an art and requires practice. Remember that the next reader may read your response without ever seeing the post you are replying to. Leave what is necessary, but nothing more.

4. Mark the quote. Be certain to mark whatever you leave. The next reader should be able to tell where you are quoting and where you are replying. There are different ways to mark these ... too many to list here. The best way to learn is to pay attention to the list and see how others mark their quotes.

5. Quote first, then reply. This is the exact opposite of the normal correspondence practice. Normally, when you click reply, you put the reply on top and all previous correspondence on the bottom. But on lists, it goes the other way. Quote first, then reply.

Three Reasons That Aren't

There are three reasons people give for not following these rules.

1. I didn't know. It might be true for some. And it might be true the first time. But it isn't true for you any more. You've read the rules.

2. It takes too long. "All that editing and modifying slows me down. I don't have time for that. I'm too busy." If you really feel that way, unsubscribe. If that is how it is, you not only don't have time to be posting, you don't appreciate the community. Your small time effort at trimming and editing will save time for everyone else on the list. The protocols exist for reasons --- they benefit the list.

3. I forgot. Yeah. File that one with "the dog ate my homework". Slow down. Breathe. And take time to remember.

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This page created:
Wed, 16.Aug.2000

Last updated:
16:21, Sat, 10.May.2014

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