~ Varsity Commenting ~

A blog benefits from a healthy Comments Section (presupposing, for a moment, that such thing exists). In that spirit, here are some suggestions for the maintenance of our community health. The actual rules of the road can be found over in the Comment Policy. These are just a few gentler suggestions that go beyond minimum expectations.

§ Focus

Do your best to stay on topic — where here I take “topic” to mean that of the original post.

§ Brevity

Once a comment gets longer than about two paragraphs, it stops being a comment and starts becomnig its own post. That’s fantastic news, because now you have something interesting to write a post about. Go do that. Explore your idea in all its detailed glory and then come back here and link to it. Maybe I can even feature your comment, which would be lots of fun for everyone involved.

I’m not saying that there’s never a good reason to write a longer comment, but once you get past a couple of paragraphs it gets hard for readers to scan the thread for what’s happening in the rest of the discussion.

§ Originality

Try to add something new to the conversation. For instance, just registering your agreement with a point that I or someone else made doesn’t do anything to advance the discussion, even if it’s really good for the ol’ self-esteem. Simply registering your disagreement likewise doesn’t help very much. Comments should push the boundaries of the current thinking in some meaningful way. What do you (dis)agree with specifically, and why? How has your own thinking been challenged by the post/comments, and how would you challenge the writer(s) in return?

§ Structure

Certainly not all comments need to be argumentative (in the wonderful, rhetorical sense of the word), but those that are ought to roughly follow the pattern: original claim → counterclaim → reasoning/evidence.

§ Relevance

Most informal logical fallacies encountered in the wild are fallacies of irrelevance.[citation needed] Here’s a brief, incomplete list of mistakes to avoid, in approximately decreasing order of heinousness:

§ Charity

If someone’s words can be interpreted in multiple ways, then you should choose the interpretation that results in the strongest possible argument in favor of her view. Not only does this help you avoid spearing straw men for useless sport, it also bolsters your own claim against future opposition.

§ Forgiveness

This is mostly a personal peeve, but nothing makes you look pettier or more desparate than attacking another commenter over a meaningless typo, misplaced homophone, or questionable syntactic construction. When you ignore an entire claim based on its imperfect electronic rendering, you’re basically admitting defeat. Assuming a point is even marginally intelligible, you should respond exclusively to its ideological content.