Understanding through Discussion

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Moderator Guidelines


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Moderator Responsibilities
The primary goal of moderators is to keep discussion interesting, fun and informative by enforcing the Forum Guidelines. Moderators carry out their responsibilities by posting messages to forums, sending members PM's (Private Messages), restricting reply, edit, new thread and forum access permissions through the control panel, and ultimately through suspension. Here's a brief list of the most important moderator responsibilities:
  1. Keep discussion on topic.

    Temporary digressions and natural topic drift that seem to flow out the discussion are fine, but when a digression threatens to become the main focus of discussion then it is time for a moderator to step in. Suggest that a proposal for the other topic be submitted to Proposed New Topics.

  2. Keep discussion civil and constructive. There are no language restrictions, but while hard and fast rules resist characterization it is often possible to recognize the warning signs of a thread on the verge of spinning out of control.

  3. Review topic proposals in the Proposed New Topics forum. Provide feedback and either reject or promote the proposal to the correct forum.

  4. Participate with other moderators in the Private Administration Forum where moderator and administrative issues are discussed.

  5. Attend periodic online moderator meetings using Skype.

  6. The Forum Guidelines are the moderator's guide for deciding when moderator action is called for.
Moderation Instructions
Here are instructions for carrying out a variety of moderator responsibilities:

  1. Warn, Then Act

    Members deserve to be informed that they are not in conformance with the forum guidelines, so moderator actions should be preceded by at least one warning.

  2. Closing Threads: The 300 Post Limit

    Discussion threads should be closed once they pass 300 posts. If appropriate, at that time it should enter a summation mode of anywhere from a day to a week where each participant can post one summation, after which it should be closed. Warnings that it will be closing should be provided as the thread approaches 300 posts.

Important Moderator Qualities
These are the qualities exhibited by the best moderators:
  1. Detachment

    Be friendly and helpful, but it is important to employ a certain level of detachment. This helps avoid the risk of being perceived as biased, and from being drawn into extended discussions about moderator decisions and actions. If something needs to be explained then explain it once, but if that doesn't help then disengage. Extended discussions about moderation too frequently ends with hard feelings on both sides.

    Some members will try to push your buttons. Ignore it. Carry out your moderator responsibilities with neither favoritism nor malice and move on.

    Do not take anything personally. Some members will think you are the devil incarnate, others will believe you rival God himself. Neither are correct.

  2. Objectivity

    Be objective. This isn't possible, but it's very important to try.

    Point of view should never be a factor in moderator decisions. Members should be permitted to advocate any position they like using whatever means they choose as long as they follow the Forum Guidelines.

  3. Upbeat

    Keep it positive. Suggest rather than command. In any moderator action, always use a light touch.

  4. With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

    Be very careful when moderating in any thread where you are also a participant. Never use moderator powers to provide an advantage in discussion.

  5. Impassive

    Carry out your moderator responsibilities without ill-feelings or malice. Don't do anything while you're angry or emotional in some way - wait 24 hours or seek out another moderator for advice. Restricting permissions or performing suspensions are unfortunate actions that should be done with regret.

Moderating to the Forum Guidelines

Comments for moderators on each of the Forum Guidelines:

  1. Please follow all moderator requests. Concerns about moderation should be taken to the Report Discussion Problems Here thread.

    You are not a dictator. This rule is not here to make you lord over all you survey. It is just a catchall rule to cover issues not specifically covered in the other rules. Members are often reminded that the forum guidelines are kept short and to the point so that they are actually read, and members are asked to follow the spirit of the guidelines instead of just what is specifically mentioned.

  2. Please stay on topic for a thread. Open a new thread for new topics.

    This is where moderators can be most helpful as there's a strong tendency for threads to drift. Temporary topic digressions and natural topic drift is fine, but some members have a tendency to take sharp turns, and these should be resisted.

  3. Debate in good faith by addressing rebuttals through the introduction of new information or by providing additional argument. Do not merely keep repeating the same points without elaboration.

    It's important that discussion keep moving forward. The simplest example of this type of behavior is when someone just keeps repeating that they don't believe something. Example:

    "I can't believe the ark could carry all those animals."
    "Why not?"
    "It just seems impossible."
    "What seems impossible about it?"
    "All those animals in a boat?"
    "Perhaps if you could identify some of the issues about the ark that you have trouble accepting we could help explain them."
    "It's just the unlikelihood of it all."
    And so forth. Naturally there are much more complex manifestations of the same behavior, and when they can be identified by moderators it can be very helpful to moving discussion forward.

  4. Bare assertions on controversial points should be avoided by providing supporting evidence or argument. Once challenged, support for any assertion should be provided.

    When members are encouraged to follow this guideline it can often be very helpful in guiding discussion onto productive paths.

  5. Bare links with no supporting discussion should be avoided.

    "Argument by link" should be discouraged . Members should introduce and describe the point they're making and only use links as supporting references. Especially bad is the ever-popular, "Hey, Creationists, you don't have an answer for this one: http://www.irrefutablepoint.com." Also, links should be to a specific webpage, not to an entire site, so to be avoided is this approach: "Your scenario is disproven at http://www.talkorigins.com."

  6. Never include material not your own without attribution to the original source.

    One of the great entertainment values provided by Internet discussion boards occurs when you see a meticulous, well-argued post from someone who heretofore has barely been able to put two words together. Usually you can put just one sentence of the post between quotes in Google's search box to find where it came from. Often just pointing out the original source causes sufficient embarrassment to prevent further occurrences.

  7. Avoid any form of misrepresentation.

    The dividing line between opinion and misrepresentation is usually not clear. Any moderator actions on this rule probably should be extremely well supported by the available evidence, approaching unequivocal. Otherwise you may be better served to simply continue observing.

  8. Participating as more than one ID is extremely strongly discouraged.

    This happens on a regular basis, but often it is because of difficulties with their existing account. Sometimes it's pilot error. This hasn't really been much of a problem, Dennis Markuze and Whatever (johnfulton) notwithstanding. I usually just merge the accounts, sometimes asking which account details they'd like to maintain.

  9. When introducing a new topic, please keep the post narrowly focused. Do not include more than a few points.

    When this occurs it is usually a list of points culled from other websites. Often the auther doesn't even understand the points himself.

  10. Do not cut-n-paste long excerpts into message boxes. Please instead introduce the point in your own words and provide a link to your source as a reference. If your source is not on-line you may contact the Site Administrator to have it made available on-line.

    Most of a message should be the author's own words and not cut-n-pastes from elsewhere. Member's who make a habit of using cut-n-pastes instead of their own words to make their points are often not capable of carrying on a discussion of the topic.

  11. The sincerely held beliefs of other members deserve your respect. Please keep discussion civil. Argue the position, not the person. The Britannica says, "Usually, in a well-conducted debate, speakers are either emotionally uncommitted or can preserve sufficient detachment to maintain a coolly academic approach."

    We want a lively discussion, so where the boundary lies is hard to say, but though it's difficult describing what is out-of-bounds, it is often easy to recognize it when you see it. Needless to say, communication suffers greatly once a discussion becomes personal.

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