This thread is intended to be a gentle introduction to the art of writing a readable post for this on-line forum. The suggestions here are intended to be helpful for anyone, regardless of their views on the topics we discuss.
A well presented post will help you communicate your views better. Skill in good writing for an international on-line forum takes time to learn, and the way to learn is to dive in and try things out. The following steps are given in order of importance. You don't need to get everything perfect the first time. Start with the basics, and build up from there.
Step 1. Check the Forum Rules.
This speaks for itself. There are some basic standards in this forum, and all users are expected to follow them. There is some active enforcement of these guidelines, and this is described in the rules document.
Step 2. Preview the post.
If you have a look at your posts before submission, then you are likely to pick up various errors. Check your basic use of language, like spelling and grammar. Most people are relaxed about a few slips up now and again; but a post that is filled with errors is not giving the message you want.
There is a preview button in the window where you enter new articles. Click on this button, and you get to see what your post will look like. You may then make any corrections, and try again. When you are happy with the result, you can submit.
Step 3. Use paragraphs.
A readable post is broken up into paragraphs. Each paragraph is a chunk of text about 3 to 10 lines long, and separated from the next paragraph by a blank line. A browser will fit text naturally to the width of a reader's page, as long as you let the browser decide where to break the lines.
This means that all the words and the sentences in a paragraph should be separated by spaces, not by pressing the "Enter" key. As you enter text into the little box provided, it will automatically fit what you enter to the width of the box. You should just keep typing each paragraph as one long continuous line of text, and let the browser "wrap" that line up to fit the available width.
To see the difference,
consider this paragraph.
Here I have pressed the "Enter" key at natural breaking points in the text,
but the result looks quite ugly.
Compare with the next paragraph,
where each line is broken at just the right distance to fit on the page.
To see the difference, consider this paragraph. Here I have not pressed the "Enter" key at all, and the result looks very professional. Compare with the previous paragraph, where each line is a different length.
Press the "Enter" key twice
to get a blank line between your paragraphs. A continuous block of text, with no white space to help the eye break it into manageable chunks, is much harder for someone to read and follow.
Step 4. Use UBB Codes.
Now we are getting a bit more advanced. You can use special tags to give some additional formatting to your text. Do not use these too heavily. Too much special formatting can be distracting, but a little bit of formatting can help enhance the presentation of your post.
There is a link to a description of available UBB codes just to the left of the box where you enter text.
The simplest formatting codes allow italic
text. The first sentence of this paragraph was actually entered as follows:
The simplest formatting codes allow [i]italic[/i] and [b]boldface[/b] text.
Step 5. Quoting.
When you quote from other posts, or from other sources, you should let the quoted text stand out from your own original text. My favourite way to quote from another user is with the [qs=user] and [/qs] tags. For example, suppose you type
[qs=Sylas]Quoting in little blue boxes is cool![/qs]
The result will come out like this:
Quoting in little blue boxes is cool!
This feature can also be used to present quotes from other sources. However, I often simply indent material from other sources. For example, suppose I type
[indent]Indented quotations are hot!
[indent]-- Sylas, in [i]Style Guides for EvC[/i][/indent][/indent]
The result will come out like this:
Indented quotations are hot!
-- Sylas, in Style Guides for EvC
There is a lot more that could be said on how to present your material effectively. These five steps are just the beginning, but they are a very useful beginning. You can try out ideas for formatting posts in the Practice Makes Perfect
As one more little hint, I personally don't much like the little box in which we enter text for new articles. I will write up an article in some other program, like a word processor or text editor, and then cut and paste it into the article entry box. This also gives some protection from losing your entire article if something happens with the browser.
Cheers -- Sylas
Added in edit. You can also edit a post after submission, but this feature should be used sparingly. Fixing a few typographic errors is fine, but changes to content are very irritating to other uses who may have read the original version. You should indicate any significant changes made in edit. If you really need to add a new point, indicate it clearly, as I have done with this additional paragraph.
[This message has been edited by Sylas, 04-21-2004]