This is the translation of a dutch document: Hoe te antwoorden op berichten in nieuwsgroepen Which is a further addition to rfc 1855: Netiquette Guidelines

Especially for Outlook Express users there is now: OE-QuoteFix

Another more complete article about quoting: How do I quote correctly in Usenet?


How to reply to messages on Usenet and e-mails or the art of quoting

Introduction

If you want to reply to a message on Usenet, you should learn about a number of rules to make the message as readable as possible.

As soon as you hit the reply button your program will place "> " Before the original message. The purpose of these quotemarks is to let other readers know what has been said before. Please stick to that standard even if you know how to change it. Lots of newsreaders have very nice features that only work if "> " is used.

Although this document is meant for Usenet its rules work as well for e-mail and mailing lists. The essence of a message is to have clear communication. A poorly constructed message is not only harder to read for the direct recipient but also for other people that would like to join the discussion. A well quoted message will show question and response in the natural reading direction, which will make the message much easier to read.

Let me show you step by step how quoting is done.

Remove the unnecessary parts of a message

It is recommended that you remove as much unnecessary information as possible from the original message. Like the 'hello' and 'goodbye' lines. They are a common form of politeness but do not add to the essence of the message. Just like the signature. It's a nice decoration but not when you reply to someone.

Respond below the questions

It is recommended that you reply below the topics. Just as with questions from readers in a magazine, the journalists respond below the question to follow the natural reading order.

In this way people won't have to read down and later on go back to the top of the message. Remember that most people on Usenet read many messages every day. And the responses mostly appear much later, so they cannot always remember the exact message. It is also much easier for the next person who wants to respond to your answer.

Reply below each paragraph

Digital texts have another big advantage: You can split the text and respond below single lines and subjects.

Summaries

Sometimes people need many words to describe their question. In this case it is a good idea to make a summary. To let the readers know it is a summary construct them like this:

[snip: the summary]

Make sure people don't have to scroll down.

People usually don't like to scroll down before they can read the start of your message. Use a bit of common sense to remove all of the previous messages that are no longer relevant to the point you are trying to make.

Examples

Now lets have a look at some examples.


Hi Erik,

Hotel 'xxx' is a good one, I have been there myself. Car rental-company 'yyy'
is around the corner, couldn't be more perfect.

Cya, Peter.


Erik wrote:
> Hi,
>
> I am looking for a decent hotel in Paris, not to expensive, preferably
near
> the center and easy reachable with public transport. I am also looking for
a
> car-rental company in Paris.
>
> Cya, Erik

As you can see the complete article is quoted and the reaction is on top. This makes the article hard to read.

Here is the the author's original message:


Hi,

I am looking for a decent hotel in Paris, not to  expensive,  preferably
near the center and easy reachable with  public  transport.  I  am  also
looking for a car-rental company in Paris.

Cya, Erik

Now the reply, doing it the right way:


Erik wrote:
> I am looking for a decent hotel in Paris, not to  expensive,  preferably
> near the center and easy reachable with public transport.

Hotel 'xxx' is really good, I have been there myself.

> I am also looking for a car-rental company in Paris.

Rentalcompany 'yyy' is around the corner. That's also very practical.


Cya, Peter.

As you can see this easily readable. Even if you have never read the original message. No unnecessary hello's and goodbyes and the two replies are directly under their questions.

Do you notice that Peter does not put 'hello' at the beginning of his reply. That was not meant to be impolite. It is the customary form on Usenet when following-up to a message.

Now suppose Peter did not know any car-rentals. His message would look like this:


Erik wrote:
> I am looking for a decent hotel in Paris, not to expensive, preferably
> near the center and easy reachable with public transport.

Hotel 'xxx' is really good, I have been there myself.


Cya, Peter.

The car-rental lines have been removed. It would be rather pointless to say something like: "Sorry, I don't know.". Not that it is completely wrong, you should decide for yourself what is functional and what is useless quoting.

People who do not know their subject very well tend to give too much information to be on the safe side. If the original poster had used many words to explain that he was looking for a hotel, you could summarize the question. Put your summarization between square brackets [] so readers can see at once that it is a summary.


Erik wrote:
> [snip: looking for a hotel in Paris]

Hotel 'xxx' is really good, I have been there myself.


Cya, Peter.

Multi-level quoting

Usenet discussions often are group discussions with more than two participants. To keep these discussions easy to understand tidy quoting is very important. You need to look ahead to understand what is happening.


Pete wrote:
> Erik wrote:
> > I am looking for a decent hotel in Paris, not to  expensive,  preferably
> > near the center and easy reachable with public transport.
>
> Hotel 'xxx' is really good, I have been there myself.

I agree, but they are also often occupied. I would also recommend hotel 'zzz'.

> > I am also looking for a car-rental company in Paris.
>
> Rentalcompany 'yyy' is around the corner. That's also very practical.

Traveling with a car in Paris is terrible if you don't know the road.
I would always travel with a cab.

//Rick

The odd thing is that the more you try to do about a quoted text the worse it starts to look.


Wrapping

The way you present a piece of plain text to your audience is very important. Some newsreaders don't understand plain-text and they vaguely heard something about long lines. So they make sure your lines never get any longer than, lets say, 72 chars. It results in texts that look like this:


I just came back from Paris and I wanted to tell everyone how
happy
I am with your excellent advice. Hotel 'xxx' was not occupied,
it
was very clean and the service was excellent. I also want to
tell
that I met a person in that hotel who went to the same congress
as
me and he offered me a ride all the time so I never had to
worry
about the transport.

I Don't know about you but I don't even bother reading messages like that. Got better things to do. Compare that message to:


I just came back from Paris and I wanted to tell everyone how happy I am
with your excellent advice. Hotel 'xxx' was not occupied,  it  was  very
clean and the service was excellent.
I also want to tell that I met a person in that hotel who  went  to  the
same congress as me and he offered me a ride all the time so I never had
to worry about the transport.

Would you believe it is exactly the same message? Fact is that people tend to ignore sloppy messages and are attracted to the decent ones.


The closing argument

What you do on usenet and how you present your messages is up to you. The only arguments I have to encourage decent quoting is readability.

You won't make many friends by driving too fast on the highway nor by playing music very loud in the middle of the night.

The essence of usenet is cooperation and not originality and frivolity in the way you present your messages. I agree this is not the highway and you won't keep anybody awake by doing it your way. You just lose your audience.


This text is copyrighted 1999 by Erik Hensema<erik@hensema.xs4all.nl>and translated from dutch in 2001 by Han Boetes <hboetes@gmail.com>.

This text can be distributed freely.

Thanks to Erik Hensema, Daniel Holtzman and William Allen for correcting my english. If you still find disturbing errors please let me know.