Commenting, manners and etiquette

Lots of us have done it: we ‘read’ a post or an article that we disagree with in some way, then leave a hasty comment before speeding off to some other task. More often than not, this takes on a different tone than you intended. So what is correct etiquette when leaving a comment?

I started thinking about this yesterday, after doing exactly what I describe above. I followed a link in an e-newsletter and read the article (about unscrupulous SEO practices) like a typical web user: scanning for bits of interest, jumping from header to header.

How (not) to comment

I disagreed with several elements, so I left what I thought was a level, reasonable comment:

I think that many businesses do not understand what SEO is and how it can actually benefit their business. While ‘black hat’ SEO practices do exist and are unethical, this is a missed opportunity to explain what SEO is, how it can help small businesses and provide some positive tips, rather than focusing on the negative aspects.

When I came back to it to see if the writer had responded, I reread my comment with fresh eyes. Yikes; it actually sounded pretty rude. The writer had indeed answered my comment helpfully, so I commented again to say ‘thanks for your time’, using some of the manners I should have used at first.

Mind your P’s and Q’s

So, where did I go wrong? I do normally comment politely, so even from my own perspective I should have:

  • started with a friendly greeting, such as ‘hello’;
  • began with something positive even if I disagreed completely, such as ‘thanks for the interesting article’;
  • finished with a polite ‘thanks’ or even my name, rather than just, well, nothing.

I didn’t, however, do any of this. As a result, the comment that sounded balanced in my mind, actually sounds abrupt and lacking in courtesy when on the page. Additional tips include:

  • remember that the tone you intended can be lost in writing; use ‘smilies’ if you must to show ‘no hard feelings’;
  • try to add something useful that will provide another element to the argument (for or against);
  • keep to the point; don’t digress into a long-winded answer that nobody has the time (or will) to read;
  • ‘speak’ to people online as you would in real life.

Poor comments can spread bad feeling

Anyway, I’m pretty nosey too and saw that the writer is also on Twitter. I saw one of their Tweets which, based on the timing, I think was about my comment:

Quite annoyed at commenters who a) lack humour and b) skip to the end to comment without bothering to read the feature. GRRR.

Ouch. Yep, think I deserved that.

I write blog posts and articles, so I know how much time and effort goes into putting one together. Even if you have a different point of view to the author, remember that they’ve probably put a lot of work into their article. So, if you leave a comment, be polite and contribute to the conversation.

Here are a couple of other good posts to read on comment etiquette:

4 thoughts on “Commenting, manners and etiquette

  1. Hi Helen – well done for realising your mistake, attempting to put it right and learning from it.

    If your comment is critical then it should definitely be constructive criticism. I think it’s good practice to read your comment several times over before hitting that submit button – try to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes to see if it sounds overly harsh or if anything could be taken the wrong way. Being able to ‘preview’ your comment is very useful for things like this.

    Much as I dislike smillies, they definitely have their place in blog comments and on Twitter etc – and in email too. All of these online mediums are full of potential booby traps for causing offence!

  2. Hi Jo; thanks very much for your polite and well-mannered comment! You’re right about the preview option; it acts as a good ‘are you REALLY sure this is what you want to say?’ prompt (although it’s certainly not an excuse!). Anyway, I’ve learnt from my mistake and I’d be mortified if anyone thought I’m like this in real life. Helen 🙂

  3. Hey Hel – yes, loving the preview function for that valuable ‘cooling-off’ opportunity! And as much as I think smilies are uber-cheesy and faintly nauseating, I have to admit I make frequent use of them online to add that which is lost through a lack of opportunity to interpret body language/tone of voice etc.


  4. Thanks Vicky! Yes, I felt the same for a while but am embracing them a bit more now. We have words to represent language visually, so why not smilies for emotions? Helen

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