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Author Topic: Line-by-line replies  (Read 5978 times)
Irmo
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Posts: 258


« on: November 18, 2002, 05:33:38 PM »

Quote
E. Line-by-line replies

Line-by-line replies are the online equivalent of interrupting someone after every sentence and arguing that sentence, taking it completely out of context. It is not only highly discouraged, but if used often, will be considered a flame.  



Just having been pointed at this part of the ettiquette, I must say that I find it to be internally inconsistent, and probably in the long term futile.

Line-by-line replies CANNOT be the online equivalent of interrupting someone after every sentence since the other post was previously made in full. The other party had every opportunity to make their point as elaborately or comprehensively as possible. As such, no interruption whatsoever is involved.

Paragraph-quoting, however, is widespread for one simple reason: It makes it very easy to make the relation from the new post to the specific point in the old post addressed. Point by point replies are widely used precisely because they prevent misunderstandings. As long as the original post is available, trying to tear something out of context only falls back on the one attempting it, since everyone can read up on the actual text.

Cf (as one example) http://www.netmeister.org/news/learn2quote2.html

I find this policy somewhat equivalent to banning speed limits stating that it's impolite to tell people how fast to drive when everyone else considers it a very good idea, since it prevents accidents... The developments have taken place for a reason, and repudiating the developments is likely to produce the same effects that lead to them to begin with.

Though I am open for further explanations,

Irmo
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2002, 07:52:19 PM »

Hi Irmo,

Gotta say, it's nice to have baseline policies questioned every so often. However, a lot of this is empirical. When line-by-line responses are common, people get mad and points get missed, and a lot of the discussion degenerates into (a) painfully convoluted "When you said I said that you said this other thing, what you missed was that I meant that you said it this other way," and eventually (b) veiled meanness like "I'm sorry you got mad when I called you a stupid butt-head."

This is no reflection on you, your version of line-by-line response, or any sort of you-ness at all. It's based on observing the policies and the communities over time, across three extremely active websites about RPGs. As far as I can tell, what we do here is just plain safer.

Best,
Ron
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greyorm
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« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2002, 08:06:09 PM »

Irmo,  I believe you'll agree based on our recent conversations that line-by-line replies are different from contextual quoting; the latter being what I believe you are actually supporting.

In the first case (line-by-line), you are responding to a statement, in the second, you are responding to an idea.  You may not see much difference, or you may understand the distinction, but we've weathered the days of precisely what you describe as useful and necessary to written discussion on-line only to arrive at the current policy.

That period was precisely why the etiquette was developed, because (as so many have experienced elsewhere) it is "arguing that sentence, taking it completely out of context."

Or more clearly, taking the discussion out of its own context, because you are no longer discussing the point of the thread or discussion, but some minutia.  If you have never run into this before, you are lucky -- it is prevalent and annoying on every list and board I have been on before this, and without fail leads to exactly the situation the reasoning provided in Etiquette states it does (without hard work by the participants to keep things on track), as well as what Ron indicates occurs.

Responding to a line of someone else's elaborate/comprehensive post is an insult and a flame, because nearly without fail, this method ignores the comprehensive nature of the argument and instead focuses in on specific details which do not give the whole of the presentation justice.

As an example, in an argument about "tools" and comparison to game theory I had some time ago elsewhere, repeated counter-examples of how a toothpick (a tool) could be used for a variety of tasks were brought up in response to my example of how you don't use a toothpick to pound in nails, or butter your bread with a screwdriver, because it ultimately doesn't work very well even if you get it to work, or something else works better.

Yet the actual point of the argument I was making was missed in semantics and the minutia and the response/discrediting of the statement itself, in the reply to the one line.  This is not an isolated incident; this is not atypical: this is why the etiqutte is in place.

How returning to the model you indicate would help prevent accidents, when it is the very cause of the accidents (to borrow your analogy), doesn't click for me.  Forge-wide experience has shown this typical convention is problematic and self-destructive to our goals as a community.

If anyone here has had any problems resulting from the Etiquette, please indicate you have...in my own experience, the etiquette has only improved the rigor and direction of conversation, leading to far fewer misunderstandings and arguments over "what I meant when I said" and similar which are a waste of space and time.

This is also the experience of the moderators as well, or else the policy would not have been implemented in response to the problem.

Also note, the link you provide is speaking about Usenet...this is not Usenet. This medium differs from Usenet in that prior responses to the threads are immediately available to the readers, archived locally, and can easily be found without difficulty or searching, whereas such is not the case on Usenet.

Ulimately, do not confound line-by-line replies with proper contextual quoting; they are two seperate items, though overuse of the latter leads quickly to the former.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Irmo
Member

Posts: 258


« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2002, 09:49:24 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Hi Irmo,

Gotta say, it's nice to have baseline policies questioned every so often. However, a lot of this is empirical. When line-by-line responses are common, people get mad and points get missed, and a lot of the discussion degenerates into (a) painfully convoluted "When you said I said that you said this other thing, what you missed was that I meant that you said it this other way," and eventually (b) veiled meanness like "I'm sorry you got mad when I called you a stupid butt-head."



Well, I've been a member of numerous online communities for quite a while now. I have seen discussions degenerating in only a small minority of them, and then usually involving very specific people. As such, I don't think degenerations of discussion have anything at all to do with line-by-line quotings. If there were a connection, I am sure the standards of online discussion wouldn't have evolved as they have.

I find it much easier to miss points when it is not clear to which part of a previous post a reply refers to. Online discussions suffer from numerous handicaps:

a)One doesn't see the discussion partner(s), and thus can neither draw conclusions from gesture nor mimic.
b)Not all discussion partners communicate in their native language, and thus innuendo can both be missed or seen where it isn't meant to be, idioms can  be misunderstood etc.
c)It is impossible to ask for a quick clarification before replying (other than sending private messages and awaiting the reply, which isn't quick)
d)Discussion partners know very little about the other participants, regarding background knowledge etc.

All that, in my opinion, advocates keeping posts as clear as possible, including what parts of them refer to.
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Irmo
Member

Posts: 258


« Reply #4 on: November 18, 2002, 09:58:46 PM »

Quote from: greyorm
Also note, the link you provide is speaking about Usenet...this is not Usenet. This medium differs from Usenet in that prior responses to the threads are immediately available to the readers, archived locally, and can easily be found without difficulty or searching, whereas such is not the case on Usenet.


The latter entirely depends on how you use Usenet. Even here, reading the original post requires scrolling back and forth at the minimum and going to previous pages at the worst. However, that is not at all the point, since having the full post available doesn't tell you which part of it is actually being addressed. THAT, and not the availability of the previous post, is the point behind small-scale quoting. If prior responses were the point, then full quoting would be advocated in Usenet, which it is in fact not.

To trail off to discussing minutiae and trivialities is always possible and has nothing to do with quoting individual lines. If someone wants to trail off, he will trail off. It has everything to do with the maturity (not necessarily on a general basis, but possibly on a temporary basis, i.e. possibly in an extremely silly mood, intoxicated etc.) of the poster. Quoting a line is merely an attempt at legitimizing doing so.
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A.Neill
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Posts: 62


« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2002, 03:01:20 AM »

There is a temptation, if you feel a particular point is in error, to concentrate on that point in order to validate your opposition to a post, rather than concentrating on the broad thrust of the post you disagree with.

‘Course we’d all like to be bigger than that, but sometimes…….

Dealing with the totality of “articles” has worked well for the theory development at the Forge.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2002, 06:37:50 AM »

I don't think that anyone is advocating ceasing to use quotes to reference what a response is made in regards to. That's all well and good. Remember to use elipses to indicate cut text that may be pertinent, and other good quoting techniques. The only thing that the line-by-line etiquitte is meant to stop is dissection by minutae, and out-of-context quotes. Which are bad to anyone.

That said, I think that for the most part Irmo was doing just fine in the thread where he was accused of line-by-line. Borderline at worst. Certainly nothing taken way out of context, and it didn't degenerate too far into semantics (though it had started down that road).

I am probably as quilty as anyone else of line-by-line activity. But my rule of thumb is that as soon as there is an "I said that you said" coming, or I can see the thread becoming about something that's not really relevant, it's time to abandon the line-by-line, and go straight to "article" format. It's more effective, and it's waaay more convincing at that point. Anyway, the best way to respond to a line-by-line response is definitely to abandon it yourself. Any response to a line-by-line in similar fashion is just asking for trouble. This is the best way to thwart this when it becomes problematic, IMO. In fact, consider approaching at that point from a whole new perspective.

So, I think that we should a) keep the "no line-by-line" policy in the most general terms, but b) make sure that there is an infraction before making accusations about it. Simple quoting for reference and line-by-line are not the same thing. One is useful, and the other is detrimental. I think we can all use our own judgement to determine when the argument is going downhil, and when quoting is still pertinent. Self monitoring where at all possible makes the moderator's jobs easier.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2002, 07:21:57 AM »

Hello,

Thanks for the input, everyone.

The policy is remaining unchanged.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2002, 11:16:40 AM »

Hi there,

I just changed my mind. Irmo's suggestion has only been up for a little while, and coming to a conclusion about this so quickly is not fair. More input from anyone about all this is welcome.

If anyone is interested, this represents an example of one of the Forge administrators reprimanding the other for being kind of a jerk.

Best,
Ron
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Jake Norwood
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« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2002, 11:24:40 AM »

I admit that I've never fully gotten the "no line-by-line" rule, and so I ignore it on my forum. I like most line-by-line replies, as I understand them, and I prefer them to long paragraphs that ramble on-and-on forever. I think that "misbehaviour" should be dealt with individually, and not with a blanket rule to keep us children from hurting ourselves.

Jake
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"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2002, 11:28:54 AM »

Based solely on feelings and examples from interactions I've had on web-based forums, I agree with Ron that line-by-line replies are rude and not well-formed argument.

I do want to analyze this a bit, though, since Irmo brought up some decent points.

My analysis is: quoting is, of course, a great way to demonstrate points. I encourage everyone to quote when necessary and quote different parts of posts if they need to. However, the line-by-line quote-and-reply makes coherent discussion hard, if not impossible. Most of us here have at least high school diplomas, and many of us have college degrees, but not necessarily in communication, English, or debate. Most of us will say certain things that taken out of context will appear at least wrong and probably stupid. That does not mean our points are invalid.

The line-by-line reply enables people to take the worst parts of a discussion and highlight them in order to invalidate the entire discussion. From anecdotal evidence, it is almost always used to do this.

I want to be very clear about this next part: what is considered "line-by-line quote-and-reply" is determined by the perceived intent of the replier. In other words, it's not a moratorium on quoting different parts of a post in different places in the reply. It's not a demand that you never separate parts of a post in order to refute them separately. It's not something that is verboten in every case - problems are determined by the opinion of the moderators. It is, however, a caution against taking parts of a related thought and splitting them up to refute the atomic parts, which are less than the molecular whole, to use an analogy.

In my opinion - and this is not a new policy, as of yet - line-by-line quote-and-reply is still not permissible on the Forge when it is an attempt to invalidate discussion by invalidating a specific part of it, and should always be very carefully considered before use.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Maurice Forrester
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Posts: 73


« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2002, 11:31:14 AM »

Quote from: Jake Norwood

I think that "misbehaviour" should be dealt with individually, and not with a blanket rule to keep us children from hurting ourselves.


Well said.  

If the problem is, as Mike Holmes put it above, "dissection by minutae, and out-of-context quotes" then the forum guidelines should address that directly rather than by proxy.
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Maurice Forrester
greyorm
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« Reply #12 on: November 19, 2002, 05:01:02 PM »

Quote from: crowquill and others
then the forum guidelines should address that directly rather than by proxy

I agree...and then I disagree.

I see the argument for dealing with the situation specifically as a good idea, for precisely the reasons specified. Yet, having seen the problems created by line-by-line on too many mailing lists to count (as well as Usenet), it makes me nervous.

Humans are quick to fall into traps of their own making; that is, in this case one can use a line-by-line reply and quickly slip into dissection of minutia and out-of-context quoting without necessarily meaning to...or once one does, deny the error and defend oneself, thus leading to the typical "did not/did too" fare, or arguing that any respondents are not listening to your points (if they themselves rightly avoid the issue), etc.

Better to simply head the problem off at the pass -- use "preventative medicine" rather than treating the disease after it occurs.

What Jake says worries me a little, however, in that he appears to view the rule as an invalidation of adulthood and responsibility (I'm drawing this from your sarcasm about about rules, getting hurt and "us children").

Now, I personally, don't feel "spanked" by the rule at all, and I don't really feel it presumes to treat anyone like a child...civilization needs law in order to thrive, it is not merely parental rule demanding conformist behavior presuming no one knows better.

Rules exist to give guidance to those who can't control themselves or who do not know better, and to provide existing precedent when an individual (whether reasonable or incapable of behaving) gives in to childish whim.  They, particularly here, are not for informed, responsible individuals.

Consider: we all quote lines at times, to provide context, and almost never has anyone been called on doing so because it is being done responsibly.  So, consider them a guide of how to act, a primer on the culture of the Forge.

Perhaps viewing it in that context will help anyone with similar feelings about the rules? (I don't know, does it, Jake?  Or am I missing your point?)
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Jake Norwood
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« Reply #13 on: November 19, 2002, 07:24:41 PM »

I genuinely wonder if we're all talking about the same thing here. Could Clinton or Ron show us an example of a line-by-line reply, either by linking to a real-life one, or by creating one for us to see. I think it would be helpful.

Jake
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"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Irmo
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« Reply #14 on: November 19, 2002, 08:32:17 PM »

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon

I want to be very clear about this next part: what is considered "line-by-line quote-and-reply" is determined by the perceived intent of the replier. In other words, it's not a moratorium on quoting different parts of a post in different places in the reply. It's not a demand that you never separate parts of a post in order to refute them separately. It's not something that is verboten in every case - problems are determined by the opinion of the moderators. It is, however, a caution against taking parts of a related thought and splitting them up to refute the atomic parts, which are less than the molecular whole, to use an analogy.


Personally I think you are opening a minefield here. While certainly in the enforcement of any rules, judgement is needed, perceived intent in written communication, between, in part, both native and non-native speakers is a pretty good way to generate impressions of cultural bias.

Let's look at what the policy is supposed to do. You say:

Quote
However, the line-by-line quote-and-reply makes coherent discussion hard, if not impossible.


If it interferes with coherence of a discussion, I would say it very much qualifies as "disruptive". There are policies in the etiquette on disruptive behavior. As such, the policy could with some justification seen as a tautology, and best fall to Occam's razor "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily". At the same time, in the form as you suggest it is being handled, since it makes administrator perception the relevant ledger, it creates the impression of being totally independent of the questions whether the administrator is actually involved in the discussion and whether the behavior is deemed disruptive by the participants. Note that I do not mean to imply any accusation of arbitrariness but my fears are that the policy, as described by you, establishes a minefield bigger than the Great Plains and creates a whole lot of target area for potential accusations by those affected by it.
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