Trim Your Posts

[EmailNetiquettePatterns]

You are about to compose a reply to an email message or to an article on Usenet News. Most email and newsreader software will automatically include the entire text of the message/article to which you are replying. This makes it easy for you to remember the specific comments you want to respond to. When you compose your reply, you would like to:

Common pitfalls are:

Laziness or ignorance:
One simply includes the entire message text unmodified. This is the easiest to do, but it is a breach of standard netiquette: Not all readers will be aware that you didn't add any extra text to the quoted message and will waste time looking for further comments from you.

Some email programs make it clear the author's text has ended and that the text of the included message has begun. This is usually a good sign to look no further for new message content, but it is still a breach of netiquette: even though the user may no longer be wasting time to look for further comments, all that extraneous/unnecessary text takes up computing resources (network bandwidth and disk space) for every single subscriber to the newsgroup or mailing list.

All those extra bytes cost money to disseminate across the planet and the owner of the computing and network resources is usually the one who ends up paying for it. It also takes up unneeded space in the users incoming mail folder (inbox, mailbox, mailbin) and makes it that much more likely for the folder to reach its capacity limit. This may not sound like much for a single message, but when everybody does it, each message gets longer and longer and mailboxes will fill up very quickly.

In addition many people who have been long-abiders of standard netiquette can become quite incensed at such a blatant breach of such a basic and long standing netiquette rule. They will have a bad impression of the poster (thinking them to be ignorant or rude) and often respond with polite (and not so polite) admonishments to the author. They may also give your words less weight if they think you are not knowledgeable/courteous enough to follow such netiquette. In their opinion, if the sender doesn't have the decency to take a few extra seconds of their own time to be mindful of the time and resources of the many hundreds or thousands of other participants on the forum, then they shouldn't bother wasting any of their time to read it.

Missing context:
Some will simply remove the quoted text entirely from the message, or else set-up their mail/news software not to include the text in the first place. Sometimes this is acceptable, but more often than not, it exhibits two problems: (1) it becomes more difficult or takes more effort to respond to specific points in the email; (2) email messages don't always arrive at their intended destination in the order they were originally sent. Someone may see a reply before the see the original message that prompted it. Without at least some context information regarding the previous message, they may not be able to make any sense of the message.

Therefore:

TrimYourPosts appropriately. Do not simply quote/cite the entire text of the previous message when you reply. Rather, include only enough information so that the intended audience may easily discern the author and time of the original message, and the specific comments to which you are directly responding. Remove as much of the original message as is feasible without erasing the minimal information necessary to understand what point you are addressing or responding to.

You should TrimYourPosts anytime you are replying to an email message or to an article on Usenet News. This should be done for internal email forums as well as for public email forums (such as a mailing list) but is even more important to do for group email messages (e.g. to a mailing list) because it affects more people.

On email forums and mailinglists, it's bad form to include excessive history in your reply, as it's assumed that the recipients received the messages you're replying to, and can read them if they really want to know the history. This is particularly true when people receive summaries, or are using a threaded news reader.

In a corporate environment, however, using non-news group "regular" email, there can be significant advantages to including a complete history with every message: Some of us often receive messages with a dozen or more replies, with full text -- where we were NOT on the recipient list of any of the preceding messages. In these cases, including the complete history is helpful, possibly even vital, to figuring out what the heck they're talking about.

Having said that, it is often a good idea to trim history on normal email replies. There's a point beyond which a complete history of the discussion can be excessive, unnecessary, and even misleading.

How to do it:

To trim history, it is common to first remove any irrelevant leading quoted text of the message to which you are replying, then to intersperse or interleave the specific comments in your reply among the specific sections of the previous message that they directly address, and then trim any irrelevant trailing text below your final comments. But don't simply interleave your comments throughout the entire message without trying to remove as much of the extraneous/inessential text as you can. All other portions of the included message text should be trimmed away (deleted) from the message to be sent.

Keep in mind shorter is better and less is more. Interleaving your comments every 1-2 lines makes for very choppy reading with lots of distractions/interruptions in the flow of thought being expressed. Cite a small but relevant section that expresses a complete thought, and then state your own complete thoughts on the matter in a paragraph or more. And try to keep the overall ratio of new text to cited text as low as possible, and "chunk" the citations and responses into coherent wholes rather than choppy rebuttals.

Suppose the text of the original message is:

  Dearest Gomez, how kind it was of you to come over so quickly and
  help Lurch and Thing remove Cousin It from the garbage disposal (which
  happened when Wednesday mistook It for a hairball from the cat and
  decided to see how well "Liquid Plum'r" really works on the drain). It
  was very grateful for your assistance and wanted me to make particular
  mention of it to you.

I also wanted to know when you will be coming home for dinner tomorrow night. I plan on making one of your favorites: Hypothalamus Tetrazini soaked in a light phlegm marinade and just a delicate touch of formaldehyde, served with fresh corn (from Lurch's feet). I want to ensure that the corn doesn't become soggy and that the marinade has the proper consistency before you partake of this Epicurean delight.

Also, can you please bring the following items home from the grocery store today on your way home from the studio:

- Dr. Scholl's Corn & Callous Remover - Mazola Corn Oil - Robitussin DE (or any other suitable nasal decongestant) - Fresh tripe from the Deli - "Head" cheese - Three-way light bulbs (for Uncle Fester) - Six Rubbermaid petri dishes - Industrial strength motor oil - Peanut butter - Prince' pasta (the vermiceli variety - extra thin) - Preparation H hemorrhoidal ointment and suppositories [ unfortunately, Wednesday positioned It in the garbage disposal in a fashion that was quite different than "head first" :-( ]

I fondly await your reply, Morticia <morti@addams.family.org>

An appropriate response which trimmed the above text appropriately might be:

  On Fri Oct 31 1997, Morticia Addams <morti@addams.family.org> writes:
  > Dearest Gomez, how kind it was of you to come over so quickly and
  > help Lurch remove Cousin It from the garbage disposal

It was my distinct pleasure to offer my assistance. Tell "It" that a good cockroach bath should help remove all the extra debris that was entrenched in the fur from the disposal.

> I also wanted to know when you will be coming home for dinner > I plan on making one of your favorites

I should be home by midnight. Unfortunately - they'll be keeping us late tomorrow nite. They want me to do a retake on the scene I perform with Julie Newmar, where Catwoman and the Riddler conspire to give the dynamic duo a big, bad bat-wedgie -- stripping them down to nothing but their utility belts ("Holy Fruit of the Loom Batman!").

But after Adam and Burt "Flash" us their "Superman"-waistbands, I will do my level best to get my bat-riddled behind home in time to enjoy masticating those glandular midnight morsels you plan to prepare. My oral orifice is salivating at the mere mention of your momentous meal. You know I have such high expectorations for your cooking!

> please bring the following items home from the grocery store

Gladly my dear. It would be my fondest desire to please your culinary needs!

Loquaciously and Lustfully yours, Gomez Addams <riddler@holland-dozier-holland.com>

Note how Gomez was so courteous as to include only minimum essential contextual information and removed details to which he did not respond directly (such as the origin of It's predicament, the content of the meal, and the items on the shopping list).


Your readers will thank you! They may not say so explicitly all the time but they will appreciate you making the extra effort to show them basic Internet courtesy and consideration for their time and resources. The audience of your message will be less likely to draw any sudden/rash conclusions regarding your Internet communications "savvy" (or lack thereof). Disks will have more space available for other messages and files. Your message will be another reinforcing example to would-be-posters of the desired norm for correspondence on the forum. Fewer people will insert you into their "kill" files and "ignore" filters and your words will have a wider audience.

Related patterns are:

TrimYourPosts has long been a bastion of Usenet news correspondence for well over a decade. See:

It is also a well established guideline for mailing lists:

It is also recommended in:

Using Email Effectively; by Linda Lamb & Jerry Peek; O'Reilly & Associates, April 1995 (discontinued)

Internet in a Nutshell; by Valerie Quercia; O'Reilly & Associates, October 1997; ISBN 1-56592-323-5

The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog, 2nd Edition; by Ed Krol; O'Reilly & Associates, April 1994; ISBN 1-56592-063-5

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