So, if you are a newbie to forums, or just interested, here are some things to consider before hitting "submit".
- Is your answer relevant to the topic at hand? Sometimes, what we start out writing becomes something altogether different. I've seen some enormous digressions that were mostly irrelevant; these actually undermine the kernel of good advice you might have buried in there, so if you go too off track, remember that it's okay to delete a bit. You don't get extra points for having the longest post, and the poster won't get eye/brain-strain from picking the needle out from the haystack.
- Is your answer readable? Using all-caps or no punctuation, or no parenthetic breaks can be a dealbreaker for many readers. Simply put, it's a lot of work to follow a block of all-caps, unpunctuated text. Even all-caps is distracting and considered "shouting", which is fine if you are on a soapbox and have a captive audience waiting for the next bus. Online, we move on by. Paragraphing longer suggestions is very helpful; it serves to organize our thoughts and gives a small break to the reader. Adopting a readable posting style is a plus, because even if someone will disagree with you, your clarity and thoughtfulness makes it less likely to dismiss you completely.
- Is your answer respectful? It happens on a daily basis--someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed and decided that they had to share it with the rest of us. Criticism is always easier to receive if it's constructive and not wrathful or judgmental. If you find yourself getting angry at the person posting the question (who you've never met), figure out first what it is that's bugging you. Then ask yourself if your advice is helpful or hurtful. If you posted an asinine question, would you like to be slammed or gently shown the light?
- Try the more personal approach. I have found the phrase "if it were me, I would..." very handy in this regard. When it comes to parenting forums, your average question-poster does want help and genuine support, so just sharing what you might do in their situation--or what's worked for you--is more instructive than "You should do this..."
- Remember that we all come from different places in life. Some questions are going to be woefully filled with errors of both spelling and grammar. Some posters are not native English language speakers; others may just have difficulty expressing themselves easily. If you are posting a reply, try to address their concern and don't give them a hard time about their proficiency with English. This sort of criticism actually distracts from the advice you are trying to give.
- If you are challenging another poster's suggestion, do so with some courtesy. Some people are going to give advice you will find questionable for one reason or another. You make your point better if you don't call people out directly, but address the issue itself. It's right to speak up when one sees advice which would suggest the parent discipline in an abusive manner, and you need to understand the specifics of the word abusive. It's an extremely volatile word and is sometimes used inappropriately by passionate posters. Many sites also allow us to report posts which contain offensive or abusive language, so this can also be used as a remedy. Dangerous suggestions should also be acknowledged and corrected, and this can also be done without naming names.
- Would your advice be helpful to you? Can you put yourself in the mind of the person seeking advice?Sometimes, it helps to re-read the original question before hitting send. We often miss details on the first read and are left with only impressions, so consider this double-checking your work. This way, we can pare down our suggestions and keep them on-topic, as much as possible. Sometimes, people struggle with more than they're letting on, and may be seeking support more than advice, so if you feel the empathy, share the love.
And lastly remember always...there are still real people on the other end. Enough said.