How To Post On Usenet And Encourage Intelligent Answers

Usenet is an interesting place to hang out. You can meet all sorts of interesting personalities there – from helpful to helpless, and from technical to totally irrelevant. Depending upon your current needs, whether to get serious advice or to just waste time, you can affect who you want to converse with in several ways.

  • What forums do you post in?
  • What is the content, demeanour, and style of your posts?
  • What time of day, and day of week, do you typically post?


If you have spent very much time at all on Usenet, you know that there are some forums where, even if you ask a serious question, you are just as likely to get total time wasting insults, and stupid remarks, as anything else. That’s if you don’t get totally ignored, which would probably be better for you in the long run.

On the other hand, if you post in a forum which is known for good technical advice, and you format, style, and and word your questions properly, you can encourage useful answers from the helpful and knowledgeable folks who hang out there.

If you’re new to this, the best way to start is to find the forums where the serious discussions take place. Find threads which contain intelligent, well written responses, then observe how the initial posts, in those threads, were worded. When you find threads containing responses similar to what you’d like to get, try and imitate the original posts.


I highly recommend that you read several useful articles on Usenet.

The best suggestion – Try and Fit In – Help Us To Help You.

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Please Use Proper Grammar, Spelling, and Other Refinements

Usenet is a wide and diverse medium, and it is recognised that not everybody there speaks the same language. And in the more serious forums, the more serious helpers will try and be tolerant of those who were not born with English as their mother tongue. Many of us have been to foreign lands, and have experienced for ourselves the frustration of being part of a minority culture.

That said, there are several posting styles, other than broken English from not speaking it as well as one would like, which will not be received graciously.

  • Grammar and Phrasing. Usenet is NOT English class, and nobody expects perfect documents. But when you type incomplete or run-on sentences, don’t start sentences with capital letters, or your entire post is just one long paragraph, your post is hard to read. Many helpers will ignore your post and find better written ones to read.
  • Shouting. Please don’t type in all capital letters – that is considered shouting, and will not get you polite treatment. As with grammar, many will simply ignore your posts, as use of mixed case is much easier to read.
  • Spelling. Were you typing conversations in an Instant Messenger program, you would be expected to make a few odd spelling mistakes from time to time. When you post in Usenet, take the time to review what you type before hitting Send. Use a spell checker, but don’t depend upon it completely. If it’s important enough for the helpers to read, it’s important enough for YOU to read once after you write it.

    In a chat forum, it’s mere courtesy to write in the same style as the others. In a technical help forum, where YOU are looking for help, it’s common sense. Help the helpers to help YOU.

    And please don’t use “leet speak” in the serious Usenet forums; techies don’t appreciate it and will quickly tag you as a newbie.

Read the above linked documents for more discussion on each of these concepts.

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Don’t Rely On Spell Check Too Much

ODE TO SPELL CHECKERS…

I have a spelling checker
I disk covered four my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot see.

Eye ran this poem threw it.
Your sure real glad two no.
Its very polished in its weigh,
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a blessing.
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when aye rime.

Each frays comes posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore wee rote with checkers
Hour spelling was inn deck line,
Butt now when wee dew have a laps,
Wee are not maid too wine.

And now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
There are know faults in awl this peace,
Of nun eye am a wear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaws are knot aloud.

That’s why eye brake in two averse
Cuz Eye dew want too please.
Sow glad eye yam that aye did bye
This soft wear four pea seas.

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Hijacking Threads

When you have a problem, it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes (or hours) reading previous discussions in a forum. Maybe there’s a thread in there with your problem, and a solution to your problem. But remember, howver similar your problem may appear to be to the posted problem, there will always be some degree of variance.

If there is a thread with your problem in it (and however similar it may be), check out the discussion, silently. Please don’t add your post in there “I have the same problem. Can someone help me too please?”, or worse yet “I have the same problem, except… Can someone help me too please?”. When you do this, it’s called thread hijacking.

When you hijack the thread, it splits into two sub-threads, one addressing the Original Poster, the other addressing you.

  • This doesn’t benefit the Original Poster, because you’re taking attention away from his problem, and directing it towards yours.
  • This doesn’t benefit the helpers, because they have to consider two problems, or at least to direct responses towards two (or more) people.
  • Since you don’t know what causes your problem (if you did, you could fix it yourself, couldn’t you?), you don’t really know that the symptoms are exactly the same as the Original Poster’s. As the helpers address both problems, they may find that the two problems are totally different.
  • Your thread, which is now under the Original Poster’s thread, may not be seen by as many people. You may not get the attention of a qualified helper.
  • As the helpers continue to address your problem, they have to repeatedly search for your thread, which is under the Original Poster’s thread. This causes confusion and inability to find your thread, and less help for you.
  • When there are multiple people asking for help in the same thread, everybody has to keep constantly looking at each post, and wondering if its addressing the right subthread. It’s like being in a large party, with 6 people talking at once about 6 different subjects. How can you carry on an intelligent conversation, with 6 people talking simultaneously? It’s worse than a mixture of bottom and top posting.

In short, hijacking a thread benefits nobody.

When you have a problem, start a new thread. Let the helpers decide if your problem is the same as somebody else’s. Solve one problem in one thread.

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MultiPosting

The Internet as a whole, and Usenet specifically, is an infinitely diverse and large population. When you use Usenet, and you post thru a newsreader, you can post in any of thousands of different forums. Many times, a question that you have may be of interest to (may be helped by) folks in several different forums. Maybe you have a question about pinging a computer running Windows XP; in which case, your question might be answered by folks in microsoft.public.windowsnt.protocol.tcpip, or in microsoft.public.windowsxp.network_web. You might get help from folks in either group, or maybe some advice from folks in each group.

If you use a Usenet newsreader, any articles that you write can be posted into both groups simultaneously, and folks reading in either group can reply, with their replies going to both groups. Why should this be of any interest to you?

It’s just this. When you get advice on Usenet, you benefit from collaboration. With the experts in both groups able to see what is being written about your problem, you are more likely to get accurate and timely advice. This is called cross-posting.

On the other hand, if you post your question into both groups separately, you’ll be getting advice separately. With folks helping you separately, you are more likely to get contradicting or incomplete advice. This is called multi-posting.

Please! Cross-post, don’t Multi-post. And please cross-post conservatively and thoughtfully. Cross-posted articles get better results than Multi-posted articles, and properly Cross-posted articles get results that are better still.

For more discussion about the differences between cross-posting and multi-posting:

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Munging Your Email Address

For those who don’t yet know, posting your email address on Usenet, in plain text, is not a good idea. I have just 2 rules about posting email addresses on Usenet:

  • Don’t post your address on Usenet.
  • Don’t post someone else’s address on Usenet.

If your email address is “myaddress@myisp.com”, “myaddressnospamplease@myisp.com”, and “myaddress@myispnospamplease.com” may be somebody else’s address. If the other address doesn’t exist now, it may in the future. And “anything@nospam.com” could cause problems for the domain nospam.com. Neither of these are acceptable munging techniques.

For more information, see Munging Your Email Address and Spam-Blocking Your Email Address.

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Replying To Posts By Others
When you converse with another person, in a voice conversation, face to face, you speak to that person. You should do likewise when conversing in Usenet.

When you reply to someone, reply to the post that was made. When someone answers your post, reply directly to that person.

  • Don’t reply to your own post; that looks like you’re talking to yourself. Qualified helpers may not see your reply, if it’s to your original post. Also, when you reply to your own post, you leave out my immediately previous reply to you. Having all portions of our conversation in one sequential file helps me to help you better.
  • Don’t reply thru a second person, when answering the first person. That’s rude, and looks like you’re trying to ignore the second person.
  • Don’t start a new thread, restating your problem. This produces an effect similar to thread hijacking. The helpers can help you better if your entire problem is attacked in one unique thread. Solve one problem in one thread.
  • Don’t change your name in the middle of a thread. Trying to guess if “JD” is the same as “James Doe” is frustrating to the helpers.
  • Don’t use the name field as part of the message. When you post as “The above advice didn’t work”, or similar, in the name, it makes you look like a newbie, and will not enhance your chances of getting prompt and effective results.

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Starting a New Thread

When you start a new thread, briefly summarise your problem in the Subject of your post. Think of the Subject as part of the index – an index entry with Date, Subject, and Name of Poster (you). Make the Subject a brief, unique categorisation of your problem – 6 – 8 words is enough.

  • Before you start a new thread, make sure that you don’t have any dangling threads. If you just posted your question in this same forum, a few hours ago, or a couple days ago, it’s possible that somebody has answered your previous post. If you keep your problem resolution in one thread, rather than spreading it out over two or three threads, you’ll make it easier on everybody. Solve One Problem In One Thread.
  • Please don’t make the Subject “Help Me!”, or “Network Problem”. When you do that, your post shows up in the same thread as half a dozen other posts. Trying to help in a thread like that is like trying to deal with a hijacked thread, or with someone who doesn’t know how to reply in a thread properly.
  • To the other extreme, please don’t try and describe the problem completely in the Subject, with “Help please!” in the body. If your problem is so simple that it can be adequately described in that way, then either:
    • You have no problem. This is typically not the case.
    • You don’t understand the problem. Alternately, you can’t provide enough details for an effective diagnosis.
    • Your Subject is way too long. You cannot fit enough details about a typical network problem in a Subject line of proper length.
  • Please don’t start out your message with “My problem is the same as (this other thread)…”, or “My problem is the same as (the one below)…”. This is similar, in effect, to a hijacked thread, except for one extra detail.
    • The other thread may not be visible to anyone qualified to help you. It will almost certainly not be the one below yours in everybody else’s index.
  • Please summarise your problem in the Subject, and provide details in the Body of the post, as text. Don’t just provide a link to another article, and please don’t put the problem description in an attachment.
    • The ones qualified to help you may not know what your problem is, unless you provide some description.
    • The ones qualified to help you may not follow any link provided, for fear that it may lead to a malicious or non-relevant website.
    • The ones qualified to help you won’t open attachments. Attachments are well known security risks, and anybody who is best suited to help you will ignore them.

Always state your problem on its own, and provide background information. Let the helpers try and correlate multiple threads. If details about a problem can best be provided in another article, include links to the other article in your problem report. But provide a good description about your problem in your report, so the helpers will know the nature of your problem, without following the links.

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Testing

If you’re going to use your computer, you have to learn to test; but you need to test properly. Posting test messages in a non-test forum is not proper testing.

  • Test messages clutter up the forums, making it hard to find relevant posts.
  • Finding your own test message in a non-test forum may not be too easy either.

There are several forums setup specifically for posting test messages.

  • alt.test
  • alt.test.a
  • alt.test.b
  • microsoft.public.test.here

Please use the test forums for testing, and the non-test forums for relevant discussions.

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Bottom vs Top Posting

In a forum where technical help is provided, bottom posting is much more useful. That allows the helpers to review the previous conversation in one long sequential, smooth flow. This results in a more accurate and efficient work process, and better help for you.

Here’s a hypothetical example, between the Original Poster (“OP”), and one Helper, as viewed in a news reader in thread view.

OP: I have a problem.
  Helper: OK, try this and let me know the result.
    OP: Here is the result.
      Helper: OK, now try this and see what happens.
        OP: Here is what happens now.
          Helper: OK, This should fix it.
            OP: Yes, it did.  Thank you.

When viewed by Helper, while preparing the 6th entry, the thread, accumulated in the 5th entry, looks like (both OP and Helper bottom posting):

I have a problem.
OK, try this and let me know the result.
Here is the result.
OK, now try this and see what happens.
Here is what happens now.

On some days, I might be participating in as many as a dozen threads, with some threads having several entries / day, and others having several days between each entry. To prevent embarassment and useless posts, I have found it very helpful for me to review each conversation before posting.

When each entry in the thread contains multiple lines, and I can review the thread as in the above example, with each entry in the thread in perfect sequence, top to bottom, it helps me greatly.

Compare the example above with (the OP top posting, and Helper bottom posting):

Here is what happens now.
Here is the result.
I have a problem.
OK, try this and let me know the result.
OK, now try this and see what happens.

Or with (both the OP and Helper top posting):

Here is what happens now.
OK, now try this and see what happens.
Here is the result.
OK, try this and let me know the result.
I have a problem.

Imagine either of the above examples, with a page or so of lines in each individual post. Could you read that, and figure out progress to date?

Now depending upon what product you use for reading and posting to the forums, you may have different possibilities here.

Anytime you’re using any of the above products, and you are preparing to reply in the thread of your interest, the current thread contents will typically be presented below the cursor. If you start typing with the cursor positioned there, you will be top posting. This is not an insurmountable obstacle though.

Simply read thru the thread, and move the cursor. When you get to the bottom of the thread, position the cursor at the end of the thread, and begin typing. This is bottom posting.

I’m trying to help you. Help me to help you. Type your replies below my replies.

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Waiting For, And Reacting To, Replies
When you ask for help, post your question, and check back in the forum periodically to look for answers. Internet forums, Usenet or Web based, provide help in group based conversations. Here, multiple people post articles of similar nature in common forums, and the experts, who try to help you, find subjects that they’re experienced with.

Please don’t post a request for help, and ask to have answers emailed to you. Asked here, answered here. For everybody’s benefit.

  • You’ll get better help with all the helpers able to see, together, the status of your problem, as it’s resolved.
  • Many helpers keep their email addresses secret, and won’t be interested in sharing them with strangers.
  • You encourage a spirit of community, which is what drives these forums in the first place.
  • You help provide an online record of problems and solutions, again strengthening the idea of using online forums for problem resolution.

Getting help in Usenet requires both patience and persistence, carefully balanced.

Post once, with a carefully summarised problem report, and wait. You may get a reply back in an hour, or a day. You may get a reply back in an hour, and a better reply in a day.

There are two ways of posting that probably won’t get you a reply. Or if a reply, not always an answer to your problem. One is posting repeatedly. The second is posting a second (or third) time, asking “Why has nobody answered my first post”?

Both strategies, if you’re lucky, will simply get you replies pointing you to articles like this one. In some forums, you’ll get rude replies telling you to shut up. Remember most helpers have lives outside of the forums, and the more knowledgeable ones may have several activities that prevent them from reading here very often. Be patient.

When you do get replies, try and answer them promptly. If a response is serious, and appears genuine, trust and help the person responding, and provide relevant details that can help diagnose your problem. And don’t expect the first answer to provide an instant resolution to your problem. Some problems could take several days, or longer, to resolve. Your posting occasionally “Nothing works. I think I’ll give up.” won’t encourage help. Try and remember that the ones trying to help you have their own problems, and they need encouragement too.

Remember the style of advice given may vary, depending upon the helper, and upon the nature of your problem. Some advice may contain all relevant information in the body of the Usenet post. Other advice may contain links to articles discussing technical issues in detail. When links to other articles are provided in the body of the advice, follow the links, and read the other articles. It’s to your benefit to read the articles referenced by the person giving advice. It’s to nobody’s benefit for you to overlook the links, and continue to ask questions that are answered in the linked articles.

Sometimes, as we work on a problem together, my questions may seem intense; at other times, they may seem rather irrelevant, and idle. Appearances may be deceiving, in this case. If you’re going to trust me for advice, you need to trust my style of problem diagnosis, and work with me.

If you don’t get a reply within a couple of days, look at the forum as a whole. Are there other folks posting, and getting answers? If so, reread this article, revise or upgrade your problem report, and try again. If there’s no activity in the forum, either wait for a while longer, or find another forum. Some forums have activity each minute, others may have days between posts. Be observant.

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Followup When The Problem Is Solved
If you do eventually (or immediately) get an answer that solves your problem, post one last time, and let everybody know that the problem is solved, and what helped you the most. Nobody gets paid to help here, so a “Thank You” should not be too much to ask. What you can tell about your experience, whether negative or positive, may help the next guy with a similar problem – and that’s what the forums are all about.

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