Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(March 1999)

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Subject: Re: User docs about good (and bad) quoting (and other) practices
From: "Bernie Cosell" <bernie @ fantasyfarm . com>
Organization: Fantasy Farm Fibers
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999 10:20:45 -0500
To: list-managers @ GreatCircle . COM
In-reply-to: <Pine.LNX.4.10.9903300856000.17923-100000@arpad.thegreen.private>
Reply-to: bernie @ fantasyfarm . com

On 30 Mar 99, at 9:07, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote:

> I am wondering if anyone has written up a document that I can refer users
> to about particular policies,  The policies in quesiton are
>   (1) Quoting entire message being replied to
>   (2) Doing (1) by sticking the quoted message at the end
>   (3) Posting multipart/alternative messages.

(1) and (2) are dealt with in RFC 1855, which amidst a wealth of good 
advice and general good sense says:

    3.1.1 General Guidelines for mailing lists and NetNews 

    - If you are sending a reply to a message or a posting be sure you
      summarize the original at the top of the message, or include just
      enough text of the original to give a context.  This will make
      sure readers understand when they start to read your response.
      Since NetNews, especially, is proliferated by distributing the
      postings from one host to another, it is possible to see a
      response to a message before seeing the original.  Giving context
      helps everyone.  But do not include the entire original!

[Begin rant]

This "modern style", which I find constantly counterproductive and 
irritating, of having the messasge *begin* with the reply, and then have 
a copy of the -entirety- of the original message seems to be a side 
effect of the merging of the email world with the business world [you can 
guess whose clients started doing this].

In the business world in the "old days" (probably still in places where 
the primary means of information-moving-around is on paper), when there 
was an onoing discussion/account/whatever folks would write memos and 
send and recieve letters and faxes and you didn't 'cite' the original (in 
a medium that doesn't really admit of 'cut and paste' or the auto-copy 
machinery of the standard reply, you learned to write more carefully and 
(as you probably learned in school but have forgotten) used techniques 
like "embed the question implicitly in the reply" and such...)

What you did was had an actual physical folder and you put your memo to 
add to the thread on the top of the pile of previous documents, reports, 
receipts, court orders, etc, etc, and it went into the cabinet until 
something else happened --- when a new bit of correspondence came in 
[e.g., by fax or USmail or a returned phone call or whatever], you'd just 
open the folder, put the new stuff on top of the pile [making the pile be 
reverse-chronological order], and yes indeed, if someone new joined the 
project or picked up the account, they would have to read the pile of 
paper bottom-to-top, riffling through].

The obnoxious reply-style is the adaptation of that to the electronic 
medium.  The fact that it makes no sense, is counterproductive, makes it 
hard/impossible to follow a discussion doesn't matter, of course [the 
'riffling' is very hard [at least for me] electronically: it is one thing 
to lift up a sheet of paper to see the correspondence right below it, 
quite another [IMO] to page-down-page-down-page-down to sift through the 
headers and irrelevancia to find the original inquiry, then page-up-page-
up-...etc.. to get back to the reply (and if something wasn't clear, then 
it is page-down-... and then back up, all over again to check the 
referenced note).  AND: unlike paper originals, electronic originals can 
live on file servers in shared mail folders, so if you properly 
"excerpted" and included quotes from a prior message and someone needed 
to see the whole thing, they could easily just fetch a copy.  Not to 
mention that the emails get more and more unwiedly, as each carries along 
EVERY previous message in the thread...

Of course, it is easy on the author: they've *just* read the previous 
message, it is fresh in their mind, and so they can just dash off the 
reply "That's sounds fine, let me know when it is ready"...  the fact 
that this makes it ugly for the *reader* [*what* sounds fine?  Am I doing 
it or was I just cc'ed and is someone else?  What's going on???] isn't an 
issue: you all know that the first rule of good writing is "What's 
easiest for the author is most important; damn the readers".

[yes, this is a hotbutton issue for me... could you tell??  :o)]

Bernie Cosell                     Fantasy Farm Fibers     Pearisburg, VA
    -->  Too many people, too few sheep  <--          

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