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Giving Advice In Online Forums

Online forums, which are part of the Internet (in general), and the Web (in particular) (and no, the two are not the same) are used for many purposes. Some are advertisements, others social, and still others for requesting, and providing, advice. Since they are part of the Internet, many folks find it useful to provide some information (advice, discussion, or other content) in the forum itself, and link to additional information elsewhere on the Web.

The discussion of whether to provide advice in the forum itself, or in linked articles, is a constant issue in many forums. Some argue that it's more friendly to the one seeking advice, if the help is provided in the forum thread. Others think that it's more effective when provided in a linked article. Only one thing is known for sure - you can try to help everybody, but don't expect to please everybody.

These are all results which can be obtained from a Progressive Publishing strategy.
  • Accurate. The post itself, and the linked posts, must be correct. The purpose here is to help people.
  • Attractive. Bloggers are like anybody else - they want information that's readable.
  • Complete. Either the post itself, or the linked posts, must present a complete picture of the problem and solution.
  • Relevant. The content of the advice should be specific to the problem.
  • Timely. The advice should be produced promptly when needed, and should be updated when appropriate.

We are here to help people. If someone needs advice, what we tell them must be correct. What we tell them to read must be likewise so.

If we are giving advice in an open forum, that forum likely operates on peer-peer advice. If your peer (anybody with a history in the forum) provides advice that contradicts yours, spend some time validating her / his claim. If you find him / her to be correct, annotate or revise your posts to reflect the advice given.

If you provide wrong advice, and nobody corrects you, nobody benefits. If you are corrected, and you ignore a correction, you eventually lose credibility.

Keep your forum advice, and your blog content, accurate and up to date.

Anybody using the web will respond better to help provided in an attractive, easy to read, and well organised format. Both content of the advice - grammar, spelling, style - and layout of the advice - use of formatting and layout elements - are essential. The use of white space improves readability.

Classically, forums were Usenet based. Usenet is text only, and offers no formatting options. Of the forums that are web based, few offer an HTML feature set. The Google Groups forums are extensions of Usenet, and offer few features not found in Usenet.
  • Identity uniqueness. When you register for a given forum ("join" the forum), you are asked what nickname you wish to use. If that nickname is in use, in that forum, you will be instructed to try another nickname. Nicknames must be unique. This prevents spoofing.
  • Identify cross reference. For any poster, you can view their profile. Under Profile, you will see a list of all posts made by that person. This provides validation by posting history.
  • Hyperlink conversion. If you type in a string of characters that corresponds to a web address, ie
    that string will be converted to a hyperlink, ie
Formatting in Google Groups, as in Usenet, is otherwise text only.

Which is easier to read?
Make your advice relevant.

Make your advice relevant.


And not all web forums provide even the above amenities.

If you want to provide advice with any consistent style, off forum web sites are the best solution.

The information given should be complete in itself, or in linked articles. Giving advice like
Google is your friend.
is accurate, but not complete. In that blunt form, it's not at all helpful, and simply annoys the folks who need the help.

How about something like
Here's a search that should provide some possible solutions to your problem. Look through them, and see which ones you are more comfortable with. We'll help you with the details, if you want to ask more specific questions.

At least that gives the Original Poster the benefit of the doubt, and maybe helps him learn something from the experience.

Don't waste the time of the folks looking for advice, or of the other helpers providing advice, with irrelevant or useless chatter. Advice should be applicable to the problem being discussed.

If we recognise that there are many different Bloggers (actually each is unique, in some way), we see that we can never hope to please everybody. Some may want more detail when we help them, while others may want less
Just the facts please.
and can anybody attribute that saying?

By writing advice, as with other posts, using hypertext, we can provide brief amounts of information in some posts, and more detail in others. We can link directly to a post, or even to a section within a post, to provide relevant details to the issue being discussed. With that said, you have to provide your advice, given the hope that the person being advised will read what you're writing.

Relevance is important when we start a new thread too. There are 6 separate and distinct forums in Blogger Help Forum. Starting any new thread in the proper forum is good etiquette, and helps in maintaining a level of order in the forums.

And when you provide advice, remember that in every forum, you will find individuals whose only goal is to create disruption - as you provide advice, they will always find a reason to argue with you. Don't be distracted by the trolls - and don't try to correct them. Keep the content of the thread relevant to the problem being discussed.

The advice should be provided promptly, so the person seeking advice will feel motivated to respond promptly. This will vary from forum to forum, and will depend upon overall traffic in that forum.

In a forum where most advice is requested, and received, within hours, you'll not help well by waiting until the next day to reply. If nobody replies to a forum thread started that day, and other threads are constantly being made and responded to, your response to that thread may not even be seen.

Blogs can be produced now (when the need arises, making them timely), and updated later (as information is found, making them accurate and complete). Forum posts can only be produced once - either now (which prevents them from being accurate and complete), or later (which prevents them from being timely). Forum threads which are both accurate, complete, and timely become cluttered with dozens of separate conversations, making them ugly (the opposite of attractive), and impossible to read.

If you provide advice thru a blog post (or series of posts), and a problem is discussed in multiple threads, you can allow your blog to evolve over time. As each new thread is started (by someone seeking advice), and provides new perspective on a problem, you can update your posts. As you update your posts, prior threads, containing the link to your posts also, will link to updated information. Your advice and posts become both accurate, attractive, complete, relevant, and timely.

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I have just started blogging and I read your information with great interest and I have immediately begun to use some of it. Keep up the good work
Style & Design said…
Excellent information, not only to use but to help understand the world of blooging... please, keep it up!
ilikegoingout said…
Yes, thank you for you help.

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