How to Leave a GREAT Comment

by Dave Miller on March 31, 2012 · 13 comments

I’ve got to admit it, I’m sick of the whole thing.  I’m sick of moderating comments and the blowback that comes with it.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reevaluating my own blogging experience and I’ve worked with the contributors here to hammer out a commenting philosophy and some guidelines.

It is safe to say that our policies and my moderation decisions have not been well-received by all, especially those whose comments I felt needed to be deleted.  Evidently, people don’t like that much.  Who knew?

I’ve received no end of advice on these new policies – both solicited and unsolicited, public and private, positive and negative, welcome and not so much.

So much comment, so much advice, so much sniping and snarking and grousing and grumping has come that I’m sick of the whole thing.  However, I do not intend to let that deter me from what I think is the right thing – to keep our comment streams focused and honoring to Christ.  It is a conviction, one I will stand by regardless of uproar or criticism.  On this, I have the enthusiastic support of the vast majority of the contributors here.

I take some comfort in the fact that we aren’t the only ones who have felt the need to harness things a little.  Kevin DeYoung wrote a great post, The Ten Commandments for Commenting on Blogs, dealing with similar issues.  Denny Burk shared his struggle with some of these same things in his colorfully titled post, “Don’t Feed the Trolls.”  In the spirit of full disclosure, I referenced SBC Today’s comment policies when I was writing up ours.  If you read both you will note the similarities.

I thought I would take one more crack at making sense of this, from a different perspective – a more positive outlook.  What makes for a great comment at this blog?  Instead of identifying what makes a bad comment, why not focus on what makes a good one?

So, here it goes.

1)  A Great Comment advances the discussion of the topic. 

Really, boiled to the bone, that is what it is all about.  A great comment doesn’t attack another, or settle a score, or initiate a rabbit trail.  It takes the topic the author wrote on, engages that topic and adds something to the discussion.  If commenters would ask themselves a simple question before they hit “send”, about 95% of commenting problems would be solved.

“Does my comment make a contribution to the discussion of the topic the author wrote about?”

2) A Great Comment is focused on issues, not people.

This dovetails with the first point.  Your comment should deal with the ideas presented by the author, or by others who commented on the author’s ideas.  They should not focus on people. If you want to see the problem, find one of our many posts that have a comment stream that has 200 or more comments.  Read the comments (if you can do so and maintain your sanity).  Note how many of the comments address the topic of the post and how many of them are pointed at another person and how badly they are behaving.

3)  A Great Comment does not play amateur moderator. 

Actually, we are all amateurs here, even the designated moderators.  But too often, and especially after we announced our new standards, commenters have tried to help us apply the policies.  A good comment just comments and does not try to make Gomer Pyle-style “citizen’s arrests” on other commenters.

I don’t mean this to sound rude (well, maybe a little), but if you want to control a discussion, start your own blog. Here, we have a team of people working on moderation.  Let them do their job.

(NOTE: Since there’s been such harsh criticism of the moderation principles here, I’m doing all  of it now. Once this dies down and people get a little more used to how things are going, we will begin sharing this time-consuming task.  For the time being, direct all your anger at me.)

4) A Great Comment gives evidence of having actually read the post. 

How rude is it to criticize a post or enter a discussion of that post when you haven’t read the post?

I cannot tell you how often in the eternity I have been blogging that someone criticized my post (often pretty harshly) when my post actually agreed with their criticisms.  It’s bizarre.  People read a title and perhaps the first paragraph and then assume that they know what you are saying. Then they make comments that do not actually have anything to do with the post, or even evidence misunderstanding of it.

No one has to read our posts.  But if you are going to comment, its a basic courtesy.

5)  A Great Comment edifies the Body of Christ.

Even those with whom we disagree in that Body.

This is the hard part.  What do I do when someone says something I see as offensive or untrue? It happens on this blog all the time.  How should I respond to such an offense?  I confront the idea, demonstrate why it was wrong, but I do it without personal insult.  If you make a solid biblical argument.

What about heretical comments that are not in line with the biblical gospel?  We get plenty of those here.  Comments like that need to be answered.  But we need to focus on the false ideas, not insult those who promote the false ideas.  People like that may be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but they are also deceived by the enemy and enslaved by his lies.

Confront the lies without insulting the one who is deceived by them.

It’s not that hard.  We were all taught this in kindergarten.  Play nice with the other kids.

6) A Great Comment (sometimes at least) demonstrates wit, creativity and humor.

This is a personal opinion, but then again, everything we write on blogs is opinion, right?  I like witty comments, ones that make you think and make you laugh.  Those are the best kind.

7) A Great Comment(er) listens to other views and processes them.

There is one thing we all have in common.  Imperfection.  Because of that, we all say things that shouldn’t be said and advocate ideas that fail the test of biblical logic.

One of the common faults of bloggers is a tendency to caricature those with whom we disagree, to twist their views into unnatural shapes and build logical straw men.

A good blog commenters listens to those he (or she) is talking to, processes their ideas fairly, learns from them and lets his own ideas grow.

Your Turn

I’ve got to go out and mow the lawn.  In March.  In Iowa.  It’s weird.  But maybe you can tell me what you think makes a great comment.

And then, next week, maybe we can just POST and COMMENT without spending so much time talking about commenting.

 

1 Doug Hibbard March 31, 2012 at 6:20 pm

We mowed for the first time at the beginning of March. I anticipate the mosquitoes to be especially vicious this year.

And just to be clear: unless there was some conspiracy meeting that I didn’t find out about through my wiretaps and net-spy-bots, there has been no intention to coordinate all of this discussion of comments and comment policies. I could be wrong about that, but given the quick and detailed responses from several of us to Dave’s initial email about comments and here, I think it’s just been on a lot of our minds.

2 Paul Thompson March 31, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I often ponder what the authors of the Bible would have done had they had this kind of instant feedback from people they wrote. Would James, John, Paul, or Timothy even have had a blog? If so, what would his comment policy be?

Maybe like this: “Come on guys, everyone must first read the post, read over your reply before submitting your reply, and resist becoming angry.”
(“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger… James 1:19)

Spurgeon may have some positive things to help too…
“Do nothing when you are out of temper, and then you will have the less to undo. Let a hasty man’s passion be a warning to you; if he scalds you, take heed that you do not let your own pot boil over. He who cannot curb his temper carries gunpowder in his bosom, and he is neither safe for himself nor his neighbors.”

or

“Fools set stools for wise men to stumble over. To ask questions is as easy as kissing your hand; to answer them is as hard as fattening a greyhound. Any fool can throw a stone into a well, and the cleverest man in the parish may never be able to get it up again.”

and my personal favorite…

“No one can tell in cold blood what he may do when he gets angry; therefore it is best to run no risks. Those who feel their temper rising will be wise if the rise themselves and walk off to the pump. Let them fill their mouths with cold water, hold it there ten minutes at least, and then go indoors, and keep there until they feel as cool as a cucumber.If you carry loose gunpowder in your pocket, you had better not go where sparks are flying; and if you are bothered with an irritable nature you should move off when folds begin teasing you. Better keep out of a quarrel than fight your way through it. Nothing is improved by anger, unless it be the arch of a cat’s back. A man with his back up is spoiling his figure. People look none the handsomer for being red in the face.”

I once thought of requiring every member of my church who wanted to participate in a monthly business/ministry meeting read: “the Wit and Wisdom of Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon” http://books.google.com/books/reader?id=xUwuAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&pg=GBS.PA357

3 Bruce H. March 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Dave,

A good practice in good blogging is practicing “wisdom” in our responses. It IS the principle thing, you know. The exercise itself would benefit all who practice it. To respond in such a way as to know what the end result would be or to arrange the words and thought to bring about a positive result is certainly a talent many would do well to possess. It is easy to be unwise and speak harshly to drive someone away, hurt their feelings or make them mad. I quoted A. W. Tozer’s description of God’s wisdom and think we would benefit from reading it again. I also used this definition in a previous post.

“Wisdom, among other things, is the ability to devise perfect ends and to achieve those ends by the most perfect means. It sees the end from the beginning, so there can be no need to guess or conjecture. Wisdom sees everything in focus, each in proper relation to all, and is thus able to work toward predestined goals with flawless precision.”

That is the wisdom I pray for.

Here is one more suggestion for moderating. Use 5 shades of gray. If the comment begins to go in the wrong direction, highlight it and take it down a shade or two or three. That way we can avoid responding to them and we will know not to go there ourselves.

4 cb scott March 31, 2012 at 10:21 pm

“Here is one more suggestion for moderating. Use 5 shades of gray. If the comment begins to go in the wrong direction, highlight it and take it down a shade or two or three. That way we can avoid responding to them and we will know not to go there ourselves.”

Bruce H.,

Hopefully, this is not such a personal question that it gets me deleted, but after having read your comment twice, I must ask you something or I think I shall die.

On a normal day do you wear a white, short-sleeved, oxford shirt with several pens and mechanical pencils in the pocket, white socks, black wingtip shoes, and straight-legged, black or navy, polyester slacks and are your glasses the kind Buddy Holly wore?

5 Doug Hibbard March 31, 2012 at 10:53 pm

At least he didn’t suggest using black beads, gray beads, pink beads, and red beads.

6 Bruce H. March 31, 2012 at 11:31 pm

cb,

If that is where your mind takes you, I guess you can assume that I look like Buddy Holly. Sad that you didn’t pick up on the wisdom statement. :-(

7 Dave Miller March 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm

A man CB’s age has gained the wisdom of the years.

8 Bruce H. March 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm

I understand, Dave. I’m sure there is allot of wisdom that comes from experience.

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” James 3:17 :-)

9 Dave Miller March 31, 2012 at 10:56 pm

I’m not sure I understand that one, Bruce – the shades of grey thing.

10 Bruce H. March 31, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Dave,

Out of your 7 points, I noticed #3 having a “NOTE” that came out a medium shade of grey in lieu of black. With that, I came up with shading or lightening a bad comment to the point of not being legible with a variety of lighter shades of grey. It wasn’t meant to be serious. :-)

11 Jim Pemberton April 2, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Humor that no one else gets: this I can relate to, and I mean that sympathetically.

12 Bruce H. April 1, 2012 at 12:19 am

Dave,

I do like the positive approach you have taken here. Everyone really wants to make a “great comment”. I have found that when I have approached a post the way you have mentioned I have learned more than I have contributed.

13 Jim Pemberton April 2, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Dave, thanks for the positive direction on this. It’s much needed. It’s also an exemplary admonition.

You’d think we would be able to apply the Bible we all claim to know so well in the manner of our discourse, but we seem to have such a difficult time with it.

I wonder if Paul’s letters fully had the desired impact. They seem not to today. If God has a tough time with his children, we can’t presume to do better. But if God persists with admonishing us through His word, we should continue to admonish each other as you have done here. But we should do it carefully with the understanding that there is often a fine line between building up and tearing down and all of us are prone to cross it unwittingly and unwisely.

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