This is a guest post by Marty on the art of commenting and the power of connecting.You can read the guidelines for guest posting at our guest posting guidelines page.
In theory, the comments thread for online articles should be a place of freewheeling, heartfelt, carefully wrought, and democratic conversation. In practice, online commenting has become associated with cruelty, threats, malice, irrelevance, pomposity, and obscenity—just to name a few prevailing characteristics of too many “reader reactions.” While some websites and online publications require commenters to register and post under their real name, most still support readers’ anonymity: something of a double-edged sword.
The well-written and thoughtful comment, particularly if it stands above a quagmire of hate-filled personal attacks and barely coherent rants, can set you apart and invite an honest response from the author. It may even land you a gig as a guest blogger or consultant—and who knows what else, if it effectively draws attention to your skills as a writer and a thinker.
Guidelines for crafting an effective online comment:
Use your own name
This isn’t always essential, but when you register under your given name, you’ve immediately set yourself apart from most of the general commenter pool. Someone who’s willing to share his identity while posting is likely to be considered more trustworthy; he is making a small, courageous act by putting a real name, even a real avatar, behind his claims.
That alone goes a long way—and, from a self-promotional standpoint, can subtly build a portfolio of reasoned comments, accessible to the webmaster or article author.
You’d hope this wouldn’t even need to be clarified, but, again, the tone of many comments threads is so nasty—often gleefully nasty—that it’s a point worth musing on. You can vehemently disagree with the nature of a blog post or article—or another commenter’s opinion, of course—but don’t let your passions blacken your fingertips and lead you to schoolyard bullying or ad hominem rhetoric. If it’s a topic that’s truly bringing your blood to a boil, give yourself some time to cool off before writing a reaction.
Outline and structure
An online comment doesn’t have to be a college essay, but you’d do well to give it some rational, coherent structure. A rambling, poorly organized comment is naturally hard to read; a powerful point may be diminished if it’s buried in excessive lead-up or dull restatements. Give your note a little introduction, an explication of your main point(s), and a summarizing conclusion. Such forethought pays off by attracting more readers to your accessible format, and it can help fashion a coolly effective (and considerate) riposte if you’re engaged in a debate.
A long, rambling comment, by its visual appearance alone, is likely to turn off many readers—too easy to scroll right past to the pithier stuff. While you may hope to someday publish your own articles or blog posts on the given subject, you don’t have that platform yet: Respect the environment of the comments thread as you find it, and get to the point quickly and logically so you’re best presenting your perspective in context.
Demonstrate you’ve thoroughly read the article, post, or comment you’re responding to
Many commenters either don’t read an article or comment fully before firing off a reply—or, if they do, fail to demonstrate so in their response. We’ve probably all seen a comment like this, where the author contradicts or embarrasses herself with a bold—and unconscious—admission that she never got to the conclusion of the piece, or glazed over the middle paragraphs, or missed some large-scale irony.
Quote the article or the comment you’re reacting to in your response whether you’re supporting or contesting its claims. Again, you’re that much more likely to be taken seriously if you show you know how to read critically and have given the author or fellow commenter the respect of hearing them out fully.
Back up your claims
Supposed “facts” lacking any supporting evidence are another hallmark of many online comments. It’s easy to write, “I’ve seen studies that prove you wrong,” or, “I can point you to a ton of evidence saying otherwise, but I don’t have the citations in front of me.” If you’re honestly relying on other references in your argument, track them down and post them along with the rest of your comment.
Not only does this lend you credibility—and expose others unwilling or unable to back up their assertions in kind—but you’ll demonstrate an ability to research a topic and think critically about findings, essential skills for publishing articles.
And don’t just proofread once: Do it two or three times. In the heat of rhetorical passion, it’s all too easy to triumphantly pound the “Submit” button—but take the time to look for spelling or grammatical errors, misleading turns of phrase, and other sloppy mistakes. Don’t end up regretting your comment.
Finally, after you’ve absorbed all these tips, remember to resist the urge to get dragged into that peanut-gallery moat. Ignore (or report, if necessary) vicious personal attacks on yourself; respond only if you’re dealing with a respectful and considerate sparring partner. Practice the art of effective commenting, and you may be cutting a path toward more prominent online writing or consultation.
About the Author:
Guest post contributed by Marty Diamond, founder of DiamondWebsiteConversion.com – the conversion rate optimization (CRO) specialists. If you are interested in learning more about CRO from Diamond then please visit our website.
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