It may come as a surprise to many, but writing a good, high-quality post is not as simple as posting the first thing that comes to mind—though many of us do just that! This page details well-known best practices to make your thoughts stand out. Not only that, but most of these suggestions are considered common courtesy, and those who ignore them tend to find themselves unliked, ostracized, and alone.
These suggestions are applicable to all message boards, talk lists, and forums you may be a part of—not just Atlas Quest!
Don't criticize, condemn, or complain
If you avoid these three C-words, you'll likely never get yourself into trouble on the message boards. You're mom was right, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
If you don't like what someone has to say, the absolute best thing you can do is ignore them
We know, sometimes you read something on the boards that gets under your skin. The person is a jackass, an idiot or whatever the case may be. If you post in anger or in haste, however, you'll likely regret it later. Yes, it might feel good to lash out, but it won't feel good when that person starts to lash back in return—and they will lash back.
The very best thing you can do in a situation such as this is to ignore them. Trying to make sure you have the last word will just prolong the fight and bad feelings. To make ignoring a specific person even easier, use the Ignore Options button at the top of their profile page.
Show respect for other people's opinions
Disagreements will happen, but that's no reason to disrespect each other's opinions. You might feel very strongly about a particular subject, but remember that the other person likely feels just as strongly about their own opinion and feel that they are absolutely 100% correct and you are wrong.
And that's okay! Often times there is no right answer, and even if there is, it's probably not so important to generate hurt feelings over. If you're angry, step back. It's not worth it—even if you are right and the other person is wrong. It's not always easy to do, but it is an impressive and useful skill to have.
Target your target audience
Every post you make is to provide information, thoughts, or opinions to other people, and—while this might seem obvious—you need to decide who is your target audience for this information, thought, or opinion. Be specific as possible.
Your audience might be regional (e.g. those living in the New England region), topic-based (e.g. those who participate in postals), date-based (e.g. those who have birthdays in September), or a combination of factors. Unless you know precisely who you are targeting, you will likely miss your mark!
Knowing exactly who your target audience is will help ensure you post to the most appropriate board with a subject line to get your target audience's attention. And it will help those who are not part of your target audience to avoid your post—to them, it is nothing short of annoying spam.
Moderators can and do move threads if they feel the post is more appropriate on another board. By targeting the best board right from the start, it not only saves a moderator from moving your thread (something they'd rather not have to do in the first place), but it makes it easier for people to follow your thread from start to finish. Your audience might lose track of your thread if gets moved around.
Make your subject count
A precise, clearly articulated subject will ensure your target audience knows that the post was meant for them. A vague subject is easy to gloss over if someone thinks the content of the message isn't important to them. For example:
Better: Letterbox found!
Best: Cougar Mountain letterbox found!
The first one suffers two problems: First, many new members may not know what a sitrep is and therefore decide the post has nothing of interest to them. Slang is generally best avoided if you want to make yourself understood. And secondly, the subject says nothing about where or what boxes are being referenced. With thousands of letterboxes out there, it is unlikely most people will take the time to read such a vaguely defined message with such a high probability that the box or boxes in question have no interest to the reader.
The second example gets rid of the slang—a definite improvement since now everyone who reads the subject line will at least understand what you are saying, even if they still are not able to tell if the message is one they want to open and read.
The third example lets members know if the message is one they should pursue further. It lets the owner of the box know his box was found, and it lets letterboxers who are planning to get the letterbox soon know the status as well.
A good rule of thumb while creating a subject is to ensure it includes a noun and a verb. The noun helps explain what the message is in reference to, while the verb explains what action is occurring around the noun. This rule of thumb would mark the first example as needing more work, though the second example would still pass the test. The noun-verb rule of thumb will help eliminate obviously bad subjects, but it will not ensure good ones!
Keep the subject up-to-date
Often, threads have a tendency to stray off topic, sometimes way off topic! This is normal and fun, but if you create a reply that strays off topic, update your subject line to reflect the change of audience.
Quote only a few, select lines from a message you reply to
Some posts are lengthy, which is okay most of the time, but if you reply to one, only include—at most—a few selected lines that you'd like to comment on. This helps keep your post focused and people can figure out what you're replying to. If you reply with the entire post, your post becomes difficult to read and follow. For people with slow connections to the Internet, it's an even bigger problem—quoting a long post is worse than not quoting anything at all!
The simplest way to solve this problem: Don't include any part of a post you're replying to, but rather state the purpose of your reply directly. If someone writes asking the status of the Willie Wonka letterbox and you want to reply to the post, write directly, "I found the Willie Wonka letterbox last year and it was in great shape!" People know what you're talking about and you're not cluttering your post with unnecessary quotes.
How can you tell if you've quoted too much? As a rule of thumb, if the quote is longer than your reply, you can be sure you have been abusing quotes. If your quote is more than a few sentences—or especially if it covers multiple paragraphs—you've definitely gone quote crazy and should try to rein them in. Quoting is not an exact science, but it can be done wrong.
Do not cross-post
Cross-posting is a term that means posting identical (or essentially identical) posts to more than one board. Usually this is in quick succession, but it also applies to posting the same message (or essentially the same) message multiple times over the period of days or weeks. There are, allegedly, exceptions to every rule, but you'll never go wrong if you make a habit of not cross-posting. Many people consider it spam at best. It makes little sense to carry on the same conversation in more than one place anyhow—concentrate that brain power onto a single board and your fame will grow.
Choose which board you think is most appropriate for your post. Think about who would be most interested in hearing your message, and decided which board is most likely to get them while not bothering those who would not be interested. It's a matter of knowing your audience, and target your post to best hit them.
While we discourage cross-posting completely, we will allow you to cross-post once if you feel it is necessary. If you cross-post to three or more message boards, moderators will delete excess posts—and maybe all of them. (Especially if two or more moderators notice the same cross-posts and both leave all but one post available, but inadvertantly delete the one the other left.) In a nutshell, you should never cross-post to three or more message boards.
Post in moderation
Most members on Atlas Quest lead very busy lives, and they probably will not have time to read large quantities of your messages. If you become a habitual poster—there's nothing wrong per se with being a serial poster—but if you do, people will begin to skip your posts.
Ernest Hemingway is famous for struggling all day to write a single sentence so it says exactly what he wants it to say. Nobody is asking you to do that—they might even think you're weird if you do!—but focusing on the message you really want people to understand, don't get too carried away with posting messages.
Getting 'carried away' can take several forms. Just think before you post. If everyone is congratulating you for getting married, having a baby, or whatever exciting event is happening in your life, don't post an individual reply to every post saying, "Thanks!" A single post saying you would like to thank everyone who is wishing you the best is far more effective than half a dozen posts that all say the same thing.
Sometimes people get carried away because of the numbers. If your main motivation in posting a message is to get a new star by your name or increase the number of posts on a specific board, I can guarantee that you are annoying a large number of people. You may start to find some of your more senseless posts deleted or threads moved to a more appropriate board.
And if you do want to be a series poster where the post does not have much in the way of content, there is a board for it—the Yakking It Up board. It's just choked full of irrelevant chatter that otherwise would have no place on any other boards. (Keeping in mind, that if you are posting just to increase your posting count, that moderators may still decide to delete your posts if for no other reason than to discourage you from serial posting.)
Search archives and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) before posting questions
Many people find it annoying whenever somebody posts questions that have been asked many times before already, so it's considered good etiquette to search for the answers already provided before asking your questions in public.
While reading the message boards, you'll find a simple search box in the upper-right corner of the page. Use it. Understand it. Make it your friend, because it is. Also check the AQ Glossary and Help pages for answers to your questions.
If you still cannot find your answer or are not sure how to perform the necessary search, some message boards are better resources than others for 'easy' questions. For instance, try the New Members' Board board for more receptive answers to common letterboxing questions new boxers ask. Another popular board for asking 'stupid' questions is the Stupider Questions About Letterboxing board. Or if you're feeling confident that your question is a stunner, try the Letterboxing Help Desk board.
Personal messages should be kept private
Many times, in the heat of the moment, it's easy to read something on a message board and click that reply button before you can catch your breath. Perhaps someone's just got married, and you want to express your best wishes. Perhaps someone just found their thousandth letterbox and you'd like to congratulate them. These types of expressions are best done in private, not public message boards. The message is clearly intended for a single person, so send it to that person directly. They may miss your message if you reply in a public area, and the posts could be found annoying to people who don't want to read messages intended for someone else.
Remember your target audience. If your audience is a single person, contact them directly through other means than a public message board.
Include actual content in your post
This one may seem obvious, but even the most experienced posters are guilty of this on occasion. Whenever you create a post, make sure you are bringing something new into the conversation.
The classic example of this folly are the 'me too' posts. Someone posts a question or statement—for example, "I really enjoyed the mystery gathering!" Then three other people reply, "Yeah, me too!" Of course you had a great time at the gathering—everyone always has a great time at a gathering—so elaborate. Tell us about the people you met, mishaps that occurred, and other anecdotes that will give your posts depth and feeling that are fun to read about.
So before you hit that Submit button, read your post and ask yourself if you are bringing something new to the table. If the answer is no, do not waste other people's time by making them sift through your post.
"Outing" another person's private email is very unethical
When somebody sends you a private email, reply with an email. If they wanted to have the email public, they would have written it to the message boards. If it's an issue that deserves to be public, it's usually okay to quote the email anonymously—but only if the original author cannot be identified from its contents.
Keep it readable
Not everyone on the letterboxing board is an experienced letterboxer or computer user, and that's okay! We're a very forgiving bunch! But if you use acronyms and abbreviations all the time, you might alienate such beginners or—even worse—scare them off. Pretend that you're writing to a child—keep your posts simple and easy. It might take a few extra keystrokes, but the results are worth it.
Keep mystery boxes mysterious
Mystery boxes are a rare breed of letterboxes where it's easy to 'spoil' the box by giving away its location. To be absolutely safe, it may be best never to mention finding a mystery box on the message boards at all, but if you do, try to make sure nobody knows where you were when you found the letterbox. Wait a couple of weeks before you post about finding it so nobody knows where you were when you found it. Make sure you don't give away any information that isn't already provided in a clue. While nobody is going to get so mad as to blacklist you if you accidentally spill the beans, it's no fun when you can't figure out the box for yourself.
Proper grammar and spelling count!
some people type like this without any capitalization, or lke this were their are alot of speling mistaks, OR MAYBE TYPE IN ALL CAPS WHICH LOOKS LIKE SCREAMING AND IS MORE DIFFICULT TO READ. If you are guilty of such trivial errors, your post will not be taken as seriously. Use correct grammar and spelling for the same reason you might dress up for a job interview—you want to make a good impression. If you do not use correct grammar or spelling, you might be perceived as less-than-intelligent and your otherwise persuasive contribution will be discounted.
In an ideal world, one would judge your posts on the quality and soundness of your thoughts rather than the quality of your punctuation and spelling, but we do not live in that world. In a nutshell, proper grammar and spelling count!
Have happy thoughts about others
Being an electronic medium, misunderstandings can arise. The vast majority of letterboxers are wonderful, caring people, so remember that when you post. If you read something that really inflames you, keep a level head. Calling them names—or flaming them—in return will not help the matter, but usually make it worse. Keep your anger in check, because a well-thought post dealing with facts is much more effective than resorting to name calling. In fact, if you resort to that level, you'll just make yourself look bad and have your posts deleted by moderators. So have happy thoughts. Maybe the person was having a bad day, or the jovial tone they intended fell flat, or maybe all sorts of things. Who knows? So simply assume the best and go from there.
But prudence is a good thing too
While the vast majority of letterboxers are trustworthy, it's always a good idea to be careful with personal information. Do not post private information such as your phone number, email address, or snail-mail address to the message boards. If you must share this information, tell the people who need to know it directly to them and nobody else. Moderators, in fact, have the authority to delete any post they feel reveals too much personal information. Your safety and privacy are of the utmost concern!