How to quote from previous posts at EE

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Experts-Exchange is designed for questions and answers with the common scenario being that nearly all responses are directed to the Asker.   But in some EE zones, it is common to have a number of different people discussing back and forth.  In such cases, a post could be a response to any of several previous comments made by any of several different people.   We see this most often in Politics and the Philosophy & Religion sections, but it also occurs in Expert Input, Expert Lounge, and a number of other zones.  

Why quote from a previous post?
We do this to set a context.   We want to reply to a specific point brought up earlier, but there may have been several comments since that earlier post.  We want to identify the post and speak directly to the poster.   The quoting technique should set that context with the minimum of fuss so that the conversation can be as smooth as possible.

There are no "official EE policy rules" about this situation (nor should there be) but there are some common-sense rules that should be apparent to anyone who has considered this issue.   I've seen many different ways in which the thread participants quote from previous posts.  Some of these methods work well, some work poorly, and some show that the poster doesn't understand the basics of forum posting at all.

This article presents a set of suggestions to avoid ambiguity and increase clarity when posting in a discussion.  

     Important notice:
     Do not take this as an official "guideline" or statement of EE policy.  This
     is just some suggestions that I've put together in the form of an article.

1. Don't quote unless it is necessary.

If your response addresses the person who made the most recent comment and if it is about that comment, then it is a waste of everybody's time if you quote from that post.   The context is already clear.   Just post your comment without addressing anyone or quoting anything.

If the previous comment was lengthy and you want to refer to just a part of it, then set a mini-context by including some key word or phrase directly in your paragraph text.   For instance,

        But "living in sin" is, by definition, a sinful act.   Everything you do in your life
        is thus sinful because, well, you are a sinner who sins a lot (at least twice per
        week, if you've set up a schedule).

2. Don't repeat the entire quote! Abridge!

The quote should usually be less than one screen line of text -- say around 10-15 words in most cases.

Surely you understand that everything that has been said before remains visible in the thread.  If the reader needs to see the original quote in its entirety, then he can scroll up a little bit.   Don't copy and paste the entire paragraph!   Find the key phrase of the comment to which you want to reply -- enough to provide a context for your own response -- and use just that.  Use an ellipsis (...) to indicate where you are abridging.

The practice of pasting entire paragraphs is an archaic remnant of what was normal and required in newsgroups circa 1980.  Unless you repeated the original text, it would eventually be lost and your comment would make no sense.  That's not true here, so don't be a dinosaur.  Another possible reason that we see this so often is sheer laziness.  The quoting poster does not want to take the time to isolate the context.  Sure. it's easiest to just dump the entire paragraph into the comment, but doing so ruins the flow of the discussion.

3. Address your comment to a particular member.

When there are several people commenting, and you want to refute or rebut or add to something said previously by a particular person, always start your comment with that person's name, a comma, and a line break.  E.g.:

      You clearly grew up in the Midwest, and I can respect that,... (etc)

But this is optional if the person you are addressing posted last (see Suggestion #1).  The important "little rule" here is:  Don't misspell the person's name.   I find it best to copy and paste the name from the previous post.  A misspelling of a person's name indicates laziness and disrespect -- things that lead away from the topic of discussion.

4. Differentiate your answer from the quote.

Don't make the reader search for the end of the quote in order to locate your response.  Remember that the only reason for the quote is to provide a context for your own precious words.   If I can't find your words because they blend in with the quote, I'll just skip them.

Part of the reason for Suggestion #2 (Abridge!) is that if you can keep the quote shorter than one line, then the reader's eye will naturally skip to the next line where your own comment starts.   If the quote is almost exactly one line, then add an extra linebreak -- to provide a stopping point for the eye.  

I like to differentiate the quote by setting it in italics and prefixing it with >>

      >> Money is the root of all evil...
      Actually "love of money" or perhaps "lack of money" is the real root of all evil.
      There is nothing evil in money itself.  In my experience, it is usually friendly and
      courteous at all times.

(see formatting options, below for other suggestions).

5. Use internal links

It is possible to refer back to any comment, including comments in other threads, by using a wonderful invention called a "hyperlink."  Remember, all we want to do is set a context, not regurgitate text that the reader has already read.  So briefer is better and a link is very brief.

For internal references (within the same thread), you can create a link efficiently:  Scroll back up to the comment and find the ID in the comment header.  Copy it to the clipboard and use the shorthand notation...
      http:#12345678  (or http:#a12345678)
...in your own comment.  To link to a comment in a different EE thread, there is another shortcut, using the question ID and the comment ID:
EE will automatically underline text in that format and set the HREF so that a reader can click it to get to the original content.  That sets your context perfectly.  For instance:

      In http:Q_12345678.html#a123457, you said you hated dogs, but in
      http:#a123469 you said you considered yourself to be (and I quote) "a lone wolf."
      How can you justify your... etc.
Also, if you are using the RichText format for posting, you can make the reference even smaller and less intrusive:

      >> How can you justify...
      As you can easily read here, I actually said I love dogs
      "in a cream sauce"... etc.

Just get the correct URL into the clipboard, highlight one word for the hyperlink, and then click the [T] button.

6. You don't need to reply to each person.

Some people feel the urge to address nearly every previous comment posted by nearly everybody (and for some reason, they can't resist quoting entire paragraphs from each).  

When I see that, I usually skip the entire post.  I assume that the poster is one of those "I'm the key person in this discussion" guys.  In my experience, there might be one modestly interesting comment in such a multiple-reply post, and it is usually not worth working through the entire post to find it.  So I skip the whole thing.  

If you want your posts to be read and taken seriously, focus your comment.  Find the one or two things that will be of interest to others, and try to say the one or two things that will add to the discussion.
Some formating suggestions for quoting from posts
If you don't use the Rich Text formating in your posts, then you have limited options.  I recommend stating with >> and keeping it short; to wit:

      >> The abridged text here... less than one line...
      Your comment here.  The fact that the previous line is short makes it clear
      to the reader when your own comment starts.

Let the short line and its linebreak be the delimiter.  Don't make the readers look for a "quote closing" delimiter.  They don't want to re-read the entire quote (that they already read a few posts back) and they surely don't want to try to figure out what oddball quoting technique you are using.
Don't use quote marks as your delimiter.  They are too small.
Use a single blank line as a delimiter.  
This is actually a bit awkward is some situations.  For instance, when you need to reply to several comments, you need to end one comment and start another, and the blank line is good for that.  Using it also to delimit a quote causes unnecessary ambiguity for the reader.
Use italics for the quoted material.
That is the preferred method.  Don't use bold or underline.  That would put unwanted emphasis on the quoted text.  It is YOUR words that are important now (Reminder: The quote was just to set the context).

The original text is still there.  Don't make the readers wade through another copy of it.  They already read it once before and it probably is not an expository gem, anyway.  Set the context briefly, then get on with your post.  

Think before quoting.  Ask yourself:  What is the least intrusive and "cleanest" way to make sure that my comment is understood in the correct context?

Don't be lazy.  If you address another poster, use his or her name and spell it correctly by copying it from the header of a previous post.

Use the features of the Rich Text edit box to help set context and add emphasis to your words.

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LVL 18

Expert Comment


Nice useful article.
It can be pointed to in various threads.

Got my vote above.
LVL 75

Expert Comment

by:Michel Plungjan
Where do I find the official stance on posting stuff from elsewhere and how to quote the original author?

LVL 49

Author Comment

Hmmm... that would be in an article titled "How to quote IN posts..." :-)
The bottom line is always: http://www.experts-exchange.com/memberAgreement.jsp which prohibits "Posting any content that infringes any third party's intellectual property rights "

In the P&R TA, the ZA requires that quotes from external sources be less than 100 words.  Summarize briefly, including an "attribution," and post a link instead of a long cut & paste.

IMO:  As long as you provide a link to a freely-available page published by the writer, then you have shown that the author has meant to allow others to read his writing.
LVL 75

Expert Comment

by:Michel Plungjan
not to mention that a piece of code easily can disappear so a copy is prudent. Ps for some reason THIS page DOES have an entry field on my nokia as opposed to question pages
LVL 26

Expert Comment

I like the suggestions however I am a bit curious about:  
Don't use quote marks as your delimiter....
Should this not be used?

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