Quoting Usenet Articles in Follow-ups

by Simon Hughes


The Aim of this Document

This document constitutes a suggested style for Usenet articles that quote the articles of others. It does not pretend to deal with all aspects of posting on Usenet (see the news.announce.newusers newsgroup and sections 3.1.1 and 3.1.3 of the Netiquette Guidelines in RFC1855 for more general help), but in the experience of those of us who have had a hand in the formation of this document, the quoting of previous postings is an issue that many people have problems with, especially in light of recent software that is less than helpful to the uninformed user.

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What Is Quoting?

Quoting is placing the relevant text of the news article you are replying to in your own article. Lines of quoted text should be marked at the beginning with a special character to indicated that they are quoted rather than original text. The symbol most often used for marking in this manner is the "greater-than" symbol (>).

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Why Should I Quote?

Quoting the text of the articles you are responding to helps the reader follow the thread that your posting becomes a part of. The reader does not need to look back at the previous articles to understand the context that makes yours meaningful.

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How Do I Quote?

Most newsreaders automatically quote in your reply the article you are following-up (answering). Otherwise, copy the message you are replying to, and paste the text into your reply, indicating in some way that the text is quoted.

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Suggestions: How to Form Your Reply

Always place your text under the text of the articles you are quoting.
If your newsreader places the cursor above the quoted material, move it to the end of the message before you start writing your reply. (Some newsreaders have an option to have the cursor initially placed at the end of the quoted text. RTFM.)
Quote no more text than necessary.
Only leave the text from the previous message that is necessary to give your article its intended meaning. A useful aim, though not always practical, is that less than half of your total message should be quoted text. If you delete text from the previous article, indicate that you have done so. A common way of doing this is by inserting [snip] or [...] on a line by itself, in place of the deleted text.
Make use of white space.
A blank line takes up only one or two bytes. Leave a blank line between the quoted text and your reply. Doing so makes your posting easier to read.
Do not quote the signatures of previous posters.
You should quote the .sig of a previous poster only when it is specifically the SIG that you are responding to (see immediately below). If a previous poster has quoted someone else's SIG, you can remove it, unless doing so changes the context of the thread.
Indicate whom you are quoting.
Most newsreading software automatically places an attribution of the quoted text at the top of the reply. Leave it there. It is good manners, not to mention rather convenient at times, to be able to match poster with posted text. If your newsreader does not place an attribution in your reply, then add a line with at least the name of the person you are quoting.
Do not quote the headers of previous posters.
You should quote the headers of previous posters only when it is specifically the headers that you are responding to. If a previous poster has quoted someone else's headers, you can remove them, unless doing so changes the context of the thread.
Do not change quoted text.
Misrepresenting the opinions of others is dishonest. The line lengths of a quoted article can be changed with impunity, but nothing else. (If the profanity of others offends you to the extent that you deem it inappropriate even as quoted text in your reply, either paraphrase the previous article, or forget about replying.)

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Why Bother Following this Style?

  • You save bandwidth.
  • Your message is easier to read and understand in its context.
  • The reader can more readily see what you say, the way you say it merging more into the background.
  • More people will read what you have to say (at least to begin with).

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This document is based on a translation of a Norwegian document. There have, however, been numerous changes to the content, based on the comments and suggestions of some of the friendly people of alt.usage.english. For the names of the people who have been involved (except those who post X no-archive), see the thread Usenet Quoting Style that I started, inviting discussion of the original document.

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If you have any suggestions for improvements to this document, please do not hesitate to send them to the author.

Happy Posting!

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Copyright 1999, 2003 © Simon R. Hughes