A guide to constructive commenting



Most of the readers here have been around the Internet and its pre-cursors for a while and are familiar with the groups that almost all commentors fall into. There are loosely 3 groups in increasing order of prevelance: those that want to add something to the conversation (constructors), those that have a strong contrary opinion (objectors) and those that just want attention (detractors).

This last group includes those that post abuse for its own sake, pick on small inacuracies or inflame easily provoked hot buttons. I tend to find this group is generally those looking to get noticed in some way. This “look at me” behavior presumably is geared to increasing status in the herd in order to improve the chances of mating. As a collective we have become reasonably good at filtering this out as noise which is the correct response.

What is of more concern is the constructors and objectors. In the main these groups are more likely to comment if they disagree with the post. Sometimes though these groups use the same language and techniques as the detractors. Whether this is a side effect of seeing that type of comment style so often I don’t know, but I feel a contributer to this is an inexperience in some in constructing a persuasive argument. In most cases a bad argument is the same as no argument as most readers ‘detractor filter’ will put it in the ignore bucket.

It was in this context that a post from Paul Graham caught my eye. His disagreement hierarchy is a true geek masterpiece. While he does not offer specific methods of persuasion he categorises the forms a counter-argument can take into a scale which gives a guide as to the probability the point is at least intellectually honest. The scale runs from DH0 – Name calling, to DH6 – Refuting the central point.

As he points out, this does not guarantee that the counter-point is cogent, rational or well formed but does give a simple turing test as to the likelihood it will be worth your time to consider. It is also a good guide for the person writing the comment or post as to where they are positioning their own arguments. All of this in a nice geek-friendly reference scale. Paul’s article is worth reading and forwarding to those you know that have bad argueing styles.