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The following guidelines are intended to forward intelligent, interesting forum discussion. While they were written primarily with the On-Topic Conversations (OTC) board in mind, many of the guidelines here may be applicable to other forum discussions, such as those in Yack Fest (YF).
TL;DR VersionThese guidelines in a nutshell:
- There are many types of forum communication, including but not limited to conversation, discussion and debate.
- Behaviours appropriate to some threads may be out of place in others.
- The purpose of a debate is to arrive at the truth, not to show off how soundly you can thrash your opponent.
- You will debate more effectively if you are polite, reasonable and clear, and if you address your opponents' actual arguments.
- Respect all opinions equally, especially important for those differing from your own.
- Debate, don't denigrate.
- Don't just say "you're wrong"; explain why.
- Do not assume you know somebody's opinion on an issue before they have expressed it.
- An elaboration: this applies even when the person in question is behaving like a typical conservative/antitheist/materialist/electrophysiologist/whatever.
- If somebody questions your argument, explain it, don't repeat it.
- Avoid ad hominem attacks. An argument is not necessarily wrong just because the person making it is a filthy, puppy-kicking hypocrite.
- Do not attack a troper elsewhere in the forums over something they said in OTC.
- Do not assume that general statements refer to you personally.
- A semantic derail is still a derail. If a semantic disagreement arises, simply clarify what you mean, and move on.
Types of Forum CommunicationFirst, it may be instructive to provide an overview of the different types of communication that can occur on the TV Tropes Forum. These are loose categories, as the boundaries between the different types are not always clear, and at times, a thread may even contain two or more types of communication running alongside one another. Sometimes an OP in OTC may specify that a thread is for a particular type of communication, and in this case, attempts to change the nature of the thread, e.g. from a conversation to a debate, will be regarded as off-topic. Note also that these categories are by no means all-encompassing. There are numerous threads that fall outside of these categories, including Sandbox has been cleared. Long live the new Sandbox, Now listening to..., Edit banned/Suspended - would like to edit again. and Made Of Forum Win, as well as most of the threads on the Tech Wishlist, the Roleplaying boards and Forum Games.
ConversingThis is the most relaxed type of thread; a place for general chatting, usually themed around a particular topic. The megathreads in YF are predominantly of this nature, as are most of the threads in the Old Folks' Home. Conversations are non-adversarial. Ideas are shared, questions are asked and answered, but no participants in these threads can be described as "opponents". In YF, these threads will frequently derail, and this means that they will occasionally take on the characteristics of a discussion, a debate, or even a roleplay. This may, however, be frowned upon, particularly in the megathreads.
DiscussingDiscussion is similar to conversation, but tends to involve more contentious subject matter. An opinion presented in a discussion may be met with some more probing questions ("Why do you think that?" "Have you considered this?"), but the aim is never to persuade an "opponent" of anything, merely to share information and ideas. These threads sometimes turn into debates when two participants have particularly strong opposing opinions on the topic, and it may therefore be advisable for an OP to specify when a thread is intended for discussion only, not debating.
DebatingDebates are adversarial in nature, but may still be civil. Participants in a debate will have already formed an opinion on the topic (not necessarily a strong opinion) and will attempt to persuade other participants that their stance is correct, or at least that it is valid. Ideally, in a debate, the aim should not be to score points off an opponent but to arrive at something resembling the truth; claims put forward should therefore be rational and civil. The goal should not be to win, but to be correct. When this ceases to be the case, the debate has become heated.
Debating hotlyA heated (or sour) debate is one that has become particularly aggressive or vehement. Heated debates tend to occur when two or more of the participants are particularly invested in a particular stance on the topic. The aim is no longer to arrive at the truth, but rather to crush the opposition. These threads are liable to turn flamey or condescending, which may result in threadlocks and post thumpings.
BrowbeatingBrowbeating is the practice of attempting to argue an opponent into complete submission, bludgeoning them with your viewpoint until they concede. A browbeater will not agree to disagree, will not accept any opposing argument as valid, and will not rest until their opponent adopts their specific viewpoint. This behaviour will automatically turn any thread into a heated argument, and is inadvisable as it commonly results in a ban.
The Intended Use of the Following GuidelinesThe guidelines outlined below are most appropriate for "debate" type threads: they would most likely keep them from degenerating into arguments and getting locked. If anyone wants to keep their thread more informal than that, then they just have to make that clear in their OP- "this is to be a friendly discussion" or words to that effect. In that case, the guidelines can be less strictly applied. In addition, any thread in which the OP states a strong opinion on the topic they are introducing is almost sure to become a debate-type thread, as people come in on the side of the OP or against it. In fact, any OP that openly states it's for or against anything should be considered a debate and these guidelines come into effect. Any OP that states they just want to share insights and opinions, or is seeking information, should be held to different (less formal) standards. Our intent here is not to establish another set of formal rules for OTC, but to offer something that will just become part of the general "culture" of the forum here. TV Tropes OTC is somewhat unique in that we don't assume argumentative style debates here. Most of the internet goes the other way, but that's what makes us special. If a participant does not adhere to one or more of these guidelines, then the rest of the thread would be empowered to remind that participant of what the expectations are, perhaps by gently advising them which guideline they are violating, and by linking to this page. As a final resort, if a participant insists on conducting themselves in a way that seriously undermines the thread, a moderator can be informed. That action is only to be used as a final resort, however.
The Art of Good DebatingIt is said that, long ago, a mystical order of monks developed the ultimate debating techniques which they employed in every discussion in which they participated, and so attained enlightenment. Sadly, these particular monks were illiterate and kept no record of their knowledge, and the techniques were lost in the fog of history... until now, that is. In order to ensure that debates are interesting, worthwhile and pleasant for all concerned, it is highly recommended that debaters employ the following tactics and techniques while engaging another troper in debate. Remember, the techniques that follow are intended to facilitate good debate - that is, debate where the aim is not to win by scoring points off the opponent, but to expand knowledge. Warning: these techniques are not known to be effective against console wars, Touhou hijacks, Vriska Serket or the mod thumping stick.
Debate, don't denigrate.Debating properly means coming up with actual arguments against your opponent's point. It's not enough to simply assert that they are wrong; in order to debate effectively, you need to be able to say why. The purpose of these techniques is to ensure that conversations are interesting, informative, worthwhile and pleasant for all concerned. It just so happens that this is the general tone we're aiming for in OTC - the discourse in a Renaissance salon, as opposed to, say, the discourse in a schoolyard. This also shows that you are actually reading your opponent's post and taking their opinions seriously as opposed to being dismissive towards their opinions. Being dismissive is just as rude as browbeating above and will potentially drive people away - and we like to see people in OTC.
Stay on topic.Should go without saying, really. OTC threads are supposed to be on-topic. Derailing is not only frowned upon, but actually prohibited in the forum rules. When starting a thread in OTC, you may choose to specify that the thread is intended for conversation of a particular nature. In this case, attempts to change the nature of the thread, for example, to introduce a debate, will be regarded as off-topic. Deviations from the topic into words pertaining to the topic are a special case; see below for more information.
Be clear.If you are making an honest point, you should not be speaking in riddles. This achieves nothing other than confusing the other people in the thread, and may even cause you to be mistaken for a troll. If you make an ambiguous statement, and your opponent misinterprets it, you have failed to get your point across. This also means that it's a very good idea to explain your points. If you make an argument, you should be prepared to back it up. This is not only more persuasive than making unsupported assertions, but also more interesting for all concerned. It's also a way of putting your money where your mouth is - after all, if you can't explain your assertions, how do you know that they are right? Related to this, if somebody fails to understand one of your posts, do not simply repeat it; instead, explain your meaning. If they wanted you to repeat yourself, they could have reread your prior post. Consider the possibility that you were not sufficiently clear the first time, even if your post seems perfectly clear to you.
Build upon your points and address those of other people.A good conversation is not a one-sided thing, and circular debates are boring. In order to keep conversations interesting, address and expand upon the posts made by both other tropers and yourself. If something has been said already, it doesn't need to be said again. Repeating something will not convince a rational human being who wasn't convinced the first time it was said; it is simply annoying.
Refrain from making assumptions about other tropers' unstated views.Making assumptions about other people's opinions is annoying, rather rude, and a waste of time for all concerned. If you make assumptions about another troper's stance on an issue, even if they really do appear to be a typical conservative/antitheist/materialist/electrophysiologist/whatever, you run the risk of wasting everybody's time pouring your energy into disproving a claim that nobody made, a completely unproductive exercise and often frustrating for all concerned. In particular, if another troper makes what appears to be an insulting generalisation, it's not a good idea to treat it as a personal attack. Generalisations, while often poor form due to their lack of clarity, are not the same as directed insults, and treating them as such may result in a misinterpretation of your fellow tropers' views and cause tempers to flare.
If you disagree with somebody, do so politely.It's to be expected that, in a conversation, different tropers will have different perspectives to contribute. If everybody thought the same as one another, the world would be a very dull place and discussions would likely be short and predictable. However, while you are welcome to express an opinion, please refrain from insulting other tropers who feel differently, which invariably erodes patiences and sours the mood. It also tends to sidetrack conversations into some incredibly stupid arguments. An attack on a person, rather than an argument that person made, is a logical fallacy (Ad Hominem, if you were wondering). A statement is not necessarily wrong just because the person saying it is a filthy, puppy-kicking hypocrite. If Alice claims that 1+1=2 and Alice writes really shitty fanfiction, that doesn't mean that 1+1≠2. Note that this also applies to external sources. It's perfectly reasonable to say that a source appears to be written with an agenda in mind and that you are consequently sceptical. It's less reasonable to ignore a source on the grounds that the person cited is an asshole.
Clarify your terms and seek to understand your opponent's (but avoid semantic derails).Semantics may be important to a discussion. It may be vital, when two tropers use particular words in different ways, for those tropers to explain their use of those terms, in order to avoid talking past one another, or worse, badly misinterpreting one another. This enables both parties to address the claims actually being made, rather than simply talking across one another. However, actual semantic derails are best avoided. A semantic derail is a discussion of the meaning of the words which pertain to a topic, rather than a discussion of the topic itself. As with all derails, a semantic derail is off-topic, and therefore obstructive and prohibited in OTC. If a semantic disagreement arises, simply clarify what you mean, and move on. Once both parties understand one another, you can proceed with the actual conversation with no further quibbling over the definitions of words. Rule of thumb: If you're defining the word as you're using it, it's legitimate clarification. If you're talking about why the other guy is using a word wrong, it's a semantics derail, and if you're ignoring the definition of a word a person has given and accusing them of making a claim they aren't actually making, that's also a derail.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Fallacy-DroppingLogical Fallacies are faulty reasoning, and if an opponent is making a fallacious argument, it may appear reasonable to call them out on it. However, simply calling out the names of fallacies may be seen as obnoxious and obstructs the discussion. Dismissing a post altogether because you believe it contains a fallacious argument is similarly obstructive and rude (you also run the risk of impaling yourself on your own sword). Also beware of calling a fallacy incorrectly. The terms "Ad Hominem" and "Strawman Fallacy", in particular, are frequently misused. A fallacy is neither subjective nor nebulous. If you've spotted a real fallacy, you should be able to explain why your opponent's argument is incorrect, and this is generally preferable to calling out the name of a fallacy. If you can't explain what's wrong with it, it probably isn't a fallacy.
Inflammatory AnalogiesAn inflammatory analogy is essentially poor wording. The use of a controversial comparison to invoke a strong emotional response is disruptive and may jeopardise the acceptance or understanding of an otherwise logically sound statement. The most common example of this is the Nazi comparison, a.k.a. Godwin's Law. If X is wrong and Hitler did X, it is seldom necessary to mention the latter. Unless the reason X is wrong is because Hitler did it, the fact that he did is irrelevant and will achieve nothing other than souring the mood. Compare the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement, which is related.
"Me Too"Each post in a conversation should, ideally, contribute something new to that conversation. Unless the fact that you hold a particular opinion is in some way relevant to the topic, a post consisting solely of "Me too." or "^ This." adds absolutely nothing. This also applies to posts consisting solely of a quotation and "Quoted for truth." or something along those lines.
"Link: Discuss"Ideally, an OP should indicate that some level of thought has gone into a discussion. An OP should not consist solely of:  Thoughts?
Welcoming and Encouraging Alternative OpinionsA disadvantage of many forums, and this one is certainly not an exception, is the tendency of certain views to dominate and stifle other perspectives. For example, if no poster in OTC is prepared to offer a sophisticated counter-argument to a particular claim, a poster who reads OTC regularly may accept that claim as true, even if strong counter-arguments to the claim exist - because any poster prepared to offer such a counter-argument has been driven away by atmosphere of the board which is openly hostile to their mindset. Over time, this can create a positive feedback loop, causing threads to become increasingly homogenous, repetitive, and hostile towards outside views. Individual tropers can help in three different ways- one, by reading and referencing a variety of sources with differing viewpoints, particularly ones that have not been referenced within the thread, two, by assessing posts made on the forums carefully and critically, and three, by being encouraging and supportive when encountering a poster whose opinion on a subject differs substantially from your own, especially opinions that are less common or that challenge the consensus of opinion here at T.V. Tropes. Even (or perhaps especially) when we disagree with them, we should strive to be welcoming of people with opinions that differ from our own, provided that they also follow the same guidelines.
The system doesn't know you right now, so no post button for you.
You need to Get Known to get one of those.
You need to Get Known to get one of those.
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