[FOM] suggestions for participants in an ongoing thread from the moderator

Martin Davis martin at eipye.com
Wed Aug 22 14:00:55 EDT 2007

Dear subscribers,

 From the FOM information page http://www.cs.nyu.edu/mailman/listinfo/fom:
"Quotation from previous postings should be limited to what is 
absolutely needed
for understanding, and quotations within quotations are particularly
to be avoided."

When you press the reply key, the typical email program will offer 
you a window contain9ing all previous text preceded by a heading 
like: "On ... X wrote:" and with the cursor above this heading. The 
path of least resistance is to begin typing your reply without paying 
attention to the previous text. This results in a message with the 
new material on top and all previous discussion intact. After one or 
two iterations, an incomprehensible mess. It is particularly awkward 
if you address the previous writer directly: "You actually assert 
proposition p whereas anyone can see that ~p is true." To find the 
antecedent of the pronoun "you", your reader must leave your text and 
dig down to the previous message. This really won't do.

It's much better practice to place your text *below* the previous 
text, deleting whatever isn't needed to understand your reply. The 
best practice is to intersperse your comments with the specific 
statements on which you are commenting. Something like this:

On ... X wrote
 > Obviously axiom q is untenable
But Y showed that q has fascinating consequences.
 > Moreover q implies r which no sensible person can accept
On the contrary, r is very plausible.

I've been guilty of being somewhat inconsistent in enforcing these 
standards, but will be stricter from now on.


                           Martin Davis
                    Visiting Scholar UC Berkeley
                      Professor Emeritus, NYU
                          martin at eipye.com
                          (Add 1 and get 0)

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