Using the Combox As Your Soapbox
July 9, 2008 6 Comments
Most bloggers welcome comments at their posts. Some even plead for comments. Many bloggers, as I do, have a “Comments Policy” and moderate comments before letting them through. But this should not discourage you from commenting on a blog post.
This post has two objectives: (1) to encourage blog readers to practice using the “combox” and (2) to offer some tips for making the most of the opportunity to comment.
Reasons to Comment
- Commenting helps the blogger gauge the value of his or her posts. If a blank box appears at the end of a post, that’s a virtual invitation from the author to chime in with your response. If no one ever comments, the blogger may conclude that the traffic at his or her site is mostly accidental and that readers are mostly indifferent to what the blogger has written. Zero response does not entail zero interest. But it doesn’t indicate interest, either.
- Commenting allows your voice to be heard in the public square, even if you’re not a blogger yourself. The common good depends on participation in dialog with others. Sipping sodas with your best pal and talking politics is a different kind of exercise than packaging your thoughts for broader consumption.
- Commenting encourages others to comment. I’ve known plenty of students who don’t want to be the first to ask a question or make a comment in class. Sometimes the period for class discussion begins with several moments of awkward silence. But once a student breaks the ice, others have no trouble jumping in.
- Commenting helps you discover and clarify your own ideas. When I begin to write, I usually have some sense of what I want to say. But this general goal congeals into something more specific during the act of writing. Putting my thoughts in writing helps clear the cobwebs in my thinking. So I benefit from my writing, even if my readers don’t. The same goes for blog commenting.
- Commenting gives others an opportunity to benefit from what you have to say. Your comments don’t have to be brilliant to be valued by others. Often, the simplest observations are the most useful. There’s actually a good reason to think that the best comments come from readers who are most reluctant to comment. If they push past their reluctance, they may be more likely to make a thoughtful or encouraging or provocative or practical contribution.
- Commenting ensures that you reflect on what you read, and so your reading investment pays greater dividends.
- Commenting promotes discussion. Sooner or later you’ll find others commenting on your comments. The original author of the post may recede into the background while others carry on a conversation with each other about the topic of the post. This kind of give-and-take yields several benefits. It tests the clarity of your writing as you hear what others think in response to your comments. If properly moderated, it exemplifies respectful discourse among people who disagree and reinforces this important conversational skill. It can be edifying as you see how others benefit from your ideas. It can even lead to new online relationships. A blog post can function like the old-fashioned water cooler at the office, as a place where people, who otherwise might never meet up, interact with each other, learn of common interests, and make new friends.
So there are plenty of reasons to step into the fray now and then as you graze the blogosphere for morsels of insight, entertainment, education, and tips for improving your life in some way or other. No doubt there are many other reasons to comment on blog posts. If you think of any, why not share them in the combox below?
Tips for Commenting
So how do you do it? How do you join the party and realize the benefits described above?
Let’s face it—this isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s better if it isn’t. But here are a few suggestions that might make commenting more enjoyable for you and those who stumble across (rather than over) your words.
- Think about why you went to this post in the first place. Was it accidental? The result of a targeted search? Recommended by someone you know? What pathway led you there? And what did you expect to find in the post? As you read the post you’ll be measuring it against the expectations you bring to it. These are things to write about.
- Notice any new thoughts you have as you read the post. Your comment at the end of the post becomes a record of these thoughts that might be lost forever if you don’t put them in writing when you have them. (There are ways to aggregate your comments at various posts across multiple websites.)
- Track your feelings while reading the post. In a post about “Leaving the Perfect Comment,” Teli Adlam suggests that you ask how you felt after reading the entry. By paying attention to feelings you have, you gain insight into yourself. Reading the post may have surfaced an internal response that you didn’t expect to have. This gives you something to write about.
- Evaluate the argument of a post. Many bloggers offer arguments for claims they make. The combox presents an opportunity for you to assess the argument. You might challenge some premise or evidence used to support the claim. You might offer additional evidence in support of the claim. You can do this whether or not you agree with the conclusion. And you can do it without being belligerent, so don’t hold back. When I “blog an argument” for something, I know the claim and the argument are being released into the broadest possible arena. Why would I risk this? Partly to test the strength of my beliefs or ideas. Partly to see whether my reasons are persuasive to others (something I won’t know unless there are responses in the combox).
- Interact with comments others have made. Keep the conversation going. See where it leads. You may want to subscribe to receive email alerts when new comments are made to a post of special interest. Learn about aggregating all your comments across WordPress blogs here.
- Be positive. Think of ways to affirm the blogger and others who comment. You can do this without agreeing with their claims or approving of their suggestions.
- Proofread your comments before you hit the submit button. Put your best foot forward. Correct any untoward typos or grammatical goofs. Note: If comments are moderated by the blogmaster for the site you’re on, your comment will be screened by the moderator before it appears at the end of the post. Some editors will make minor edits, either to correct typos, repair sentence structure, cull unwelcome language, or what have you. If you know that your comment will be screened, you can ask the screener, right there in your comment, for assistance with your submission.
I’ve given seven reasons to use the combox when you read blog posts, and seven suggestions for leaving your mark. Think of the combox as your soapbox, a socially accepted way to be heard on things that matter to you and others.
Here’s a bonus tip: Express yourself with passion. You may not relish the media spotlight. But you probably care about things that pop up on this blog, or you wouldn’t be here. David Avran’s advice makes sense even when it comes to leaving comments at a blog post. Messages that stir meet three invigorating criteria: relevance, credibility, and passion. Go for it!
Patsi, over at the Blog Squad, describes proper blog etiquette for leaving comments.