The suggestions below (stated in terms of the WSW list, but applicable, mutatis mutandis, to the others) express what ought to be the basic understanding about any scholarly conversation. They go on to give some specific advice about a conversation carried on in an electronic medium. The advice is advisory, but the basics are required. Violations of basic scholarly understanding may result in the termination of that individual's membership in the Project's E-mail conversations.
- Confidentiality. The discussion is private, and its archive is private. Candid criticism of persons and ideas is encouraged within the conversation, but it is for the critic to decide whether to express that criticism in a more public way. No other member may usurp that decision by sharing criticisms outside the list. Research results in progress are sensitive for comparable reasons.
- Priority. The archive exists as a record of who said what first. Note that the ownership (copyright) of statements made on any of our E-lists rests with the authors of those statements, not with the Project. The list managers will assist as necessary in documenting priority. The confidentiality rule also exists to protect priority. Scholars are entitled to the first fruits of their thought. For the proper way to cite the views of others, as expressed on an E-list, see the Citation Conventions page.
- Civility. Candor is expected, but so is civility: a decent politeness in the tone of comments. Rudeness, personal attacks, and imputations of motive, are all out of place in this context. Offer a suggestion in such a way as to leave the other person the psychologically viable option of coming to agree with you.
- Transparency. WSW, and the Project's other E-lists, are conversations among known individuals. Everyone's "real name" should thus be entered into the "Yahoo ID" profile form, so that it will display on the Members list at the archive. Those applying for membership may need to adjust their Yahoo ID accordingly; nonconforming applications will be declined. (If you need detailed instructions about this, see the Yahoo ID page). Similarly, all posted contributions should include the real name of the author, whether or not the author has a Yahoo ID. Those criticizing an individual have a right to know whether that individual is present on the list, and those being criticized have a right to know where the criticism is coming from. This is true of any real-time conversation, and we wish it to hold for our electronic conversations also.
- Activity. Ideas are posted on the list precisely for comment and criticism. To withhold criticism where criticism would help the author is a serious shortcoming. More generally, we see list members as engaged in mutual help, one aspect of which is mutual criticism. Those who simply lurk to pick up other people's good ideas are not welcome on the list, and members who contribute nothing over an extended period will eventually be removed. We remind students, and others who may hesitate to advance an idea, that raising a useful question is as valid a contribution as providing a cogent answer.
- Brevity is best. A brief message is more likely to be read, and its point is more likely to be noticed. Subheads within a message can help where the topic is too complex for brevity.
- Previous Messages should not be appended in their entirety to your reply; the result is an unwieldy file. Set your program so that it does not attach the message replied to. Or, if you wish that setting for your regular correspondence, always write a new message to WSW, mentioning at the beginning the thread to which you are contributing.
- Quote only the portion of a previous message on which you are commenting. If you respond in detail to a previous statement, it can help to format your message as a dialogue (note that the Yahoo server does not always preserve format distinctions between quoted and original text). This avoids the dangers of paraphrasing the other person's point. Thus, Jessica might respond to Frank in this way:
FRANK: The 08th century date of this phenomenon is guaranteed by the Dzwo Jwan, which reports, under the year 0718, a speech in which it is mentioned.
JESSICA: But all we can say from a DJ mention is that the thing was known as of the DJ end date, which is c0312. Is there corroborating evidence for an earlier date?
- Geisha-ism (scholarly coyness) is our term for the mentioning of a reference without giving some hint as to what it says. Citations are helpful in themselves, but adding a summary of that position, as it bears on the topic being discussed, will avoid requiring everyone to rush out at 2 in the morning to look it up in the library. And how many libraries are open at 2 in the morning?
- Contemporary Politics should be left to other conversations. The heat generated by such issues can easily overwhelm reasoned scholarly discussion. We have enough to do in figuring out the past, and we delegate to others the management of the present.
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