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How do I use a message board?

A woman inspecting a notice board

You’ve found a message board you’d like to use – but how do you get started and what’s the protocol for taking part? Read on to find out.

Guy Clapperton | 9th September 2010

Message boards, also called ‘forums’, are brilliantly useful things. They give you all sorts of information and are frequently populated by experts in a particular subject, who give their time for nothing.

So why did you just get called a fool for posting an answer to a question, when it was correct? This can happen and it’s worth having a look at some of the rules that can exist in these little mini-cultures.

Forum protocol

The basic buttons on the screen are going to be straightforward enough. Let’s assume you’ve been through the registration process, so you now have the right to comment and post. “New post” is what it says. And “reply” means reply, and “reply with quote” means replying and quoting the previous comment in full.

Now, somewhere on the message board you’ll find a link to forum guidelines, a frequently asked questions section (FAQ), or something similar.

Have a look at this and you might find things you thought would be perfectly okay are, in fact, frowned upon. For example, promoting your own services. Some message boards are okay with this, some absolutely hate it. Check their rules – these things are usually run by private individuals and it’s effectively their playground you’re in.

Likewise, you might want to check their rules on quotes. Some forums are fine when you quote the entire previous message. Others, to save space, only allow comments that are at least 65% original (presumably, this means some poor person has to count all the words and make a judgement). And some prefer messages to appear after the quotes and will delete those that don’t follow this pattern.

Be careful!

By all means put a link in to an article that interests you. Even quote the first couple of lines. But don’t copy and paste the whole thing into a forum message. This is copyright infringement – and you’d be making the owners of the message board culpable, as well as yourself.

The best advice is probably to have a look, assess the tone, see if it’s right and then check for any terms and conditions in the FAQ section.

After that, you should find you have a remarkably useful group of helpful, like-minded people who’d love to answer any questions you might have – as long as you do the same when you’re able!


Guy Clapperton

Guy Clapperton

Guy Clapperton is a journalist specialising in writing about technology as well as small business for several major broadsheets. He broadcasts occasionally on BBC Radio stations and reviews the newspapers on the BBC News Channel.