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06/09/2006 - 7:29pm

Top-Posting vs. Bottom-Posting


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Top-posting vs. bottom-posting is an ongoing debate all over newsgroups, mailing lists, and bars down the street. To start off, let's define each one, and during the definition process, I'll try to remain as objective as possible (but the gloves come off after that).

Top-posting and bottom-posting refer methods used when quoting an email when replying.

Top-Posting


Writing your response above the quoted text, like this:

Okay, then you pick this time.

> Sara wrote:
> But that's what we did last week.

> > John wrote:
> > Let's go out to dinner and see a movie.

>>> Sara wrote:
>>> What do you want to do tonight?

As you can see, each time the message is replied to, the email is being sent with the newest reply written on the top. This is sometimes referred to as Jeopardy-style posting (alluding to the gameshow where the answer comes before the question).

Bottom-Posting


Bottom-posting, also often called interleave-posting, occurs when the newest reply is written below the quoted text, such as this:

>>> Sara wrote:
>>> What do you want to do tonight?

> > John wrote:
> > Let's go out to dinner and see a movie.

> Sara wrote:
> But that's what we did last week.

Okay, then you pick this time.

In this instance, each new response is written below previous messages.

The Right Way


Okay, so I'll get this over with. The right way, historically, logically, and pretty much every other way you can think of, is bottom-posting. Whichever way you decide to reply is up to you. But if you top-post, just know that you're doing it wrong.

Why Quote At All?


To understand why one method is better than the other, it's important to understand why quoting is important in the first place. If you have no friends and only receive a couple of emails per week, then it may not be important for someone to quote when they reply to you, because you'll most likely be able to remember what they're replying to. But for those of us that spend hours per day doing email, quoting is essential.

If I send an email to someone, and they reply with a short answer, like "Yes", I'd have no idea what they were talking about unless I read the quoted text first, because I've likely responded to 20 other emails between the time when I wrote them and when they wrote back.

Now knowing that the quoted text is important, it should be obvious that reading a conversation in the order in which it took place is important to actually being able to understand that conversation.

Bottom-Posting Methods


When top-posters think of bottom-posting, and reasons against it, they normally think about the people who do it poorly; quoting the entire message including the signature line and headers, and then writing their response below, causing the reader to have to scroll down a page or more just to start reading the email. This is obviously not proper bottom-posting, nor am I endorsing it.

A proper bottom poster will quote enough of the previous message so that the recipient can be quickly reminded of the topic of conversation, then move on to the actual reply.

Interleaving is also important. When an email contains multiple points, and the responder would like to reply to each of those points, it makes much more sense to have the response interleaved between each of the points. As such, here is an email making multiple points:

I think we should go miniature golfing, as that's something we haven't done for awhile. Or how about racing go-carts? That's something we've never even tried together. Anything would be fun; I just don't want to sit at home all night.

And now, the reply:

> I think we should go miniature golfing

That could be fun, but keep in mind that the weather barely cools down here, even at night. So now might not be a good time for that.

> Or how about racing go-carts?

That would be a lot of fun!

You can notice a few things. First off, the entire message was not quoted, only the points important to the response. Second, you can clearly determine what the respondent is replying to in each piece of the message, because each piece of his reply is directly beneath the part of the original message being responded to.

History


Bottom-posting has been the long-standing tradition in electronic communications pretty much since the beginning. Top-posting mostly began when the popularity of the internet skyrocketed about a decade ago, as more and more "newbies" came online. Because most people recently online just jump into it without any real education of how the system works, they simply began typing a response wherever the cursor left them.

This is why, despite the fact that bottom-posting is consistent with proper netiquette, not to mention logic, most email replies are top-posted because the majority of people online have been here for only a short period of time.

Learning Better Emailing Habits


So at this point you might be saying, "Okay, I'm reformed and ready to learn better emailing habits; but how do I get started?"

I'm glad you asked. When writing an initial message (one that's not a reply), it's very easy; your message comes first, and your signature afterwards. A signature should be separated from the message body with two hyphens and a space, like this "-- " without the quotes. This tells the mailer on the receiving side that a signature follows, and is something your email program should do automatically if it's built properly (many are not).

When replying, make sure to quote, but trim the "fat" of the original message, keeping only the important pieces. "Fat" includes the original senders signature line, unless of course you're replying to something specifically about their signature line. Your reply should be interleaved below the original message, and finally below that should be your signature line.

Many programs are very bad at following existing standards. Among the top are Outlook and Outlook Express. These programs will not only not put the chevron symbols ">" before quoted text, but they place your signature above the quoted text, making any attempt to send a proper reply almost unbearable. So your best chance at sending proper emails is avoiding these types of programs.

An example of a program that does follow these standards, and my personal favorite, is Mozilla Thunderbird



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