#MakeGoodComments: A Starter Guide


What Is A Good or A Bad Comment?

A good comment:

  • Responds to the original post or other comments
  • Refers to specific parts of the post or other comments
  • Shares personal reflections, ideas, and information about specific points in the post
  • Stays relevant and on-topic to the discussion
  • Uses respectful language
  • Maintains a dignified tone
  • Uses clear, concise language and is easy to understand

Every site has its own guidelines for good comments, but these are some of the more common ones.

A bad comment:

  • Personally attacks the writer or other commentators, such as picking on their looks or their identity
  • Provokes hostility or a fight intentionally
  • Engages the topic in bad faith
  • Spams or floods the discussion, or is only an advertisement
  • Uses abusive, vulgar, or obscene language – usually as defined by the website and the community culture
  • Has nothing to do with the post
  • Demeans other commentators and writers

Bad Comments

Good Comments

“Urgh, you f*ckin’ ugly fat cow! You should stop writing, nobody wants to listen to you!”

This is a personal attack. It abuses the target with rude names and vulgar language. It has nothing to do with the topic.  It does not engage with the post or comments at all.

“Thank you for your post. I really appreciated how you talked about _________. I think ___________.”

This shows appreciation for the content in the post, and highlights a specific area that you would like to respond to.

“You are completely wrong in everything and therefore you are a bad person.”

This is non-constructive criticism. it does not say what is wrong, and personally attacks the other person rather than engaging with their content.

“I disagree with your points about ______________ because I think it means ____________. I am troubled by __________ because it makes me feel ____________”

This criticism is constructive: it connects directly to the content, and gives some context to the disagreement. It also explains one’s own feelings about the content, rather than telling other people how they feel.

“You are always extremely right and anyone that disagrees with you is an idiot!”

The enthusiasm is appreciated, but this demeans other commentators who may have differing viewpoints, and makes it unsafe for people to disagree.

“I really agreed with you on _____________. It made me think of ____________. I understand why X disagrees, because _______, but I still feel that _____. Thank you for posting!”

This shows appreciation for the post and engages with the content by sharing a personal reflection. It also respectfully acknowledges disagreement.

How To Write A Comment Policy

A comment policy can help your site manage the way you receive and moderate comments. It gives a clear set of guidelines for audience and comment contributors, and helps moderators stay consistent in their work.

Here are some suggestions on how to write a comment policy:

  1. What is your website about and who is its main audience? What are some of their common concerns? Knowing their specific needs will help you craft a comment policy that best suits your website. For example, Autostraddle’s comment policy specifically discusses some given truths they follow around gender identity and sexuality. If you don’t already know, ask them what they want out of an online community.
  2. What is your organisation’s capacity to moderate comments? Is there a dedicated team, are you relying on automated solutions, outsourced services, or is it just one person? Knowing your capabilities will help you write a comment policy that you can manage.
  3. Be clear and concise. You want to make it easy for anyone to understand your policy, especially when you enforce it.
  4. Listen to your community, and be willing to shift and change your comment policy when warranted.

Some common aspects of comment policies:

  1. No abusive, vulgar, or obscene language or content. However, it may be useful to define what you mean by vulgar or obscene (for instance, are swear words always forbidden? Discussions of sexuality or violence? Images thereof?)
  2. Respect people’s privacy: no doxxing, or sharing of personal and confidential information without consent
  3. Keep on topic
  4. Be concise. NPR’s comment policy talks about “rambling being the kiss of death”.

How To Make Good Comments

  1. Make sure you pay attention to the post and the current comments. This helps you stay on topic and avoid repeating points already made.
  2. Think about what you want to say before you comment. A draft can help add clarity to your final comment.
  3. Refer to the content of the post. Include quotes, make specific references, or ask follow-up questions.
  4. Accept disagreement gracefully. People aren’t always going to agree, and that’s OK! Feel free to respond to criticism. Just stay calm and refrain from personal attacks.
  5. Avoid criticizing the poster’s appearance, identity, or anything else that is not relevant to the discussion.
  6. Read the website’s commenting policy. It will often give you specific advice and guidelines on what makes good comments for a particular site, and details on how to contact moderators.
  7. Ignore trolls or flamewars – incendiary comments that are there only to provoke a fight. You can flag these comments for moderators to address.
  8. Check over your work before you click “Post.” Did you say what you want to say? Is it clear? Did you avoid personal attacks and stay on-topic?

Why Make Good Comments?

The Internet is a place for everyone, and many of us live a lot of our life online. Good comments help people feel comfortable with connecting and engaging with others.

Advance debate on an issue

Good comments are a positive contribution to the site, a discussion, or an online community. They share further perspectives and information on the issue, relate the content to others, and generate discussions and questions that help others understand the content.

Even disagreement or disapproval can be positive contributions to the site, if presented with respect and care.

Promote and foster free speech and diversity of ideas

Good comments encourage diversity in perspectives and viewpoints. They provide spaces to share different points of view, and inspire people to contribute the best way they can.

Support creators and contributors

Good comments support the original creators. They add value to their work and create a safe space to engage in conversation. This is especially important for media geared towards marginalised and minority communities.

Create community

Good comments create and foster community. A supportive commentator base builds strong communities of people from all walks of life who discuss the shared issues and support each other’s right to speak openly. This can create offline community.