Phew! In the last month Tasmanian Times (TT) has published over 3600 comments, which works out at over 120 a day. Thank, thank you, thank you for making it so much easier to get your comments published promptly by playing the ball and not the player.

In response to reader feedback, TT has been a little stricter in trying to ensure comments conform to the code of conduct. Sometimes, TT errs and a comment is published which shouldn’t have been. (If you see a comment which you think is not up to standard, please let TT know. Though please note, while all emails on moderation decisions will be read and considered, there just isn’t time to respond to them).

We think that setting the bar a little higher on the standard of comments has made a difference. It has been noticeable that there have been more new commenters, more positive feedback to TT’s contributing authors, a little more humour and more of an effort to identify specific evidence that supports a particular point.

How you can help ease the workload

There are still a few things that you can help with that would cut the comments workload further.

Firstly, there are a few simple things. Please run your spell checker over your comment before you finally submit it, add line breaks where appropriate to make it easier on the reader’s eye and check the punctuation and spacing. Please avoid writing entire sentences in capitals as, in the online world, they are the equivalent of shouting. If you are responding to someone else’s comment, it helps if you note the comment number you are addressing and add the specific point in quotation marks, otherwise it can be hard to identify exactly where and what prompted your response. If a weblink which you want to add is one of those hideously long url’s, you can convert it over at Tiny url to a nice short one.

Secondly, there are still some comments that comprise little more than personal criticism directed at either the author of the article or others making comments. These are simply deleted as they don’t address the topic being discussed. If published, “flame bait” and bullying attracts criticisms from other commenters and soon the discussion on the thread is entirely unrelated to the original topic. Comment threads that become a battleground are not only a turn-off to other readers but they deter others — especially first time readers — from contributing their thoughts. Broader participation in discussions is preferable to TT comments being a forum for personal squabbles between the usual suspects.

Some comments are trickier to decide on whether to publish or delete. Often, the majority of a comment will make fair points but be interlaced with pointed jibes aimed at other contributors or the author. In the past, where possible, these comments have been edited to preserve the meaning whilst deleting potentially offending material. However, the sheer volume of comments makes devoting time to carefully editing comments impossible.

On their comments policy webpage, the Guardian lists lists one of its “Frequently Asked Question” as “Why don’t moderators just remove the bit of a comment which is objectionable, rather than deleting the whole thing?”. Their answer neatly encapsulates what is probably the best approach for TT: “Participants should bear in mind that even if only one little bit (or line, or paragraph) of a comment is problematic, the whole comment will be removed. This is partly to avoid moderators editing your contribution to remove the offending bit (which might inadvertently change the meaning) but also to encourage contributors to think carefully before posting.” Adopting such a ‘no editing of comments’ policy would help free up more time that could be devoted to the editorial side of TT.

Thirdly, the other most common error are comments that push the legal boundaries. TT will post a separate note on this in the near future, but in the meantime there are some simple rules of thumb. As set out above, play the ball not the player. Don’t speculate, especially on someone’s motivation or professionalism. Don’t state as fact that something is illegal if it hasn’t actually been found to be the case. As far as possible it is best to either stick to the facts or ask a question if you are uncertain. Stick to those basic rules and you will be pretty safe.

Once again, thanks for your help in making TT a vital part of the public sphere; a place allcomers are welcome to debate the issues that really matter …