A Style Guide

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A Style Guide

Post #1

Post by Corvus »

Notes on style

The style in which an argument is written leaves an indelible impression equal, if not surpassing, the power of its contents. This thread is here for me to expound on what I consider bad form, with a welcome extended for other members to put forward their own perspectives and impressions of style.

I will now list the most common examples of bad form I have seen used by all members, religious and the irreligious alike.

The Rhetorical Question
The rhetorical question is only ever used on forums to further one’s own argument, to draw a conclusion that to you seems irrefutable from some initial query. To use it at all is acceptable, but one must always remember that in a forum situation, any use of a question that implies or contains an answer, and even a question that is immediately followed by an answer (protacatalepsis), is almost always going to be challenged by someone who can arrive at a different conclusion, either through different perspective or by more facts.

Overuse of the rhetorical question causes a person, in my eyes, to seem inquisitorial and overbearing because it implies such a person has all the answers and that his or her opponent hasn’t asked all the questions. This also applies to the rhetorical question’s cousin; protacatalepsis. This is where a question is raised that is immediately answered by the person who raised it. This can be useful for showing that you are aware that people might have objections to your argument and you have an answer to them. Most frequently, however, it is paired with straw men – presenting weak arguments from the other side to -often disingenuously - show that yours is the stronger argument by knocking them down. Sometimes this is done less through intentional dishonesty and more through ignorance of any further possible answers.

The Short Response
On the short response, my advice is to avoid it. I have seen some members only reply to large block of text with a single short sentence or question, which gives the impression that they could not be bothered dignifying the argument with a longer response. Such a response seems very curt. Others I have seen who can only write in short sentences, and their style comes off as thudding and laborious, like the stomping, clumsy gait of an elephant. The sight immediately after an elephant crashes past a village or jungle is that of the rear of the retreating elephant, and the rear of the elephant is perhaps the most undignified rear in all creation; wrinkled, grey and ugly. The only time short sentences are useful is amongst long ones as a way of punctuating a message. They have bite.

Apophasis is where one mentions a thing simply to say that one does not want to talk about, like pricking someone with a needle and pretending it was accidental.

An example; I will not mention councillor Hay’s recent expensive indulgence on a new car, since private affairs are none of my concern, but the way this council handles the budget is absolutely appalling!

Any variation of “I will not mention…” is inadvisable in a forum situation, where a mentioned unmentionable will probably be off topic and might result in infuriating someone partial to what you did not mention and who might challenge the off topic statement and thus derail the thread.

Of course, just as bad is not even including a “I will not mention” and going ahead and mentioning an unmentionable in a topic where it does not belong. Mentioning politics or taking potshots at creationism or evolution where they do not belong is always disappointing to see. In all cases, one must exercise discipline.

Understatement and overstatement
To persuade someone of your own argument, it is always advisable to understate your objections to an argument, even if you find your opponent’s argument absolutely ridiculous. This is not dishonesty, it is a matter of respect. Compare:

“I think anyone who puts forward such a view to be lying to themselves and to everyone on this forum”


“No, the idea of empathy is reinforced throughout the ages in art and in life. The Babylonians, when they wished to cement a friendship, went through a ritual that I think admirably demonstrates true empathy in ancient times and not just mutual self interest...”

Grammar, spelling etc…
My grammar is far from perfect, but it follows at least most of the rules. I understand this is a forum that is accessible to most of the world; a world in which not everyone reads and writes English perfectly. But poor English from a native English speaker suggests to me a laziness in learning a language that one will likely speak, write and read for the rest of one’s life.


By writing this I don’t mean to suggest that I am free of these problems, but by identifying problems in style, I, and hopefully others, can take steps towards removing them.

People are free to challenge and add to this.
<i>'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'</i>
-John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn.

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Post #2

Post by ENIGMA »

One that I've seen come up a few times lately:

Armchair Psychology


Simply put, yes it is nice that you think poster X is in deep denial about the Truth (which oddly enough seems to take on a radically different meaning from standard usage when explicitly capitalized... but anyway), but we honestly don't care so long as their post remains substantively unanswered.

That's nice that you want to put your Psych degree to good use, but this is not the place to do it.
Gilt and Vetinari shared a look. It said: While I loathe you and all of your personal philosophy to a depth unplummable by any line, I will credit you at least with not being Crispin Horsefry [The big loud idiot in the room].

-Going Postal, Discworld

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