Blogging Guidelines: Ethical Concerns, and Advice—DRAFT 1

by Little Miss Attila on February 10, 2010

I haven’t been able to find any of the “Rules for Bloggers” that were around when I started, so I’m recreating them.* None of these ideas are original with me.

Linkage, Quotations, and Proper Credit

When mentioning other bloggers, you’ll want to add links to their blogs. It’s courteous, and it will create more traffic for you when people follow the links and other bloggers then see you in their referral logs, following those links back to your site to see if you did, indeed, mention them—or simply to find out what the latest is at your own digs.

If you are referred to an interesting article or blogpost by a colleague, you must always give them credit within your post; a simple “hat tip” at the end will suffice, but that hat tip must link back to their site (most of the time, it should link to the particular post in which they mentioned that article, image, meme, or whatever it is that they turned you on to).

Any article or blogpost that contributed to your thinking should be given a citation, and, preferably, a link. (If it’s a book, you might link to the author’s book-promo page, or to the Barnes and Noble or Amazon page for that book.) If the article cannot be found, give as much information about it as you can (“it was written by Joe Shlobotnik, and it appeared in the Los Angeles Tribune in the summer of 1986. Shlobotnik posited that . . . . “)

Keep all of your block quotations to a reasonable length; try not to quote at great length unless the publication you are quoting is subscribtion-only, or out-of-print. Never quote an entire blog entry (unless it is exceedingly short, and part of a series).

Do not duplicate a picture of another blogger from their own site without their permission. Do not copy a photo or image of any kind from their site without proper credit and a link. Give a credit (and linkage, where appropriate) to any mainstream/legacy material you are using.


Have a commenting policy. Not all software will allow you to post it above your comments box, but if you are forced to edit a comment, delete a nonspam comment, censure a commenter, or even ban a commenter, it helps to be able to justify that action. Try to decide what levels of politeness are required, what the terms of debate will be, and whether swear words/vulgarities are permissible (or encouraged).

Personally, I tend to warn people before I ban them, but that works on my site because my comments rarely get too rowdy, or number in the hundreds. I rely on “wet blanket” comments that remind people they are debating in my virtual living room. It doesn’t always work, but at least it lets others know where the lines are. That way, when the same people come back, they are aware of the normal rules of discourse.

Also, I’m in the middle on open vs. heavily moderated commenting: I allow misogyny in my comments section, because it is generally directed at me, and I feel it shows the true colors of the woman-hating commenters. Any anti-male, anti-Asian, anti-gay, anti-tranny, anti-black, anti-American Indian, and anti-Jewish comments, though (or ones that look like they might be indicative of biases in that direction) generally get a warning, and a reminder that repeated offenses are subject to redaction, and banning. (Yeah, I have a little Native American in me, but most people don’t know that, and it doesn’t show in my picture, fair as I am. My half-sister is half-Syrian, though, so anti-Arab posters get cussed at. And my niece? Half-Polish, so don’t even fucking try that, either.)

I’m not above simply deleting an offensive comment that’s completely off-topic.

And I don’t get upset when other bloggers make examples of truly egregious trolls by editing their comments to make them look foolish; this is not a great idea, but it’s usually only done by big bloggers who have lots of trolls, and have given the worst ones all kinds of opportunities to redeem themselves before using them for sport.

Editing and Corrections

After you’ve posted something, editing should be limited to fixing typos, smoothing out the grammar, and modifying an egregious word choice. Be careful in doing this: once someone quotes your entry somewhere, you’re going to look like an idiot if you’ve edited the passage or the sentence they quote. The most conservative, safe way to edit—and one that you’ll want to use if you find an actual inaccuracy—is to leave the incorrect text there, but crossed out, while adding the new, correct text.

Then, if the error is non-minor, you’ll probably want to place an UPDATE notice at the end, explaining what you did. (For a long entry, or one that’s getting a lot of traffic, you may want to place an UPDATE notice in the headline, so that people will know that there is new information in it.)

Publishing Personal Correspondence

You’ll want to have a correspondence policy: most bloggers consider emails between them to be “off the record,” so the safest policy is not to publish material from personal emails without getting permission from that reader or blogger.

There are those who have the opposite policy, and they would be well-advised to post it above their email addresses. The etiquette with such bloggers is to write “Not for Publication” at the beginning of the mail, or in the subject line, if you don’t want it published. (The exception is Glenn Reynolds, who is very good at sussing out the tenor of a remark that is sent to him. But because of the sheer volume of mail he gets, the onus is generally upon the reader of Instapundit to specify “not for publication” [or “don’t use my name”], since so many people send him mail in the desperate hope that the remarks will get published. I would advise this with any high-traffic blog, as a safeguard.)

Blogging About Someone’s Family Ties

This is not normally done except to point out a genuine conflict of interest that has to do with monetary gain (“Blogger X’s wife works for the energy company whose innovations Blogger X/Reporter Y is praising”), or in the context of someone being part of a known political, intellectual, or electronic “power couple” (e.g., Prof. Glenn Reynolds and Dr. Helen Smith; Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman). One must never “out” any personal information about a blogger that one attained through a means other than that person’s blog, and one must never name their family members unless they do it themselves on their blog. Naturally, this prohibition applies doubly to minor children.

The flip side of this is that if one has a conflict of interest, one must disclose it to one’s readers.

If you’re new: Know which bloggers are anonymous in terms of their names or their physical images before you socialize with them, and quarantine any pictures that are taken of a blogger who is anonymous, or camera-shy. (There are some bloggers who allow their names to be known, but not their visages—and vice-versa.) Don’t quote anything another blogger says to you over food or drink—or in any intimate setting—without first checking with them.

Don’t name people in your personal life, or in the personal life of another blogger, without good reason. The internet is forever.

Finding Your Rhythm, and Your Niche (Tactical/Strategic Advice)

The truisim is that most successful bloggers are “linker, thinkers, or stinkers”—though some people do all three. If you’re simply throwing out links, are you providing some added value? If you are simply publishing links, you’ll want to have a lot of them.

Figure out what kind of timing feels natural for you, and try to be a little bit consistent about it. Do you post every day? Every 2-3 days? Every week? If you can figure it out, and you’re breaking the cycle, you might want to let your readers know why you’re suddenly taking some time off when you’d normally be posting. That way, they don’t worry. Also, they know when to check back to find more content.

* Though if anyone can find the ones I cut my teeth on in 2003, they should let me know.

* * *

Thoughts, everyone? What am I forgetting?

UPDATE: There is a concern out there that I’ve expanded the segments that have to do with ways other bloggers have violated my own privacy, but that can be fixed in the rewrite without too much muss and fuss. Again: there is nothing here that is original to me, though I’ve amplified a couple, and editorialized here or there. Some of it can stay; most of it will have to go.

UPDATE II (cranky): Another rule: If you really, really want to sound like a newbie—and/or someone with no ear for the English language—please continue to refer to a blog post or a blog entry as simply a “blog.” Because that word doesn’t apply to your publication; no, no. It refers to the individual item you published, and I’d like you to go on with that usage, to mark you as the hip guy/gal that you think you are.

Then please call your CD player a “CD.” If you come across an old fax machine in your closet, be sure to refer to it as a “fax.”

Now go away, because I don’t want you as a reader. Thanks.

UPDATE III (Thursday, 3:00 p.m.): Please note that once I’ve nailed the jello to the wall, it makes no difference to me whether it stays there or not: my work is done.

UPDATE IV (Sunday, 2/14, 10:50 p.m.): Jimmie has an almost perfect distillation of the rules and tips right here.

{ 10 trackbacks }

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Little Miss Attila February 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm

So far, I’m being told that I just need to slash the copy down, which should be pretty easy. I try to be wordy as hell; it makes editing easier.

(Oh, and there’s a little “lighten up,” from people who think that a bit of sociopathy never hurt anyone, but one is always going to get that.)

Foxfier February 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Give credit as best you can, don’t tell stories that aren’t yours to tell, try to be considerate to your readers.

Sounds solid to me.

Oh, and the sociopathy comment– good phrasing. I may have to steal a version of it.

KingShamus February 10, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Good rules all.

jc February 10, 2010 at 8:42 pm

A couple more things – particularly regarding vids

Hotlinks to vid: go to the vid source (youtube or whatever)

NEVER EVER AUTOPEN VID OR AUDIO!!!Eleventy!!! I’ve hit 5 sites today that do that. They get no return visits

If possible, put ’em “below the fold”. Personally, until I figure that trick I’m not posting any video embeds.

Helpful hint: draft in a document format, then copy/paste text &c. This helps cut down on the “Bloger et my homework” stuff.

I’ll have this stuff figured out before I’m 50, trust me!

jc February 10, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Oh, and use a font size one size larger than the one you used to white your cribsheets in high school. Contrast is important too, navy on sky blue might appeal to the art student, but bear in mind that the readers (darling innocent things that they are) don’t know how to change the contrast factors through a magic touch on the magic Apple mouse.

I get tired of following links that are labeled “for more” that just go to the previously-discussed-and-quoted-in-full.

Sorry, I’ve just had an unhappy love affair and I don’t see why anyone else should be happy. (douglas Adams ref.)

rhhardin February 11, 2010 at 6:50 am

It’s the organizing personality type.

Next: rules for cats.

BaronHarkonnen February 11, 2010 at 7:30 am

Can one reject the liberal feminism without being called a mysogynist? Just curious!

chilloutyo February 11, 2010 at 7:50 am

Is speculating that this country might be headed towards having another civil war just cause for someone being banned?

Tex Taylor February 11, 2010 at 7:52 am

Well, you’ve got almost all of the “anti’s” covered and your well mannered, I guess. Doesn’t appear like the comments would be much of interesting read or intellectually stimulating, but everyone can BE HAPPY. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, it is pretty difficult to debate under those guidelines – but to each, their own.

Tex Taylor February 11, 2010 at 7:53 am


Make that you are – for the happy, pedantic types.

Michael Crosby February 11, 2010 at 8:07 am

I’m somewhat new to blogging. And I think I violate a few of Ms Attila’s guidelines.

In all seriousness, I’m not doing this to bring traffic to my blog. But if a few of you that are familiar with proper crediting for use of other’s material, would you take a look at my blog and comment.

I use a lot of pictures, most are my own, but some are taken from the internet. Do I make a notation where the picture came from? Do I have to find out who took the picture and then ask for permission to use it? And then once I get permission, do I keep signed documents in a file?

John Blake February 11, 2010 at 9:02 am

Good policy: Act always in good faith, never under false pretenses. Citations, links, references are key, as are “fair use” quotations that do not shade to plagiarism either of expression or ideas. Since little is truly original, “decent opinions of mankind” cannot escape contemporary context and perspective. Bloggers’ Golden Rule requires posters to resolve ambiguous attributions, resolving doubts by transparent full-disclosure. Never reveal personal, private information at first-hand; even at second or third hand, prohibitions are near absolute. The sole possible exception is when such data is already common knowledge in public domains.

Common sense, integrity, transparency are watchwords on the Web. Ideologues venting ad hominem profanities, obscene pejoratives, contribute nothing to rational discourse. Arguments from Authority by Stipulation (“it’s true because we Ascended Masters say it is”) entitle audiences to dismiss their frivolous assertions out-of-hand. To the extent Web users ignore or even violate these canons they are unworthy of respect, subject to excretion from any forum valuing its role as participant in the New Agora of technologically enabled cross-communication.

megscole64 February 11, 2010 at 10:10 am

May I add one?

Do NOT have music or video play automatically!!! It is beyond annoying, especially when I’m trying to listen to the radio online and all of a sudden your choice of audio starts blaring in my ear drums. Would you walk into Starbucks and blast your tunes while others have their head phones on? No.

And it’s just a pet peeve of mine…but I don’t like “click to read more” posts. I can scroll if something is too long and I get trying to shorten and clean things up, but I dislike multiple ‘clicks’ to see a post. I don’t mind doing this to older posts (and I’d do it to my own posts if I knew how!) but not to new ones.

Okay…rant over. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for posting this!

jenn1964 February 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I disagree about the commenting policy. As far as I am concerned my blog is like a conversation and if I don’t want to talk to someone I won’t. I don’t owe them an explanation. In another light my blog is my property so if I want to delete / edit comments that’s my business. I wouldn’t without a real good reason but I have that right. Then everyone can compare me to Charles Johnson and I can be the most hated girl in the blogosphere. Or I could if I got more than 2 or 3 comments every couple days.

jenn1964 February 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I just posted about this over at LMA’s place but I thought I would mention it here too. I really disagree with the idea that I have to post a commenting policy. It isn’t an issue for me because I have 2 or 3 commenters every couple days but if I had more I would still disagree with the idea.

Jenn February 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

well that explains why my post didn’t show up ๐Ÿ˜›

AndyJ February 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I find that having a clear point of view -and- readily identifiable sense of humor bring me back. I dislike the peek-a-boo points of view and humor always works. self deprecating is better than assault/put-down humor.

Being clever with nasty remarks isn’t really clever and puts everything else said into an unpleasant anticipation of the next one…

Anybody can be nasty… It’s like cursing/inappropriate language. It limits and defines the speaker as a closed voice. Communication should be two-way. One -way is a quick click, never to return…


Little Miss Attila February 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Comment moderation is like copyediting–just try to know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

The fact that I’m hearing that I’m too strict and too lenient confirms me in my view that for this particular blog, my commenting policy must be just right.

Sylvia February 11, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Another good old rule is to copy web ring buttons and such to your own server. And the minor children thing? If you know the person’s child’s name but the blogger uses “DD” or “DS,” follow that convention in the comments. About the only edit I do to comments is to substitute vague terms for minors or the names of people who prefer to go by handles. Ditto for home towns, places of business, etc.

dicentra February 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Always offer pie.

Robert Stacy McCain February 13, 2010 at 10:50 pm

if you are forced to edit a comment, delete a nonspam comment, censure a commenter, or even ban a commenter, it helps to be able to justify that action.

I disagree that a blogger needs to “justify” disapproval or deletion of a comment. It’s your blog. You are the publisher. You own that slice of bandwidth and may do with it as you please. No random stranger has a right to comment, and if you choose to reject a comment, the rejected commenter has suffered no harm. So why “justify” it?

Understand that I approve nearly all comments at my blog. Most of the rejected ones involve some sort of personal attack on me. A basic rule: Don’t attack me with my own bandwidth. If anybody complains about a rejection, I just tell ’em, “Hey, buddy, get your own freakin’ blog.”

There’s kind of an Ayn Rand principle involved here. You’re Dagny Taggart. Don’t let a bunch of second-handers boss you around.

Foxfier February 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I found a way to get a comment deleted on my blog… make sure that when I log on in the morning, I have three or four identical posts from months-old blogs, and for extra points make the comment irrelevant and/or misleading in relation to the original topic!

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