If you’d like to comment here, your comment should contribute meaningfully and kindly to the discussion. More specifically, that means:

Be kind to letter-writers and fellow commenters, which especially means being constructive if you’re criticizing. If you want a steady supply of interesting letters to read here, people need to be willing to write in and expose themselves to public critique. Treating them kindly makes that far more likely to happen.

A subset of that rule: Give letter-writers and fellow commenters the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to a negative interpretation of someone’s comment or situation; instead, assume good faith on the part of others, including people whose opinions differ from your own.

Keep your comments on-topic. Because comment threads can get long and unwieldy as it is, I may delete off-topic comments.

Don’t nitpick people’s spelling, grammar, or word choices.

You don’t have to convince everyone. Consider making your point and moving on. In particular, you don’t need to respond every separate time someone says something you disagree with. And if you are leaving tons of comments all over a particular thread to argue your opinion, I may ask you to pull back so that your voice doesn’t drown out others.

• Don’t aggressively shoot down suggestions just because they might not work in one particular circumstance. For example, don’t do this:

Person 1: “I’m having a problem that could be solved by easy things to bring for lunch.”
Person 2: “Sandwiches are easy and delicious.”
Person 3: “Not everyone can eat sandwiches! Some people are allergic to them. Thus, your suggestion sucks and you should be more considerate.”

Useful comments provide realistic, level-headed advice, and focus on the world as it is rather than the one you might wish existed. For example, if you personally dislike something that’s considered innocuous by the larger culture, your advice will generally be far more useful if you acknowledge that context.

Not helpful: “Any decent person knows that it’s unacceptable to ask about someone’s food.”
More helpful: “Personally I hate talking about my food, and while I understand that it’s widely seen as no big deal, I wish people would remember that not everyone feels that way.”

Don’t armchair-diagnose others (“it sounds like your coworker is autistic/has borderline personality disorder/etc.”). We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question.

Resist the temptation to make comments like “I think I know what company you work for.” People comment here expecting anonymity and, even when well-meant, these comments can make people tremendously uneasy. (Also, they’re usually wrong!)

Other things to know:

What if a fellow commenter isn’t following these rules?

If you don’t like the thought of letting something objectionable stand, a comment like “I believe you’re wrong, but I also think this whole point is derailing so I’m not going to engage” or “I don’t think that’s fair, but I don’t want to draw this out and make it the focus of the comments section” is a good approach. (But we only need one of those. If you see a fellow commenter has already called it out, the best thing you can do is move on to more relevant, useful discussion.)

What if I’m skeptical a letter is even real?

I have no way of knowing if the letters people submit or real or not. I assume all advice columnists get trolled now and then, but I don’t really care as long as the answer might be useful to someone.

Why isn’t my comment showing up?

You’ve probably triggered a moderation filter (by using a particular word or phrase or by including a link, or simply because the filter occasionally malfunctions for a moment). If that happens, I’ll release the comment once I see it.

Alternately, and far more rarely, your comments might get sent to moderation or removed altogether because you haven’t followed these commenting rules. That doesn’t happen often, but violating these rules will result in that.

User names

Give yourself one.  It can be anything you’d like, but it’s a lot easier to follow the conversation when 10 different people aren’t all calling themselves Anonymous. You can still be anonymous; just call yourself something.

If you’d like your picture to appear next to your comments, just upload a picture at Gravatar.

How can I subscribe to comments?

There are two ways to follow all the comments on a particular post:

♦ Leave a comment yourself, put your email address in the email field, and check the box that says “notify me of follow-up comments via email.” Note that you may get a lot of comments, because it will send you all the comments on the post, not just the replies made directly to you.
♦ Follow the comments feed for that post by RSS. There’s a link to do that right beneath the comments box on each post.

What’s with the blue lines to the left of some comments?

The blue lines highlight any comments that are new since your last visit to the page. This feature may not work in all browsers (looking at you, Internet Explorer).

How can I use HTML in my comments?

<b>This will make the text bold. Be sure to include the closing tag at the end!</b>

<i>This will give you italics. Again, don’t forget the closing tag.</i>

<u>You can underline</u>, or you can <del>cross things out.</del>

<blockquote>You can quote someone this way.</blockquote>

That’s it. Go forth and comment.