how to comment

The comment section here is lightly moderated. Because I’m not around 24/7 and don’t see every comment, moderation will be at times inconsistent, and I rely on commenters to follow these community guidelines.

Comments that don’t follow these rules may be removed without warning.

1. Be kind to letter-writers and fellow commenters. That means:
• Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to a negative interpretation of someone’s comment or situation; assume good faith on the part of others.
• Be constructive if you’re criticizing. If your comment is critical, ask yourself how you’d word it to a friend who was having a bad day and say it that way.
• If your comments are unkind, crabby, or snarky, or if you seem to be working out anger issues at the world in general, I may remove your comments, put you on permanent moderation, or ban you, at my sole discretion.

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

3. Limit speculation on facts not presented by letter-writers to reasonable assumptions based on the information provided.
• Don’t invent possibilities simply because you could imagine them to be within the remote realm of plausibility.
• If you’re speculating on facts not in the letter, explain how it’s actionable for the letter-writer. “She might be stealing your lunch because she can’t afford her own” is not actionable (and quickly becomes derailing). “She might be stealing your lunch because she can’t afford her own, and so you could try X” is actionable.
• Do not accuse people in the letter of nefarious motives based purely on speculation. Letter writers aren’t characters in a story; they’re real people.

4. 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.”

5. 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.

6. People are experts on their own situations and know more about their own circumstances than you do.
• This is an advice column, not a court of law; letter-writers don’t need to “prove” the facts of their letter to your satisfaction. Please don’t subject them to, “But are you sure? No, are you really sure?”
• When someone reports their own situation is giving them bad vibes, particularly in regard to safety, harassment, or discrimination, believe them. Don’t search for ways to explain away the behavior or pressure them to ignore their instincts because you personally haven’t had the same experiences.

7. Don’t nitpick.
• Don’t nitpick people’s spelling, grammar, or word choices.
• Don’t nitpick on substance. If someone makes a comment that’s generally true, resist the urge to counter with a really specific, uncommon circumstance where that general truth wouldn’t apply, just to be able to correct the person.

8. Respect people’s anonymity. Don’t 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 uneasy. (Also, they’re usually wrong!)

Other things to know:

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

I do not read and approve every single comment. The volume is far too high. So if you see a comment that seems problematic, please don’t do this: “I can’t believe this comment is allowed! Why has Alison approved this?!” Instead, assume I haven’t seen it and feel free to flag it and I’ll take a look.

How do I flag a comment for you to review?

If you include a link in your comment, it’ll go to moderation so I’ll see it. So for example:

Alison, can you take a look at this comment?

(Yes, this is a weird workaround. The higher-tech solutions don’t work well.)

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

I have no way of knowing if the letters people submit are 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, 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.

Note, too, that if a comment is deleted for violating these rules, replies to it are often removed as well — so if you don’t see your comment but know it didn’t violate these rules, that is likely the issue.

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. But don’t use multiple user names in the same post to try to make it look like your viewpoint has more support than it does; that’s sock puppeting and it will get you banned.

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


I sometimes quote from comments in pieces I write for other outlets and may quote from yours (always keeping people anonymous). If you do not want your comment published elsewhere, please indicate that when you post it.

What are 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.

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>

You can <u>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.