[Athen] Best practise for threads in discussions.

E.A. Draffan ea at emptech.info
Sun Feb 8 13:46:34 PST 2009

Thank you Norm and the many others - I shall try to put together a guide as
soon as possible and send it back to the list for approval and for anyone to
use if it helps folks!

Best wishes E.A.

Mrs E.A. Draffan
Learning Societies Lab,
ECS, University of Southampton,
Tel +44 (0)23 8059 7246

-----Original Message-----
From: athen-bounces at athenpro.org [mailto:athen-bounces at athenpro.org] On
Behalf Of Prof Norm Coombs
Sent: 08 February 2009 04:00
To: Access Technology Higher Education Network
Subject: Re: [Athen] Best practise for threads in discussions.

I prefer the answer at the top. I still recall with frustration a reply to
a question that a colleague sent me. My question required a long
explanation in order to make the question clear. I had though my friend
had returned my mail without a reply. Many screens later, I found one word
answer to my question


At 12:01 AM 2/6/2009, you wrote:

>As usual I have lots of opinions about this, having used all sorts of

>methods. Sometimes I prefer a combination of techniques, depending on the

>context. I agree with both Patrick and Sean. Can I be any more

>schizophrenic? I'll use this e-mail to respond to points made by both

>Patrick and Sean.



>-----Original Message-----

>Patrick Burke (PB) wrote:


>Overall, after much experience & consideration, I give it a big Who

>Cares. ... But then I'm a long-time proponent of top-posting (when

>you open a new message, the newest content is right there, & if you

>need context you can read further down...). So it may not be wise to

>listen to me. ...


>PP: I tend to be an efficiency nut and the top-down method doesn't work


>in a long thread. One of the main reasons why I love Microsoft Outlook so

>much is that it allows one to sort and group messages many different ways.


>find myself grouping messages by threads -- something that Outlook calls

>"conversations." Within that thread group, messages are sorted by date and

>time received, allowing me to go through them one after another. I

>recognize that most people use the top-down method to respond; and, as a

>screen reader user, it's often far more efficient to go through each


>one after another, just reading the top part and ignoring the rest. I

>recognize that this is certainly an adaptation for the current practice.

>But the reality is that getting people to change -- including myself -- on

>how they post message is going to be quite difficult.



>PB: I suppose the "Re7: ..." method is better than "Re: re: re: re: ...",

>if I have to choose a method of showing this.


>If we're talking about an online forum situation, some sites use

>nested lists very effectively to show subthreads. It gets a little

>wordy with all the "nesting level 2" indicators (via Jaws in my

>case). But this method does show very clearly which messages are

>originals & which are follow-ups.


>PP: I agree that some forums do employ the list nesting structure

>effectively. The down side is the unnecessary bit of chatter. Instead, I

>would highly prefer the Gmail method of indicating messages. I think Gmail

>does a fantastic job of grouping and, in turn, using heading navigation to

>allow one to jump from response to response. Within messages, the Gmail

>interface often ends up hiding headers, original messages, responses to

>original, etc. It all depends on what level of nesting we're talking


>It allows one to unhide a particular message or hidden section on demand.

>It is very very efficient. If screen readers were more reliable navigating

>through Gmail, I'd abandon Outlook in a heartbeat.


>Sean Keegan (SK) wrote:


>One method that has gained some use on discussion lists is similar to

>what I have done in this message. That is, put either the question or

>main point above and then respond to the message below. If there are

>several points, then separate each point with your response. Delete the

>remainder of the actual message.


>PP: I do like the method that SEAN points out. In long e-mails like this

>one, I often end up using it myself. However I am not fond of the ">" char

>at all. I have always found the > symbol quite annoying when used by

>e-mails. It is often not included in the low-punctuation verbosity levels

>by default. Yes I can customize punctuation levels to have the symbol


>but I'm lazy and, more important, having "greater than" said each time I

>encounter a new line is simply annoying.


>SK: Some people simply use the ">" symbol to designate the main topic in



>previous message that is being responded to, but others put some

>information such as "My reply" to separate who is writing which

>message. If the conversation has gone back and forth and the poster

>wishes to refocus to the original message, then I have also seen the

>convention where the phrase "Original Post" or "Original Message" is

>sometimes used instead of a person's name.


>PP: Instead, I prefer to use a format similar to what I've done here. The

>first time the poster's name is encountered, I take it in whole and put

>his/her initials in parens. Each time she/he is quoted subsequently, I

>preface the quote by using the initials. What I've found people to do is

>quote someone at the beginning without identifying the person, put their

>reply immediately following the quote, interweave another quote from the

>original poster without identifying, and then respond to it. It is the


>ineffective method. Sometimes the conversation could be clear form the

>context and other times, it takes a little while to understand the context.

>I am forced to go back to the original messages from the thread to pick up

>context and return to the response to gain a better understanding.


>SK: Does this help someone using a screen-reader? I have heard answers all

>over the place, from "yes" to "no" to, as Patrick pointed out, "who

>cares?" What I do like about separating the main points and replying to

>those individually is when checking e-mail via a portable device (e.g.,

>iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) - I get the main points of the message and do

>not have to sift through a bunch of replies to figure out what was the

>original post. Also, it helps to focus the issues in question and can

>make it easier to understand to what part of a message a person is



>PP: I do find the integrated threads quite useful when retrieving e-mail

>messages on a mobile device. I agree that the method is most successful

>when used properly. This again brings me back to Gmail. In situations


>these, a good user interface can make a huge difference.



>Warm regards,







>Athen mailing list

>Athen at athenpro.org


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Norman Coombs norm.coombs at gmail.com
CEO EASI Equal Access to Software and Information
phone (949) 855-4852 (NOTE pacific time zone)

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