Only You

Only You Can Prevent Flame Wars

Let's try to keep the tone civil in our comment threads.

4 Answers 4


To me, the best way to encourage civility is by modeling the behavior. That kind of behavior would include:

  • Focus on facts.
  • Cite references to official documentation instead of opinions.
  • If a question is asking for opinions, it probably should be voted for closure as being opinion based.
  • There's no need to "get personal" or "flavor" our responses toward others.
  • Focus on what you've observed in practice and share it.
  • Share what documentation or expert resources recommend (books by well-known authors).

I don't need to belittle someone in order to raise myself up or feel better about myself. If I can't stick to factual information and documentation, then my response doesn't "hold water".

There are times when things can become heated and the best response will be no response. It's at those times when it's important to keep certain things in mind:

  • Any response will only serve to agitate and definitely won't win any debate.
  • Ask yourself, "will I be adding to the discussion or will I be trying to prove I'm 'right'?"
  • It's your choice to take the high road rather than dragging things deeper into the mud.
  • Comments are meant to add to the discussion surrounding a question.
  • If your comments don't add to answering a question, do you really need to make them?
  • Will anyone's mind be changed by your comments in a heated debate? In my experience, most likely not.

Think about whether you want to appear like a child arguing with another on the schoolyard playground or whether you want to behave like an adult in modern society. Ask yourself the questions I've posed above and I think the answer will become apparent. This isn't a question of whether it's necessary to be antagonistic or to critical, instead, it's one of learning how to focus on delivering messages that convey facts. Cite the forum's rules, official documentation, plus any learning or training resources that are available. Make factual observations about expected behavior and you should do fine.

Here are links to answers on two questions that I think demonstrate how to be positive in delivering information that others may not want to hear. A: Why answer a question without up voting it? where I quote cropredy and A: How to encourage better questions? where I share some of the "canned responses" I've used here for years which others now use as well.


Sometimes, it becomes necessary for us to be somewhat antagonistic in our criticisms. Whichever side of such criticism you are on, try to approach the situation with humility and grace. If you are being criticized, do not get defensive, get introspective. If you are the one delivering criticism, try to have compassion and tact.

One key tenet that helps me (even if it is hard to apply consistently) is to assume positive intent.

there's nothing wrong with conflict. Conflict can provide fodder for deeper understanding. Healthy, generative anger can push us to make positive change. Things go sideways when we stop disagreeing about ideas and start disagreeing about our shared humanity.

If it seems like someone is trying to take advantage of the system, then show them how to avoid giving that impression. If it seems like someone is attacking you, pause and consider what the community norms are. How familiar are you with the rules and etiquette, and how well do your words and content conform to them?

When trying to express tact in a situation where you feel like someone doesn't deserve your respect, templates can be incredibly helpful in moderating tone. As someone who often feels compelled to constructively criticize (and hopefully teach), I find them indispensable. Below are a few templates I like to use:

No matter what criticism you deliver, a good way to start is:

  • Hello @username, welcome to SFSE! Please take a moment to visit the [help], scroll through the [tour], and read [ask].

    This template renders as:

    Hi @username, welcome to SFSE! Please take a moment to visit the help center, scroll through the tour, and read How to Ask.

    • It helps to lead off with a welcome, especially for users who are still relatively new.
    • Personalization helps. Just don't forget to replace @username or it will have the opposite effect!
    • Opening with a positive helps diffuse the reflex to get defensive, especially if the criticism to follow is harsh.
    • Linking to the above resources lays a solid groundwork for any users who are actually willing to put in the time to read them. You might show someone the way to being a good citizen!
    • For users who can't be bothered, this advice acts as a signpost that they have no excuse to not know better.

A common follow up is some variation on:

  • What have you tried so far? Where are you stuck?
  • Are you experiencing any errors? If so, please include the message verbatim.

And if the post shows particularly little effort:

  • Have you done any research to understand this problem space?
  • If you're not sure how to begin, [Trailhead](link-to-relevant-unit) is a great place to start and learn the subject matter.

Some closing words. If you think someone else in the comment thread is a blithering idiot and you need help controlling your rage, put the keyboard down and remember:

Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

Never argue with an idiot. People watching won't be able to tell the difference.

  • 1
    Thanks - Will keep this in mind =P I like - Hi @username, welcome to SFSE! Please take a moment to visit the help center, scroll through the tour, and read How to Ask. Will definitely update/tenderize my approach towards a number of users
    – glls
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 20:38
  • Follow up question on this post - should we still downvote poorly answered quesitons/answers until modified, even though someone is a newcomer?
    – glls
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 20:47
  • 1
    That's a tricky question in its own right. If you want to explore that topic, a separate question would be a good way to go.
    – Adrian Larson Mod
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 20:49
  • 1
    Thanks for putting it all together. Its definitely very useful for fellow SFSE'ers!
    – Raul
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 8:41
  • 1
    @AdrianLarson "Sometimes, it becomes necessary for us to be somewhat antagonistic in our criticisms" Is it really ever "necessary" to be antagonistic and critical? To me, that's a choice we each make. "Personalizing" and "characterizing" behavior is part of what takes someone down that path. Observations aren't the same as criticisms. It's all in the delivery.
    – crmprogdev
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 20:19
  • @crmprogdev I would imagine you would have a very helpful take on the question to post as an answer!
    – Adrian Larson Mod
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 20:49

I find the best way is to just answer the original question to the best of your ability. If the asker cannot run with what you posted, someone else will eventually help, no need to put in such effort that you feel emotionally involved.

If someone asks how to add using the following mathematical equation "2+2+2+2=8", answer the original question. Instead of saying "2+2+2+2=8 is a security vulnerability, 2^3=8 is a superior". The poster did not ask for how to use exponents. He asked how to add!

  • Insistently holding grudges is, at best, barely within the bounds of civility.
    – Adrian Larson Mod
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 16:46
  • @AdrianLarson Not sure your comment relates to my response. Have I offended you? Commented May 17, 2017 at 17:11
  • It seems like I offended you on your bounty question a while back and you have used very similar rhetoric here. Do you claim this answer is not in response to that post? Do you disagree that this answer is rooted in negativity?
    – Adrian Larson Mod
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 17:15
  • @AdrianLarson My answer does reflect my experiences, I do think that the message of my response, "answer the original question without being emotionally invested" is a great way to focus on the purpose of SFSE. My response here is genuine, and is not a personal attack but is a representation of my experiences here in recent months. Commented May 17, 2017 at 17:22
  • And yet you throw in things like I feel that SFSE is slowly turning into Reddit and use pejorative phrasing like "yada yada". I still feel like your response is just barely civil, and a bit hypocritical.
    – Adrian Larson Mod
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 17:25
  • @AdrianLarson My response does reflect my experiences in recent months and this experience right here. If you disapprove of my answer, use the voting system. Commented May 17, 2017 at 17:34

How about a simple downvote icon specific to civility? If someone is snarky in their comment we can mark it as uncivil even if there might be useful content... one of the reasons folks get rude is that they are competitive with regards to ranking... so maybe civility factors into our overall score. It could have its own icon... maybe a handshake or a peace symbol.

  • You can already flag or upvote comments. I'm not sure what such a feature would add, as those features seem to fit the behavior you wish to exhibit.
    – Adrian Larson Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 13:16
  • well, this would be a specific voting model for civility not content... as in if the user was particularly helpful in a META way to the asker or particularly rude than this metric would allow for the civility ranking.
    – binaryLady
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 16:22

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