Friday, 3 May 2013

English as a first language

I am crap at English! Yes, I was born here, and grew up here, but did not do well at English at school, failed all my English exams (I think you can fail a CSE), and have only really picked up any sense of grammar, punctuation, and overall "English" by experience though the years. Also, my spelling is not good, and my typing is worse. I am happy to be corrected :-)

However, I find some of the English of my suppliers a tad hard to follow at times.

This is an example that is better than most, and my reply, for amusement. Once again, the supplier had difficulty with replies that are not top-posted. Having used email and usenet for so many decades I have difficulty with replies that are top posted. Perhaps I am turning in to a grumpy old man...
AS suggested earlier your reply mechanism to our Emails is not in
the similar pattern and every time a new Email is sent which will
not give any history of the email Chain.

Also the format replied is very confusing and would suggest to have
a look on this please which will help both of us to be clear.
Thank you for the reply.

Yes, the format of emails is very confusing - you keep putting your
replies at the TOP of the email to which you are replying. This goes
against long established email and post etiquette and is very
confusing. Please stop doing it. Put replies under the text to which
you are replying so that the email can be read as normal, from start
to finish, and that context is clear (without having to search though
the email, or read it backwards).

I have, for example, a book here, and I find that I can read it from
start to finish, from the top of each page to the bottom. The author
does not put later things earlier in the book than previous things. It
is quite a common convention (in the UK at least) to read from top to
bottom and left to right. 
Cue: long debate on top and bottom posting.


  1. Now in fairness, in all my years of using the internet, every single email client I've ever used or come across - with one exception in the very early days - has always defaulted to using top-posted replies.

    This is normally faster and more efficient (no need to scroll.. and scroll.. and scroll some more) as emails are personal and therefore you are assumed to understand the earlier content. Nearly everybody who emails uses top-posted too and you're one of the few that still seems to do it "the old way" :) .

    Admittedly forums and newsgroups almost always prefer bottom posted, which makes sense, as the opening post is one of shared public engagement rather than personal/individual knowledge (i.e. as other people are reading it then they will need the opening context to understand any replies).


    1. What we actually try to do is select the relevant text and add replies below each part, not copy the whole lot. That seems to be the best approach to be honest. It allows a whole email to be read providing context and reply without extra unnecessary copies of old emails.

      What BT seem to do is top post, retaining all previous emails in reverse order at the end. They seen unable to link previous replies using their email client (as all the email clients I use seem to do), so seems they want this history in every reply for "context".

      If their email clients were sensible enough, or they had a ticketing system to do it, they would not need the context of including all previous emails in every reply.

      Of course one could "game" this by sending replies which have carefully edited previous emails which they will blindly believe as they are not looking at the originals!

      Even so, at the end of the day, we are the customer here :-)

    2. Well, I've just checked and Thunderbird places the edit cursor _after_ the text of the quoted message.

      I'm firmly with Adrian on this one.

    3. Oh, and note, oddly, that this blog puts replies BELOW the post/reply it references. Strange how that is so common. Even facebook does the same.

    4. Indeed, I have no issue with Thunderbird. It can chain the emails together in a thread for me so no need for a copy in each email, places cursor at the end, as you say, quotes text properly, does not quote the signature, and one other things people do not realise:-

      If you select some of the text then click reply, it states the sender said, and quotes just the selected text. Ideal for selective quote and reply.

  2. I prefer top post only because, when reading certain e-mail groups, I have to (as Mark noted) "scroll, scroll, scroll" past all the crap I've already read in previous messages to the reply.

    Now bottom-posting might be less tedious if there was a marker for mail clients to jump to so you started, by default, at the right point.

  3. I also use Thunderbird and must admit that I chose the top-posted replies option specifically because everybody else seemed to use it for their email :).

    Long ago I use to use Microsoft Outlook Express (before it became crappy Outlook) and that always stuck replies at the top and without me asking it to. Hotmail, GMail and Yahoo also adopt the top-replies approach but I never selected it for them either.

    But let's not confuse email as a separate insular service with forums, facebook, blogs and other internet services as per my first post.

    Ultimately you adapt to the mass market way of doing things as that's what people seem to use. If I do a quick scan through all the people who recently replied to one of my emails, excluding Adrian :), then they all stick their reply at the top. All of them.. thousands of people.


  4. A: Yes.
    > >Q: Are you sure?
    >> >>A: Because it reverses the logical flow of conversation.
    >>> >>>Q: Why is top posting frowned upon?

  5. Top and bottom posting are both a complete pain - *inline* posting has always been the most sensible method IMHO, and this is how it was always done on pretty much every email client prior to Outlook (even going back to FidoNet era!). This is especially true when an email contains more than one thread of conversation, otherwise it either gets hard or impossible to figure out which replies go with which threads, or the sender has to manually add some context into each of their replies.

    The "history of the email chain" thing is especially bogus to me - I trim replies down to the relevant content and expect people emailing me to do the same; that's only fair - expecting me to read a load of irrelevant stuff is just wasting my time.

    From a security point of view, the "history of the email chain" thing is really bad - on several occasions I've been added as a new recipient to an existing long-running email conversation, and because every single previous message in the thread is attached to the bottom of the message, I've been inadvertently sent confidential stuff that was previously discussed that I should not have seen (sometimes even stuff like other peoples' login credentials/passwords!). Unless you're going to review the *whole* thread before sending it to a new person to ensure you're not sending them something they shouldn't see, don't do it at all!

    If you want to maintain a history of the conversation, that's for your email client to do - every good modern email client (and many ancient ones too, such as PINE) supports threading and makes it trivial to look back at the whole thread without having to bounce it back and forth between recipients in an ever lengthening email. Also, if you're going to rely on the quoted text in an email as your thread history, things are going to get very complicated as soon as there are multiple respondents, since the thread will end up splitting and this will lead to some replies being missed out of the history. And that's ignoring the fact that the history is untrustworthy since any of the respondents can edit it!

    We use a ticketing system to talk to our customers (written in-house) that maintains the full email thread history in a database (along with voicemails, recordings of associated phone calls, any files that are pertinent to the ticket, etc.). The people who insist on top posting and quoting back the whole message we sent just serve to make the ticketing system less readable since they are merely adding duplicates of all the data. Additionally, we always reply to tickets in-line, so there's no hope of our customers using the top-post method to retain a history of the whole conversation since that entire history gets stripped off each time we reply. :)

    That said, none of my customers have ever complained or even made comment of the fact that we inline-post everything. In fact that only time I've had someone complain to me was many years ago before I was running my own company, where a (perpetually extremely busy) boss complained that I made an email thread unreadable to him by removing the whole email history... and there was me thinking I was doing him a favour by trimming it down to the relevant information so he didn't have to spend ages reading through irrelevance.

  6. Steve: "bottom posting" *IS* "inline" posting. The only people who quote the entire eMail and then write their reply at the bottom are people who don't actually question the value of what they are doing.
    By "bottom" they mean "below the 'thing' you are replying to" rather than "below the entire message you are replying to".

    That aside, "inline" posting is, logically speaking, the good and right way to do it. I do it. However, lots of people can't cope with it and the reason for that seems to the same as the reason why it is useful. Namely, that you can reply to each snippet in context... and most people can't keep more than one piece of context in their head at a time.

    When you have a conversation in person with someone, usually the two parties take it in turns to speak and listen. When you have a conversation via eMail with several quoted parts it's possible to have many simultaneous conversations ongoing with a single person, often on only ever so slightly different topics or parts of topics. If that had been a conversation in person the exchanges would have been shorter and the clarifications would have happened sooner...
    I've seen people try to treat an inline conversation like that and they start out at the top correcting something and then get progressively more angry throughout their replies to other parts of the same eMail as they encounter more copy from the other party that's based on the original assumptions, not the freshly corrected (but not yet send) assumptions.
    These people do not understand enough about databases to realise that their transaction has not yet committed: it's still in flight and they're doing a versioned read. ;-)

    People like "us" who are as used to conversing online as we are in person, are able to easily run these multiple streams in our head. For poor "normal" people, it literally blows their puny little minds, just like when you show them that it's possible to sharpen a pencil at both ends.