Within Internet message boards, blogs, email listserves and even on news sites where comments can be posted, there may exist discussion threads, sometimes also called topic threads or threaded discussions. A discussion thread refers to two separate but related things. First they are the act — which may be handled by software or a moderator — of grouping together all comments or discussion on the same topic. Second, a discussion thread can be defined as one topic under discussion by a group. The thread is a single focused topic, in most cases, and all comments concerning the topic are listed with it.
For the first definition, there can be a number of ways of grouping a single discussion thread. Each post may simply show up in the order it was received. On sites that are moderated, posts in the same thread may not show up for a while until someone reads and approves the reply. Other times, the most recent post shows up first, and initial comments are grouped in reverse order.
Within discussion threads, people may have the option to reply to a single post to the discussion, which might then be listed right below the post, often indicated to show it is a reply by tabbing in replies slightly or by topic title. If you take issue with someone’s point of view, or wish to praise something said by another poster, you may be able to reply directly to their comments. This brings up an interesting issue regarding each unique discussion thread.
Netiquette dictates that you really understand how to post and how a post will be displayed within a discussion thread. If posts are displayed in order received or reverse order without a reply function, you may want to reference the person’s post you are discussing so that people will understand what you’re talking about. It can be easy to lose the meaning of your post when you can’t reply within a thread. You also should be certain if you’re merely adding new thoughts to discussion threads that you don’t use a reply function to respond to someone else’s particular comment, unless that’s your intent.
Another netiquette issue occurs because a single discussion thread frequently requires you to stay on topic. If you have a new issue that is unrelated to a particular thread, you might post this elsewhere on a site, possibly in the form of a blog or a new message. Essentially, you should look elsewhere to generate your own “new” idea instead of adding it to a thread to which it is unrelated.
There is an exception. Sometimes an article, blog, or topic is large and encourages an open thread, which means you can discuss anything related to a much larger issue or make small appreciative or negative comments as you see fit. An open discussion thread isn’t bound by the same netiquette rules, though you still may want to follow the advice for replying to specific comments, as suggested above.