Off topic: What is "top posting"?

As a blind person, I realize that I represent a small minority
perspective on this topic. For whatever it's worth, what I'll call
"contextual top posting" works much better for me than traditional
quoting. With the latter, I have to scroll my speech output through
material that has already been posted before. I cannot immediately
glance to the new material below, and there is no available mechanism
that allows me to jump between quoted and new material, especially since
quoting conventions vary, even though distinctions between quoted and
new material may be visually apparent.

Often, there are messages with long quotes at the beginning, nearly the
whole original post. I don't understand why this is better for sighted
people than reading the original post in its true form by simply
glancing further down the page if a reference to that is needed. Often,
there are quotes of quotes, and it is confusing who said what, and why
the interaction was necessary to quote.

With topics of interest, I sometimes get so discouraged by the amount of
initial quoting that I give up following the thread. Sometimes, I press
Control+End (keyboard techniques work better than the mouse) to go
directly to the end of the message in the hope that I can then UpArrow a
few times to get to the beginning of the new material. Often, there is
a signature of a few lines at the bottom, so this technique ends up not
saving me time.

When following a topic of interest, I sometimes want to participate in
the discussion by posting my comments. Unfortunately, creating a
properly quoted message, perhaps the combination of current screen
reader and Microsoft Outlook technology, is enough of a chore that it is
usually not worth the effort. When I've top posted instead as a
practical alternative, criticism usually results from some members of
the list, often in a derisive manner, so I'm reluctant to do that.

The most efficient approach for me, both for reading and writing
messages, might be called contextual top posting. I understand the
problem of top posting with sentences that do not reference the points
to which one is responding. That practice does not help me either. I
generally think it's possible, however, to insert phrases that provide
sufficient context to anyone who has been following the message thread.
For example, one could say "I agree that X is better than Y because of
Z" rather than just "I agree its better because of Z." Or, one might
begin a sentence with "Regarding the X issue," rather than just assuming
that one knows the point being referenced in the previous message below.

With this approach, I also suggest removing all but the message to which
one is replying with a top post, that is, delete its antecedents if they
happen to be included. Additionally, if the previous message is long,
e.g., a long code excerpt, then delete unnecessary parts to the

I hope this perspective is helpful.


Messages with long quotes are "bad form" (even there are differing opinions indeed) unless the whole content of the quote is relevant to your reaction. Which it usually isn't.

Using partial quotes is I think better because a lot of the topics are discussed in a similar fashion: a question is followed by a response, a prompt is followed by a reaction. So, keeping with the question / answer example: very often, a poster combines multiple related questions in a single message. To make it easier which of the answers you provide belongs to which question, you quote the questions, interspersed with the answers. However, it's common to answer all the questions you can in a single reply to avoid fragmenting the thread into a very complicated hierarchy of messages - this is hard to orientate in even with a threaded mail client. It also helps keep all material related to the thread topic as a whole in single messages.

Using nested quotes seems very, very rare. It usually happens when you want to correct someone's answer to a question, where that is still relevant and useful context. I almost never notice more levels of nesting quotes than that - usually it just means someone was too lazy to delete the irrelevant bits.

While it is possible to just glance down at the original post, it's tiresome to do so, and if the thread involves a more generic topic with several points to discuss, it's even more tiresome to look up what part of someone's reply is a reaction to.

Also, I believe you could strip quotations from the received email body on your side if you don't have a problem with keeping the relevant context from previous messages in your head.

Next, when replying, you don't necessarily need to use quotations. Referring to the context in your own words as you suggest is perfectly acceptable. However, for most people, using quotations is far faster, and if you expect a response to some query from the mailing list, it's easier to spot a quotation of what you originally wrote instead of its rephrasing.

David Vallner


Regarding top-posting being more convenient for the blind:
suitable-trimmed bottom-posting is just too entrenched and useful for
sighted readers -- and so very probably won't be going away. What
makes it even nicer for sighted readers is that, with good software,
the quoted text is usually colored depending on how many quoting
symbols (usually a greater-than and a space). This makes it extemely
easy for sighted readers to quickly scan over parts they've seen

I think the long-term solution is:

1. When providing quoted context in a reply, bottom-posting.

2. Posters need to suitably trim out all un-needed text.

3. All lines containing quoted material should start with one or more
pairs of a greater-than symbol and space.

4. Screen reader software for the blind should get the functionality
of easily and somewhat intelligently being able to jump down
paragraph-at-a-time through quoted text. Seems to me that would be a
great "killer-app feature" for mail-/news-readers for the blind.

For those to work though, it will take everyone to gently but
diligently remind others to please follow those conventions.

When it doubt of how to format your email text, I'd suggest falling
back on [Markdown][1] syntax (since it was designed to basically mimic
what you usually see in plain-text emails anyway). Maybe screen-reader
software of the future could actually understand Markdown (for
example, speaking *this* louder that other text).



John Gabriele wrote:

4. Screen reader software for the blind should get the functionality
of easily and somewhat intelligently being able to jump down
paragraph-at-a-time through quoted text. Seems to me that would be a
great "killer-app feature" for mail-/news-readers for the blind.

Emacs combined with Emacspeak already does this if you use GNUS (Emacs
based news reader) or read your e-mail in Emacs. In addition to
letting you skip through quoted paragraphs, it also changes voice
characteristics to indicate different "speakers" based on the quote
level, and also uses the different voice characteristics for "aural
highlighting" based on cues in the text.

Emacs is really something more blind people ought to take a look at it
- because Emacspeak is tied directly into Emacs, it has access to a lot
of contextual information that most screenreaders doesn't, and given
the number of applications (including a mail reader, news reader, web
browser, special modes for editing source code, file system operations
like browsing directories, deleting or copying files etc.) available
for Emacs it can be a very flexible environment.

More on Emacspeak:



unfortunately most of us share a strong dislike for Top Posting, and I will
go back to Bottom Posting later on again. I completely agree with John, good
bottom posting makes reading a thread (e;g. in Gmail) a piece of a cake.

However, it was nice of you to let us know.
Just in case you or someone else asks for top posting in reply to his post I
will gladly do so, after all it is to you to whom I reply before replying to
the list.

Of course I am only talking for myself.



Deux choses sont infinies : l'univers et la bêtise humaine ; en ce qui
concerne l'univers, je n'en ai pas acquis la certitude absolue.

- Albert Einstein