The ink wasn’t dry on the new lawyer’s bar card before he joined a mailing list, and he pounded the list with post after post, as many as twenty in a single day. What was the difference between an hourly rate of $150 and $250? Could a lawyer cold call prospective clients? What’s the difference between a demand and an offer? Did anyone have a form for a non-engagement letter? The shopping list of queries went on and on, and the list’s subscribers became outraged. Acknowledging the freewheeling nature of the Internet, they knew that “annoying” and “pestering” should not be part of the deal, and they snickered that the newbie was taxing the list’s patience.
How can you avoid overusing a mailing list?
- Lurk, and learn the list culture before posting. Don’t simply hop on to a mailing list and interrogate the community before learning its standards and style.
- Make a preliminary effort to find the answer on your own.
- Use Google or another search engine to ferret out answers to questions of fact.
- Explore and mine the list’s archived messages. The same question may have already been asked and answered, even as recently as last month. Some responses have the shelf life of a Hostess Twinkie.
- Frame your questions carefully. Well-drafted questions elicit better answers. Think before posting, paring down extraneous matter, and getting to the heart of the problem.
- Let responses to your questions season before jumping in with a request for clarification. You’re not cross-examining the witness. List subscribers volunteer their time and expertise, and they deserve respect. While some mailing lists thrive on debate, it’s not good form to pepper those who respond with challenges and requests for clarification until you’ve learned the list culture. Many who respond are content to freely provide answers, but they’re not willing to sit back in the cyber-equivalent of the Socratic Method. Wait until all of the answers have been delivered before responding.
- Don’t respond to each post separately, even if it’s an expression of gratitude.
- Pace yourself. Don’t ask more than a few questions a week.
Remember the lesson about the boy who cried wolf. The list subscriber who asks too many questions will find himself ignored when he really needs an answer.