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Make your comment heard March 18, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

AKA “How to write a meaningful comment”

I didn’t approve a comment the other day, because it seemed too much like self-promotion. It said “Please do read more here [link]. this will surely help all of us.” The link was a blog post on a similar topic, but in my experience comments like this end up being spam or might even contain a link to a phishing site. So I deleted the comment and wrote the author of the comment explaining why I hadn’t published it. After some confusion on my part that made me think the commenter was being impersonated by someone using their e-mail to promote their blog (which apparently wasn’t the case), I realized the person was simply trying to be helpful. However, I had already deleted the comment.

Most readers of blogs aren’t aware, but blog authors often have to weed through lots of meaningless comments written by spammers, trolls or self-promoters to find actual comments written by actual readers. This blog currently has 1,891 comments, while my blog’s spam filter has caught 21,942 spam comments from being published. That’s a lot of spam!

In my experience, there are three kinds of meaningless or “unproductive” comments

  • Straightforward spam. This is usually pretty obvious, and Akismet usually does a really good job catching the most obvious spam. This can include very long posts featuring lots of swear words or porn and/or links to porn sites or comments that obviously have nothing to do with the post itself. This spam never sees the light of day, because I try to keep up with deleting this spam.
  • Trolls. These are people who say inflammatory or off-topic things just to rile people up. Luckily I haven’t had too many trolls on the site, and everyone behaves themselves. I haven’t had to block anyone from commenting again, which I really appreciate. There is a big difference between trolls and critical comments. Trolls deliberately say outrageous things to bate you. Critical commenters feel strongly about what they write and do an admirable job defending their position, so I won’t delete these comments. I don’t believe in censorship, but if someone is blatantly offensive I do adhere to the theory “my blog, my rules” and won’t hesitate to delete a comment in the future.
  • Self-promoters. These are commenters who don’t contribute to the conversation, but say something like “Great post!” while leaving links back to their own blog or site. Sometimes this practice can feel like spam if it happens often enough.

To ensure your comment gets published, please follow these simple rules:

  1. Don’t just post a quick criticism like, “I don’t agree; this isn’t my experience.” This doesn’t really engage in a conversation or offer something meaningful to other readers or commenters. Alternate viewpoints are welcome here, so please take the time to elaborate on it.
  2. Put your comments in context. Even though I may know who you are from interactions on online forums or previous comments, most people won’t know who you are when you’re commenting. So be sure to relate something about your background, experience, or point of view so we know where you are coming from.
  3. If possible offer a targeted resource. Some of the best comments point us to a very specific blog post or resource that I hadn’t seen before. The Internet is so vast it is easy to miss something or not be aware something is out there. Also, be sure to explain why you feel these resources are valuable to the readers in a sentence or two.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I try to be clear and concise, but I’m also human. If you didn’t understand something, there’s a good chance someone else didn’t understand either. So bring it up in the comments.
  5. Don’t just argue. If your views differ from mine, look for common ground. I am open to new ideas. I write this blog and read other blogs to learn more. I have learned so much from my colleagues in online forums, e-mail listservs and blogs since I started out in 1995. And I love sharing the knowledge I have learned with students and other translators.

I appreciate all of you who have left comments on this blog. I think the comments are often times more valuable than the actual post itself, because it is great to hear other experiences, opinions, and suggestions from fellow translators. That said, try to add a little substance to your comments to ensure they get posted for everyone to read. Leaving meaningful comments is also a good way to draw readers to your site. I enjoy clicking on the links in the contact information you leave to discover new and interesting blogs. If you want to share a link in the comment itself, please explain why you feel the page you are linking to might be of interest to me and/or my readers. Your thoughts are encouraged and welcomed!



1. Riccardo - March 18, 2011

Hi Jill,

I think you are getting an unusually high ratio of spam v. legitimate comments. I get my share of spam or spam-like comments (and I do include among the spam the “great post, see http://www.we_translate_for_peanuts.com” kind of comments), but I estimate they are actually fewer than the legit comments.

Since most spam comments seem to gravitate towards older posts, I set my commenting policy so that I have to approve all comments to posts more than one month old. On the other hand, I don’t like it when comments to new post cannot appear without jumping through hoops first, so I do not restrict comment access only to people who have registered first, to those who Google accounts or to members of the blog, nor do I use captcha or similar devices to separate humans users from automatic ones (I consider such word verification devices a pain in the neck – as I find myself failing the test more often then not).

2. Judy Jenner - March 18, 2011

A much-needed post! We have also received a bunch of spam, and I particularly dislike the ones that say “great point — please read about medical interpreting here.” It is quite ridiculous that folks think they can free-load using our blogs, which are a ton of work. I think this is a great primer on a comments. Agreed with Riccardo that you ratio might be a bit high. Will you approve this comment, dear Jill? 😉

3. Kevin Lossner - March 19, 2011

Riccardo, I’m not surprised by Jill’s trash ratio at all. I have two other blogs (currently inactive while I sort out account ownership), one of which has been heavily targeted by spammers of the first type Jill mentioned. Hundreds of spam comments per day sometimes. Some of these even find a way to circumvent the approval requirement which applies to all comments on these blogs. So consider yourself lucky.

Another form of “spam” I encounter from time to time is close to the third type, and sometimes it comes as a very polite link request. It seems that agency blogs, some managed on contract by others, are eager to get links from freelancer blogs. I distinguish here between blogs by people who happen to own or work for an agency but have something interesting to say much of the time (I’ll link those promiscuously) and those with “translation news” filler or general stuff that feels like it was extruded by Demand Media et alia. This news and general topic filler is part of an SEO strategy to drive business to the agency via web searches, and we support these goals of companies that treat translators like cannon fodder by linking to them. So don’t do it, no matter how nicely they ask. I would start naming the culprits here, but I would probably forget others even more worthy of mention.

This latter category also includes some superficially reasonable comments that refer intelligently to other responses but contain odd links back to agency sites. This seems to be a favored practice of some Pakistani shops now.

Riccardo - March 20, 2011

Yes, I also get those polite link-sharing requests from translation agencies. I normally check their blog, and most often then not don’t link to them, exactly for the same reasons as you.

Riccardo - March 20, 2011

“more often than not”

4. patenttranslator - March 20, 2011

Hi Jill,

I wonder how you handle meaningful and intelligent comments written in poor English by people whose first language is not English.

If I see a simple typo in a comment, I usually correct it, but should one ever attempt to “edit” the type of comment mentioned above?

Jill (@bonnjill) - March 20, 2011

I’m pretty hands off when it comes to editing comments. The only time I will edit a comment is if someone asks me to fix one of their own typos

5. patenttranslator - March 20, 2011

That’s what I thought.

Thanks for confirming.

After all, there is a certain inimitable flavor in such comments that would be lost if we tried to “fix them”.

6. Tess Whitty - March 21, 2011

Very important topic. I wonder what blogging tool you use, Jill? WordPress, right? After switching to self hosted wordpress blog I particularly like their spam filter for blog comments, and also the options to approve, disapprove or mark as spam. This has cleaned out “spam-comments” a lot for me.

Jill (@bonnjill) - March 21, 2011

I use WordPress, and its Akismet tool does a great job catching all the spam so all I have to do is quickly glance through the list and delete the posts.

7. Karen Tkaczyk - March 22, 2011

I’m a freelancer who does not blog, but I read them (weekly, not daily). I don’t often post comments because I steer clear of just saying ‘I liked this. Thanks.’ I want to post only if I have something useful to add to the conversation.
Why do you put up with self-promoters at all? I would have no patience for that and think it feels like spam immediately, not after a while.
There is a strong self-promoting reason for posting comments: professional visibility. When I google myself I have seen comments/guest posts to highly indexed blogs appear on the first page. That makes posting insightful comments worthwhile on another level, not just to add to the immediate conversation.

8. Silvina Jover-Cirillo - March 28, 2011


First of all, as I see it, this is a great post about the spam issue but, most importantly a guide for newbies in the blogging world. I’m one of those myself! I started reading blogs, then decided to start my own not too long ago, and now I’m at the stage of having a great desire to participate but not sure how to do it in an appropriate manner. Moreover, this fear goes hand in hand to the fact that the most active language professionals around blogs are also the most experience ones; a fact that might add to the intimidation factor of posting comments. Having this said, Tip #4 is very useful for people that need just a little push to start expressing their opinions.

Lastly Tip #5 also caught my attention, but as a cultural recommendation. You see, I come from countries where we like to argue you A LOT… if there’s something we don’t like, we just go on strike. Traveling and perspective taught me that is it not the best approach, especially when dealing with people from other cultures. So, #5 could be good for all those Latin/Hispanic folks out there, such as myself 😉

Jill (@bonnjill) - March 28, 2011

Hi Silvina,
There are actually several translation blogs that are written by students or new translators, like BJ Epstein’s Brave New Words or Se habla English?. I think blogs by newer translators are also fascinating because they have a unique way of seeing things and can point out things us “fogies” (wow, never thought I’d be calling myself that) may take for granted or just not think about. Written well, blogs like this can be very valuable. I look forward to reading more on your blog.

9. céline - March 31, 2011

My favourite spam comments are in the “very very desperate indeed” category. I had one that said “Look, I know you bloggers don’t like spam comments but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE I need the links or I’ll get sacked!!!” followed by a long list of links for imaginative-sounding porn sites. I also like the sneaky ones, which start with “I agree,” and then copy a random sentence from the post.

You made me curious about my ratio, and it’s quite bad too: out of 21,652 comments, only 4,236 are legit.

10. Melissa - April 7, 2011

I came across your site a while back, but have been neglecting my blog-reading hobby as of late…I just stumbled upon this post and am really glad I did!Refreshing and much-needed. With some much content on the Internet, it’s understandable why people are trying to take “shortcuts” to increase the number of links to their blog…but that doesn’t make it any less annoying or more acceptable. I think about this problem often, but have yet to come up with any solution to make the situation more tolerable. On the other hand, at the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that well-written, creative content will win out in the end.

It will be interesting, though, to see how blogs will morph in the future. Will there be a better way of making good content more accessible?

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