Ranging Focus of Forum Topics

As a new user of forums it may be difficult at times to know what content is good to include in your writing and what is not. Is it acceptable to stray from the forum topic and if so, how far astray is too far?

It may be difficult for you, as a new member, to contribute to a forum if you are unable to understand the ways the forum may be used. Having a more informed understanding of how other users utilize forums will help you to better grasp the concept of forums as a whole and how you, as a member, may contribute to them. In order to help you better understand how others utilize forums, we will look at two examples of subreddits and focus on the content in the users comments.This article will help you learn how to focus your comments by studying the content of writing found in forums and how the content relates to the overarching topic.

How Do I Know What Content is Appropriate?

The first way to know appropriate content is by identifying the topic of the forum. By being aware of the topic, you will be able to ensure that your content is appropriate and effective. There are a couple ways to clearly and easily identify the topic of a forum:


In a paper, written by Des Fedrick, on the zombie subreddit, she mentions site moderators and the role they play in forums. Site moderators are users designated to control the content that flows through the forums and remove any content that is considered inappropriate. The following excerpt from Fedrick's paper lays out the guidelines for what is acceptable in her zombie forum.

If members have any doubt about content that is appropriate to the subreddit, moderators have laid out their beliefs about appropriate content and the values expected of members wishing to contribute content within this community. Guidelines outline acceptable content as being “submissions regarding gatherings, movies, books, music, theater, speculative science, and games featuring the flesh (and/or brain) eating dead” (r/zombies). Members are asked to consider, before posting content pertaining to weapons or defenses against zombies, how it might be relevant to the topic of zombies and the undead. Moderators specify that irrelevant content, as well as content deemed uncivil to other “survivors” may be removed, and users are encouraged to contact moderators if they believe content was wrongly removed.

Notice, that content is mentioned here rather than language. Although language used in these forums should always be appropriate as well, it is easier for new users to know what language is appropriate and what is not rather than knowing appropriate content.

For more information on moderators' rules for the reddit website as a whole, see the 'Navigation and Signing Up' section of the following article: What is a Forum?

Forum Purpose

When wondering if your comment contains relative content or not, consider the purpose of the forum. For the zombie subreddit mentioned above, Fedrick claims that the forum is "a place for pop culture zombie fans, as well as those hoping and preparing for a zombie apocalypse to share text, images, and videos on their particular zombie flavor." Knowing that this is the purpose of the subreddit will greatly help you to make an effective and relative contribution to the forum at hand. With this purpose in mind, forum member, Barefoot4x4 comments with, "Preserving the health of the people." This comment is a reference to the popular video game, Resident Evil, where it is supposedly the slogan of a fictional company. This holds relevance to the forum topic although it is not directly or specifically related to zombies because it could still be classified as pop culture which is included in the purpose of the forum.

What is Considered to be 'On-Topic'?

Now that we know how to identify what content is appropriate for a particular forum, it is important to know how to keep the appropriate content on-topic. Staying on-topic is a way to both stimulate focus on the blog's purpose and avoid harsher retaliation for straying away from that purpose.

An example of topic focus can be found on a subreddit for star NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning. Although the forum is meant to be used by all football fans who are interested in talking about Peyton Manning, the content of the comments stray to anything about football in general. Not only that, but some threads stray even farther. The following image is of the comments posted on a thread in which the user asked his girlfriend to rank the NFL quarterbacks based on attractiveness.


As you can see, the comments, like the thread itself, were not exactly football related in the sense that they did not contain game or season information or player stats, but simply opinions on unrelated things. Here, all comments at least pertained to the topic at hand, which was player attractiveness.

In situations like this, where the topic of the thread strays from the topic of the forum as a whole, it best to remember and refer back to the purpose of the forum. A thread that strays from the overall forum topic is usually acceptable as long as it still achieves the purpose of the forum. For example, the purpose of the Peyton Manning subreddit is to be a place for football fans to participate in football discussions and have fun. Although the attractiveness of the starting quarterback may not be useful football information, it is still humorous to look at and discuss.

Putting it All Together

So, after all this, how can you be sure that your comments are appropriate and focused on the topic? Remember to do these two things, and you'll be just fine.

1) Identify the Topic

  • What is the purpose of the forum?
  • Do the moderators clearly define what content is appropriate?

2) Ask yourself, "Does my comment directly relate to this topic?"

  • If yes, it is acceptable to post as long as language is appropriate! For more information on what language is appropriate, see First-Time Users- Values and Beliefs
  • If no, does it directly relate to the purpose of the forum? If no, consider rethinking what you wish to contribute.

For more information on how topic focus and language work together, see Effective and Persuasive Forum Language

: Des Fedrick's Zombie Forum Analysis : http://iu.calliopeinitiative.org/cocoon/emma/course_home/home~
Duplicated Ideas from 'NFL Subreddit as a Community'
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