Each semester new students
subscribe to various lists, and for the most part they have to
learn to cope with list rules, those written and unwritten, by
trial and error. This results, inevitably, in some unwitting
errors in netiquette and quite possibly some bruised feelings.
Perhaps some of the negative results of this can be eliminated
if we discuss a few points of netiquette and/or list procedures.
I offer one suggestion below on the way to get the best results
from queries to the list:
The best request for assistance
first establishes the context of the project such as: a class assignment, a final
research paper, an essay contest, etc. A question might be asked
just to satisfy personal curiosity as well. Second, the question
should be stated as clearly as possible, and this means narrowing
it down to manageable size. For example: "What do listmembers
think about Tolkien's heroes?" would be an unmanageable question
for any answer short of book-length (or several volumes) answers.
Finally, clarify your present stage of this research by listing
the sources already consulted. If an OCLC search has been conducted
already, and a double-check with the last 10 years of the MLA
bibliography confirms that there is nothing on your topic, then
say so. That lets other listmembers know that you've done your
preliminary work. If you found ten sources in that process and
have read all ten and followed up all of the leads given in footnotes,
you probably won't need any help from the list. However, you
might want confirmation that you've given it your best shot.
In that case, you might query the list, giving a quick list of
sources read and ask if you've missed anything major that should
have been included.
It has been my experience
that netters are notoriously generous with their help-many are
teachers, and it's hard for a good teacher to resist a good question
when they have a good answer for it. But time is limited, so
everyone wants to make the best use of it. I hope the above suggestions
for making queries to the list will prove helpful to all of the
new listmembers. Some of the best questions this list has had
to discuss in the last several years have come from students who
didn't happen to have, yet, all of the "received" and
"traditional" answers and so were looking at Tolkien
(Chaucer, Faulkner, whatever the topic of the list is) in new
and quite interesting ways. I hope we'll have some more of these