Hello, my name is Amy and I am a forum lurker [wave].
I’ve been a member of the SfEP for four years and, while I read the forums almost every day, I am more than a little embarrassed to say that my first forum post was to ask people if they wanted to be interviewed for this article. But in doing so I did break my non-posting streak (yay!).
My lack of contribution is not because I think there’s nothing for me to learn or that I never have any questions. Au contraire: I’ve learned (and continue to learn) some brilliant stuff from the forums. They are an excellent source of support and information in what can often be a solitary profession. I also have questions on a daily basis and quite frankly, my office orchid is a horrible conversationalist.
What has, in the past, stopped me from posting is (a) a basic fear of sounding like a dunderhead or (b) there being a typo or grammatical inaccuracy in my question. I’ve lost count of how many posts I have started and deleted as a direct result of these fears.
From the responses I got to my forum post, I believe there is a robust community of lurkers out there. I also believe there is one overwhelming barrier to contributing to the forums: fear.
There appear to be two types of forum-related fear: (a) of making a fool of yourself with a silly question or a mistake and (b) fear of others’ reactions and tactless replies. While the forums are a rich source of support and insight, it appears they are also a source of much angst for us lurkers.
Ally Oakes, for example, told me that she ‘didn’t dare’ ask anything on the forums for months after joining the Society, partly due to fear and partly due to a feeling of not having anything to say.
Claire Langford has posted in the forums a few times in the last eight months, but still feels hesitant. She says that the limiting factor for her is experience: ‘I very rarely post a response to a question, largely because I don’t yet feel I am enough of an authority to give advice to other proofreaders and copy-editors.’ When she does post, she will ‘check, re-check and check again’ any posts due to an ‘agonising fear’ of there being a spelling mistake or grammatical error.
I recognise and empathise with both Ally’s and Claire’s feelings, but wise words from John Espirian, who was fundamental in setting up the forums, help put the fear of forums into perspective:
Even the best editors make mistakes. The forums are a private space away from prying eyes, and the community is supportive enough to overlook these things. So I wouldn’t worry about the odd typo slipping into your text – it happens. Don’t let this fear hold you back from posting questions, as you’ll be missing out on the collective wisdom of hundreds of experienced editorial pros.
This is a sentiment echoed by Claire and Ally, who variously describe the forums as ‘a godsend’ and a source of really useful snippets of information. According to Ally, ‘The fear is natural and isn’t a bad thing; it’s a part of starting something new.’ I too can attest that I have only had very helpful and thoughtful responses to my literal cry for help.
Many members have told me that they feel access to the forums is one of the main perks of SfEP membership. Statistics kindly provided by John show that there are 1,804 forum users, 32% of whom are active, which means they have logged into the forums at least once in the last 30 days. You can then figure out how many fellow lurkers there are when you see that only 231 active users have at least 50 posts. This shows something that we all probably know already, that some users feel more confident posting than others.
Which leads nicely into the second fear – that of replies that may make you feel foolish or upset. Thankfully, these seem to be few and far between, but there are members who have been put off contributing to the forums as a result of an ill-considered response that was perceived to be unhelpful or unkind.
It is worth remembering when replying to a forum post that the contributor may have spent ages writing and rewriting their question or comment, trying to make it perfect. John sums it up nicely: ‘Be kind and clear. Remember that you didn’t always know it all (and you probably don’t even now).’
If you look at the forums you will see questions from people of all membership levels. There are few who believe they have all the answers, and the forums are a space in which to seek advice and information from virtual colleagues. It is an opportunity we should all make the most of.
How can you beat the forum fears?
So how can you beat the forum fear and confidently make your first post? My first piece of advice is not to overthink it. One Advanced Professional Member suggested I ask about the best kind of printer – it doesn’t have to be a complex or high-brow question to get you started.
Secondly, don’t hover over ‘Submit’ for too long. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to press ‘Delete’ instead.
John Espirian also has some tips to help assuage potential first posters’ nerves:
- Check out the link at the top of the Newbies page, which gives you a list of hints and tips to get you started.
- Make use of the search function before posting. Your topic, or even specific question, may have already been discussed. Even if it’s not exactly the answer you need, it might help you to tailor your question.
Given the calibre of the members of the SfEP, it can be daunting to contribute to a conversation, but my advice is, don’t underestimate the value of what you can add. Even if you are a relative newcomer to the industry, your life experience or unique insight could be really valuable and much appreciated by the community. And a new voice is always welcome. So, when it comes to the forums, in the inimitable words of Dr Susan Jeffers, feel the fear and do it anyway.
Amy Armitage-Reay is an ex-forum lurker and Professional Member of the SfEP. She started her professional life as a reporter and has run Ethos Editing (www.ethosediting.com), which specialises in creating academic content, since 2009.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP