This whole rant boils down to two things:
Following these two simple guidelines will make one's correspondents happy and save time and bandwidth for all.
One of the most annoying features of many Usenet posts and email messages which I have seen recently has been the apparent inability or unwillingness of many people to properly and appropriately quote the text of previous messages in their replies and followups. The consequences of poor quoting practice are not only annoying, but are often downright wasteful of other peoples' time and bandwidth.
Unfortunately, this situation is not helped by much of the software which is commonly in use and which tends to discourage proper quoting practice. In particular, MS Outlook is an egregiously bad email client for many reasons, but especially with respect to the way it handles quoting.
Typically, when responding to a particular email message or Usenet post, one might want to include a portion of the previous message in order to make clear the text to which he is responding. This can be particularly important in Usenet posts, since different posts tend to arrive at different sites at different times, and often in a nonsequential order. As a result, it is necessary to give some context for the reader to interpret the followup comment, since the original article might not have arrived at his site yet. Similarly, in email, it is useful to provide some context to the reply in order to allow the recipient to quickly remember what he had said in the earlier message to which someone is replying.
Quoting is thus usually indicated by some sort of attribution line (that says something like "On January 16, 2001, Jon Doe wrote..."), followed by the original text indented with the ">" (greater-than) symbol preceding each line. In Usenet communications, the Message-ID of the earlier post is often included as well. This helps the reader to quickly determine two things: who wrote the original text, and which of the lines in the response are a quotation from the original message and which ones are new text not in the original.
Suppose John Doe sent me a long message telling me about how much he enjoyed his vacation and included, at the end, a question about whether I am available to do something tomorrow, which is the only part of the original message which demands a response. The appropriate way for me to reply would be something like this:
From: Scott Norwood <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: John Doe <email@example.com> Subject: blah blah blah Date: Thurs, 5 Apr 2001 08:49:21 -0400 (EDT) On Wed, 4 Apr 2001, John Doe wrote: > > So, are you free tomorrow? Sure, call me. - Scott
As can be seen above, I would have deleted all the original text from the earlier message, with the exception of the line to which I am responding, and have added my new text underneath it, as if in a standard question-and-answer format. The attribution line would have been added automatically by my mail client (which, in my case, is Pine). If there had been several points and I had wanted to reply to each one individually, I would have interspersed my comments with the original ones, trimming out any unnecessary lines, and placing my comments below the originals, and adding white space (blank lines) between them.
In any case, it can be seen clearly that this type of quoting practice, which essentially involves editing the original message to include only the lines to which the sender is replying (but not editing the content, of course) and then leaving some white space and adding the reply below the original text, makes logical sense, and the question and answer format flows as one would expect. That is why this is the conventional, accepted, and appropriate quoting practice which is common in email and Usenet.
Unfortunately, however, good quoting practices are not always followed. The absolute worst format involves something like this (ellipses below represent lines of text):
From: Some One <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: Someone Else <email@example.com> Subject: Re: stuff Date: Thurs, 5 Apr 2001 08:49:21 -0400 (EDT) Sure, sounds good. Let's do it. - Some On Wed, 4 Apr 2001, Someone Else wrote: > > blah stuff words words words words words ... > more words more stuff more blah blahblah blah >
Or, the MS Outlook version (note the horrible attribution "line," which is now four lines, and the unnecessary second blank line before the message):
From: Some One <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: Someone Else <email@example.com> Subject: Re: stuff Date: Thurs, 5 Apr 2001 08:49:21 -0400 (EDT) Sure, sounds good. Let's do it. - Some ----- Original Message ----- From: "Someone Else" <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: "Some One" <email@example.com> Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2001 6:05 AM Subject: stuff > blah stuff words words words words words ... > more words more stuff more blah blahblah blah >
As should be obvious from the above examples, quoting the entire original message below the original message is totally ludicrous for several reasons:
First, it is confusing--it isn't clear exactly what Some One is responding to. It's probably one of the lines in the original message, but, because the response is placed at the top and the entire original message is quoted below, the response is fairly difficult to comprehend. Not only is the entire original message quoted, but the response is placed above it, resulting in something that does not "read" properly from top to bottom.
Second, quoting the entire original message wastes peoples' time; if Someone Else wanted to refresh himself on what Some One wants to do, he would have to re-read the entire original message, which would be a real waste of time. This both annoys the recipient and sends the message that the sender doesn't value the recipient's time highly enough to trim out the extra junk.
Finally, quoting the entire original message (whether above or below the response) is a horrible waste of bandwidth, particularly if an exchange takes place over time between two people who both use abusive quoting practices, and several old messages are appended to each of the subsequent messages. If everyone were to suddenly begin using this sort of practice, the volume of mail that has to be handled would instantaneously increase to more than double its original size, increasing costs for everyone who wanted to send or receive email.
See above--replying at the top and quoting the entire original message is illogical, confusing, insulting to the recipient, and a waste of bandwidth. Trimming the original message down to the relevant sections and including the replies underneath the relevant sections of the original text is much more logical, easier to read, more respectful of the recipient, and less likely to cause confusion at a later date.
All of the above applies, except even more so. "Top-posting" is especially frowned upon in many groups and gets especially confusing when some people in a given newsgroup like to reply at the top and others use the correct quoting method and trim the original text. This results in an odd mix of top-posted comments and interspersed comments in the followups, and also wastes bandwidth and annoys readers.
Further, quoting the entire original message is a blatant breach of "netiquette" and is an RFC violation--see RFC1855.