Five kinds of comments

Comments. They have really been around a long time in many other avatars.

We are familiar with letters exchanged between writers and poets, review letters published in newspapers, of recommendations by kings and patrons of court writers and popular playwrights, of records of isolated instances of reader reactions recorded in commentaries by established critics.

These responses from readers are invaluable to us now to realize how readers reacted to pieces when they were first published and how those reactions shaped those authors themselves and what the reading public was like when something was published.

But “comments” in their present incarnation are something new. They are instant reactions which are visible to everyone, not just to the writer, and so lead to lateral discussions between writer and reader and between readers.  They are non-hierarchical in the sense that the exchanges could happen between anyone–not necessarily established players.  Sometimes the comments could actually be pingbacks from other posts, equally long and involved as the original post, equally well thought out.

I have been very fortunate to have had many great commenters. They are great readers, fun, and often the comments themselves have been great posts by themselves.

Speak up, make your voice heard
(Photo credit: HowardLake)

I thought I’d use the post today to think about how comments have helped me. I tried to list a few kinds of comments I’ve received, which  of course, is an artificial classification. If you can think of other kinds of comments, please feel free to keep adding more.

1. Comments that encourage: These tell me readers liked the post. Even two or three words to express this sentiment brightens my day. The best ones also tell me why the reader liked the post and which parts stood out. They make me feel I’m on the same wavelength as my readers.

2. Comments that express a shared experience: These are responses to something in the post that struck a chord in the reader. They often describe a similar experience that happened to the reader in a different context. I am always in awe of these comments because they often extend whatever I was talking about in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. These often turn out short, complete compositions by themselves talking about an experience.

3. Comments that interpret or extend: Sometimes, one reader will interpret something in my post which another reader will comment on from another angle. This will lead to  a discussion about a point made in the blog.  I find these discussions highly valuable because again, these comments make me think about the various kinds of meaning my posts create intentionally or unintentionally.

[For example, my previous two posts talked about telling stories. This led a reader to think about God as writer from a Christian perspective to which another reader posted an involved comment about the author as God from a secular point of view. It was an exchange of ideas. I had not thought of these directions my post could go into when I wrote it.]

4. Comments that refute, disagree with or challenge a point: These comments are great when they provide constructive criticism. They always help me re-think points, make my points stronger or simply acknowledge counterarguments better.

5. Comments that show wit and humour: I love these. They add the great light touch which I sometimes lack when I get too serious or save me when I am attempting to be funny. Or they just create the atmosphere of friendly exchange which any discussion in the public sphere should have.

To those whose posts I have commented on: When I read a post that triggers thoughts in my head, they dart about my (mostly) empty skull and I have to have an outlet. The space for commenting that you’ve left open has helped me channelize my responses to your posts. I would have burst otherwise!

To those who have commented on my own blog posts: A big thank you to all who keep taking the time to comment on my posts. I always read each and every comment on my blog and they always help me grow as a writer/ blogger.

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Addendum: My response to davexrobb’s question “Any thoughts on how to generate more feedback?” under comments might be of interest to some of you. Also, a reader just alerted me (through the comments section below 🙂 ) to a post by WordPress on comments: Quick Tip: Be the Perfect Guest.

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75 thoughts on “Five kinds of comments”

  1. I’ve Googled around but no luck yet. The ones I’ve come across so far all have to do with MP3s, software and what not. If you have any in mind, please provide links to the sources. Many thanks in advance!.

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  2. Great post, I agree! 😉

    I wholeheartedly agree on “intellectual communication is more stimulating than stats.” (Williams)  A mere ‘Like’ is ‘like’ one mere step from nada.
    Delays in having to read offline may mean a flood of Likes to come at once, but I ‘Like’ when I’ve read the entirety and it works.  (And it doesn’t encourage homicide.)
    Comments: for answers, addendums, confirmations & clarity.  To both comment and click the L-word button is better.

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  3. I love comments! I tell Husband all the time, writing isn’t meant to be words in a vacuum, I write to be read. Blogging and comments reinforce that, make it more fun and more thoughtful on both sides. I don’t have too many commenters at this point, but I do have some, and the list is growing.

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  4. What I want to know more about is specifically what about blogging has made you so much more aware of your readers. I teach writing, and I find that it’s hard for all of us to think more about readers than ourselves. Also, your posts are about learning to write, and I’m not sure that as a writing teacher, I’ve ever taught anybody to write. You came by one ofmy blogs, Just Can’t Help Writing, but I’m trying to collect people’s experiences as they develop as writers at Can Writing Be Taught? at WordPress. If you can, stop by there and see if you can answer some of my questions. They are questions I really don’t know the answers to.

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  5. I think you nailed it. I can’t think of any other type of comment. I love getting comments too. It really does brighten a day. Good topic for a post. It’s amazing how responses to writing have changed throughout the decades.

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  6. Well said! I think you’ve summed up the different kinds of comments very nicely.

    And like you, I love how commenters contribute more info and share their knowledge with you. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about being a blogger.

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  7. I enjoyed your summation of the comment genres. I am also a newbie and don’t get many comments but then I haven’t been posting much either. I treasure those who take the time to leave a note and I try to do the same when visiting creative writers. Oh, and I do still love your avatar. (Saw you at my sister’s blog, Pegoleg.)

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  8. I love comments too. It’s like you get to have a short conversation with people you likely couldn’t ever meet up with in person. And like you said, you get new perspectives on things you might never had considered before.

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  9. This is so perceptive. I try to always return comments and even “Likes” (with a comment). The challenge I’m having right now is tendonitis. I think it’s important to try to leave something of substance rather than the generic “Super cool” or others that give the impression that the commenter is only out to get return visits.

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  10. Nice post! I ve been thinking about the ‘comments’ myself over the last few days. The no. Of followers increase every week and yet theres a drought of comments!

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  11. Well I am a relative newbie and so while I am delighted with the ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ who have signed up the comments are very few. But Oh the thrill when they come. Your blog is wonderful and I am so pleased to have access to it. Always something new and worthwhile to learn from a very clever and self deprecating blogger. Thanks

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    1. As a fellow new user of WordPress I also am lacking in comments, which does sadden me slightly. While “likes” seem to be the comments of the Facebook Generation I am old-fashioned enough to crave the written word instead of a button-press.

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  12. Thanks for this thoughtful post — I too love getting comments, but I get very few. Any thoughts on how to generate more feedback? I recently posted a bit of fiction, and find the comments I did get very helpful…but there aren’t many. I’ll take a look around your blog — maybe you’ve already posted on this subject.

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    1. I haven’t posted on this subject because I don’t really know the answer. I’ve observed though that very obvious attempts to seek comments with a prompt at the end doesn’t work. It’s like teaching a boring class and then asking a question at the end expecting bored students to participate.

      I’ve seen that only natural prompts that come out of the discussion work and they, therefore, can be embedded anywhere in the post where their natural position is rather than at the end. I feel like such invitations for natural discussion shows respect for the reader and does not seem like a desperate request for attention. It could also be seen as a kind of “honesty”–I’m saying I’m genuinely invested in the conversation rather than simply using you, the reader, as some kind of publicity machine or a placeholder in my counting chart.

      What has worked in my blogs generally, and therefore elicited comments are in-depth discussions of subject matter but presented in a way that it’s not just interesting to me alone but to other people too. Concrete examples of points have helped readers understand what I’m trying to say but have also provided a take-off point for furthering discussion.

      As far as subject matter is concerned, more people comment on topics related to blogging or writing because of the nature of the forum. But I post only a fraction of my blogs on blogging because I don’t want to lose myself in just discussions but discussions help me keep on track and give me feedback. Still, the feedback has to be *on* something in the end.

      I’ve seen extremely successful bloggers with far more readers than me do this differently though. Some directly elicit feedback, linkbacks etc. and they’ve been around much longer than me. So maybe there’s a protocol of good behaviour in the blogosphere that I’m only just learning. So my ideas might change as I go along.

      That’s a long response. Thanks for the comment. It made me think!

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  13. I like blogs that make me think which yours does. A very small number of blogs also sow seeds of change in my mind .. and your blog is one of them. Thank you. For example your categories of comments have made me ponder not just the kind of comments I leave on blogs but the verbal feedback I give the people close to me in the real world.

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  14. One of the biggest things leading me to table edits of my old trilogy was blogging-led improvement in my writing. The prompt, thoughtful comments here have helped shape me to be a much better writer than I was in 2004. Like you, I am so grateful.

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  15. Your writing is always so thoughtful, so analytical, and yet so frustratingly readable. Even on my current activity. Thank you again, bottledworder. You never fail to afflict me with “writer envy”.

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  16. I enjoy any type of comment. Someone is out there. Then I realized that you need to give as well as receive. Or perhaps if you give you may receive. Communication, especially thoughtful communication, is great!

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  17. I like how you broke down the type of comments and categorized them. What kind of comment is this? I’ll be self-conscious now. I’m just kidding. Sometimes I read through comments and it’s amazing how many different directions people go in (I think this is an “I agree”). Comments are as big a part of the blogging experience as anything. I enjoy them, too. There’s people out there!

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  18. I had to smile at the mention above of “likes” that come too quickly. I am a very small fish and appreciate all likes, not to mention one-word comments. I take what I can get.

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    1. Me too. Sometimes these super short comments are genuine. I’ve had the experience that I really liked a post and so wanted to leave something more than a “like” but couldn’t come up with anything new to say within a few minutes of reading. That’s when I leave the short comments.

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  19. When I leave a ‘like’ it is because I’ve read the post but, don’t have a ‘useful’ comment to contribute.
    However, like you, if the post has triggered something within me, I have ‘no choice’ but to leave a comment; like now..!
    Those ‘likes’ I don’t like are the ones that ‘like’ on the last 4 or 5 posts within a 1 minute time frame (according to the email time of receipt). Of course, it would be impossible to read that many posts within that time frame; even if you are a speed reader. I have found those who do this never leave a comment, and probably don’t know enough about me to do so.. (after all; they don’t read the posts; so how can they). I often feel this type of blogger is looking to have me ‘go to their blog’, or they are reciprocating a visit/like/comment from me.
    Naturally, and refreshingly, there are more of the sincere types ‘out there’… As in life, the insincere individual is soon ‘sussed out’…!

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  20. It’d be considered criminal to leave a comment on this blog like “Great post, I agree!” from now on. (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/quick-tip-be-the-perfect-guest/)

    I think you summed up quite neatly what serious bloggers appreciate — community and support. Increasing traffic is certainly great, but intellectual communication is more stimulating than stats.

    By listing the above 5, you have cleverly avoided telling us what types of comments are not welcome. I think I like this strategy.

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    1. Ha ha! There’s a “comment” on my “Telling Stories” post which is actually just a story by itself. No relation to my post! Several paragraphs. Other than such comments (and spam) all other comments are welcome:)

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  21. I love this list, especially # 1 & #5! It’s very easy to “Like” without ever reading the entire post, but it takes more time to write a comment. If I’m putting my face/name to a post as “liking” it, you can bet I’ve read the post in its entirety.

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  22. I’ve had a very long day and started to write a very witty response, because, after all, this is about comments. But I then reread it and decided I should not try to be funny while I am tired, hungry and riding my exercise bike! But I did really like this! 🙂

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