"Netiquette" for Chaucernet

by Laura Hodges

Each semester new students subscribe to Chaucernet, 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 Chaucer's women?" 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 Chaucernetters 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 Chaucer in new and quite interesting ways. I hope we'll have some more of these thought-provoking questions.

Laura Hodges