Pauline has suggested that I ePen some words about internet forum moderation based on my experience with the Australian Writers’ Forum (AWF). If the AWF is a nice place to be, that’s the forum members’ fault. But since Pauline has flattered me, let me indulge…

On Leadership

Since we want the forum to be a friendly place, I strive to be polite, even in the face of personal abuse. When my role requires me to ‘have words’ with someone, I do it privately to avoid bringing down the tone of the forum.

Rather than being dictatorial, I endeavour to be receptive to suggestions, making everyone feel involved. Unlike a blog, a forum is for a group of people. Managing a forum is therefore different—and harder.

I’m tempted to respond to every post. This is especially true when things are quiet: I feel an obligation to create activity. But since the aim is to encourage a community, I mustn’t dominate. I love discovering that half a dozen others have warmly welcomed a newbie before I noticed their arrival. I’m embarrassed to have the highest post count; hopefully someone will overtake me soon.

On Roles

Also in the spirit of group ownership, AWF has entrusted some members with specific responsibilities. This isn’t limited to formal moderation duties: we also have social media co-ordinators, event organisers and list maintainers.

Rather than selecting moderators based on their technical ability (eg, proficiency with forum software), the AWF’s moderators have been chosen for their people skills. The primary role of moderators is to work with others to keep things pleasant;  if they can also delete spam expediently, that’s a bonus.

On Topics

You can’t please everyone. An example is off-topic posts: some people are happy for discussions to meander like small-talk, while others are strictly businesslike. The use of ‘off topic’ channels helps, but this will always remain an awkward balancing act.

Another fine line is marketing. Writers need to promote themselves and their output, but we don’t want AWF to be dominated by advertising like so many twitter feeds: our focus is on support rather than sales. A compromise has been to establish specific forum sections for publicising personal information.

While the main focus of AWF is our discussion board, we sometimes run real-time chat sessions on writing-related topics. Despite significant enthusiasm for these, they’ve proved difficult to run because of members’ disparate interests and circumstances.

On Criticism

Flaming seems virtually de rigueur for on-line forums, so it seems sensible to eschew content that risks conflict. However, a writers’ group must encourage its members to comment critically on one another’s writing. Some critiques posted on AWF have been brutally blunt, but I’ve been impressed at how well most people accept negative feedback. Many times I’ve been ready to douse an anticipated conflagration that never occurred.

Much has been written on the right way to express criticism. My main criterion is that it should be about the writing and not the writer. Nobody should be insulted, even if they write as poorly as I.

The right way to receive criticism is also important. In addition to taking it in good humour, it’s best not to defend one’s writing too much. Doing so can leave reviewers feeling that their comments will always fall on deaf ears, making them less inclined to express their opinions in future. This doesn’t mean that all suggestions have to be accepted: they can be set aside quietly.

While any AWF member can post snippets of their work for review, the best way to get good feedback is to contribute to group discussions for a while so that others know you’re not just ‘on the take’.

The Bottom Line

There aren’t any great secrets here. Running a forum is mostly common sense and its success depends on its members.

AWF membership is free. Please join us!

Peter McLennan

Thanks Peter.  I think the advice here is relevant to all kinds of on-line forums, although peer review certainly  adds a different and difficult dimension.  Some  writers’ forums  avoid this aspect and I can understand why, even though it can be a valuable resource for writers of any level of experience and expertise .  FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW; YOUR  FEEDBACK WILL BE MUCH APPRECIATED.

  1. Thanks for this Pauline 🙂

    I’ll be moderating a Nano forum in November so I’m going to print this off and stick it on my wall lol 😉


  2. Best of luck Vikki, I’m sure you will do a great job. I hope you won’t have to don body armour and a helmet!

  3. Hits the nail on the head – being a moderator needs a special sort of person – one with sensitivity and diplomacy.

  4. Good summary, Rob! Thinking that it’s a geeky thing about software is a trap: the software is just a tool; a means to an end.

  5. I hope not too Pauline! 🙂

    Great article Peter!


  6. I run a writing group – I say ‘I’, but it’s not me, it’s a team effort, and that’s how it should be. The group is only as good as the members in it, and between us all, we keep it running smoothly.

    I don’t have any specific rules as such, we all have busy lives and there are times when people cannot contribute. I’m happy for members to join in as and when they can, and I think they appreciate that. They don’t feel under pressure to post something – anything – just so that they can stay in the group.

    I also don’t think one person, or group of people, should dictate to the other members on what they can and cannot do. That will just get their backs up and it doesn’t make for a friendly atmosphere. People don’t like being told what to do, and if it becomes dictatorial they will soon leave and find a more pleasant group where they are not treated like children.

    All I ask, is that members are kind and respectful to each other. We do have discussions, and we don’t always agree with each other, but as long as it’s done in a constructive way, everyone’s happy. We share successes and failures and also share writing markets and competitions.

    I echo everything said by Peter. The group’s success does depend on its members, and if we can all work together in harmony, it makes for a pleasant interesting group that people feel happy to be part of.

    • Very good point about accepting that people can’t always contribute regularly. I wish I’d thought to include it, although I was naughtily over my word limit as it is.

  7. It’s interesting that the sites run by Blossom and Peter have a very different structure and yet the success of both still comes down to respect from all concerned. By the way, how much easier it is to be a member than a moderator!!

  8. Peter,

    You do an incredible job of running the forum. In fact, to the extent that I think I haven’t yet bore witness to an event too traumatizing, well done.

    So I’m only fifteen and I think that your perseverance makes an environment that transcends age altogether. I wholeheartedly have never felt bad about being young in your forum (cannot say the same about some other places).

    Plus it’s nice to have some good Aussie success stories like your own!



    • Pauline

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for your contribution. It’s lovely to think someone your age can feel so comfortable on the site.
      Good luck with your writing!

  9. I had been looking for a ‘friendly’ ‘Australian’ writers forum for sometime and was glad to find AWF earlier this year.

    Peter, you moderate so well, you don’t dominate and you find the right balance between being the owner and a normal member. You show members respect, you display intelligence and know when to step in, if necessary. And while doing all this, you still manage to remain upbeat, cheeky (in a good way) and generally nice.

    As long as it doesn’t interfere (in a bad way) with your writing, continue on, as you’re definitely appreciated.

  10. Pauline

    I can only say hear, hear and very well said, Justin. Peter’s own contributions and advice are just as valuable as his moderating skills.
    I do hope we won’t give him a swelled head and ruin everything! Only joking..sort of.

  11. Wow; thank you all for the disgusting flattery! Okay, I’ll buy all your books. 😉

  12. Pauline

    Ha ha….our strategy worked!

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