Rewarding humour in online help forums

One of the contributors in our online question-and-answer forum, Daniel Stevens, has a quirky and amusing style of writing. His entries are always relevant, but he nevertheless manages to inject some humour that makes for easy reading and invites quick responses from other forum users.

My first aim in writing this post was to share the fun of reading Daniel’s forum entries. Then I thought about the bigger picture. The idea of humour in an online help forum is an interesting phenomenon, especially for technical communicators.

First, the fun. Here’s a screenshot of one of Daniel’s posts, called Is there a flood control function on the “Like” button?

And here’s another, Why can’t I upload icons for new priority, issue and workflow step entries?

Have you encountered similar witty posts in user forums? What do you think about the idea of rewarding such entries? This particular forum, Atlassian Answers, is clever about awarding badges and points for popular questions and good answers. Each contributor to the forum builds up a “karma score”, which encourages people to keep contributing. So, should there be a specific score category for funny entries?

As one of my colleagues pointed out, the social review site Yelp invites readers to click a button saying whether a review is “useful”, “funny”, or “cool”. Should a user forum do the same?

If the forum starts rewarding humour entries, might that lead to irrelevant and silly content? My opinion is that there may be some of that, but on the whole people are in the forum to get a question answered, or to help other people with their questions. A touch of humour just makes the posts flow better, and most people will recognise that fact. People who don’t have a bent for humour won’t bother to spend the time trying to be funny. Or is that a naive assumption? :)

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About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 17 August 2012, in humour, technical writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Kelly M. McDaniel

    Humor is for standup comedians in night clubs and the patrons who support them. Humor has no value in the workplace. This fact has been proven many times over by large corporations who make a lot of money but never laugh.

    The chortle, the audible warning sign of humor-creep, is Nature’s way of saying, “Here it is! Bring in the frowns!”

    A few of my acquaintances, but none of my friends, are closet laughers. Stealing water cooler moments of camaraderie with downcast eyes and muffled sniggles, they pretend not to be cool. They callously cast aside an amusing anecdote while retreating to the safety of a washroom stall (on a different floor) to bellow unabashedly. Refusing to engage in witty repartee, the gateway drug of comedy, they withdraw to their solemn abodes, to the guilty pleasure of Monty Python reruns, and a bag of bite-size Aeros.

    These are the successes of human experience; the ones who, through practice, have mastered the subtle art of stiflement, the ones who have no Boss Key on their computer. Their stoicism is to be immolated.

  2. I think the upvote button is probably fine for rewarding humour. Or maybe create a badge for “Wit and Eloquence”?

  3. I like Matt’s idea of a ‘Wit and Eloquence’ badge ;-)

    I wrote about using humour in technical writing a while back (http://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/humor-and-friendly-chatin-user-documentation/), showing examples from a software user manual I’d read back in about 2000.

    –Rhonda

  4. What’s up, I am a newbie here. I`m sorry if this Isn`t the right section for this post but I was hoping some one here on tech-writing.alltop.com would be ok to show me where I can find a stream of The Dark Knight Rises Online for free. Thanks

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