People join the Arlington list, and stay despite the high volume and wide range of topics, because they are interested in the topic of Arlington. This policy provides guidance about how to stay on topic, and explains how the list manager handles threads that veer off topic.
Staying on topic is often difficult, and it is understood that there can be no hard and fast rules that everyone would be able to apply exactly the same way and get exactly the same results. Instead, staying on topic requires good judgment, which comes only with practice. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are writing a message. When you can answer "yes" to these questions, you are probably headed in the right direction.
- "Is my message about Arlington?" If your message is very clearly and totally focused on Arlington politics, Arlington schools, Arlington restaurants – Arlington people places or things in other words – it's on topic.
- "Is my message likely to be of wide interest to a large group of people who are here because they want to learn about and discuss Arlington?" If you feel confident that the answer to this question is yes, then your message is very likely to be on topic, even if it is not about Arlington per se. For example, messages about a neighboring town, or about a state-wide map database that includes maps of Arlington, or about a chain of stores that's coming to Arlington, are probably all on topic.
- "Is my message an attempt to draw on the resources of my community?" In other words, if you live in Arlington and you are asking for help from or providing information to what you feel to be your community, then your message is probably on topic, even if the focus isn't on Arlington itself. For example, if you are inviting people from your town to a national political event, or you are asking your neighbors how they are handling some aspect of the state tax form, or you’re looking for the best route to Logan Airport, it's probably on topic even if the focus is not Arlington.
- "Does my message avoid changing the subject?" When you reply to a message and you change the focus substantially, you may be going off topic. For example, if a list member posts a message inviting neighbors to a national political event, and you reply with a message that focuses on national politics instead of neighbors, you may not be staying on topic.
- "Does my message avoid violating any of the other list policies?" If your message contains a personal attack or the text of a private email, it’s not on topic even if it otherwise would have been. If your message is of a commercial nature, please see the policy on commercial postings.
It is not unusual for a discussion thread to drift from its original focus on Arlington into other territory – philosophy, political parties, technical matters of law, definitions of words, and so on are common directions of drift. This sort of drift is only natural, and it takes a conscious effort to bring the focus back to Arlington. If you make that effort, your fellow list members will appreciate it.
If a thread that was originally on topic goes off topic, the list manager may choose to end the thread. Ending the thread means that the list manager posts a message to the list with the subject "Thread is off topic and has been ended (was " followed by the subject of the thread being ended. The list manager may also adjust the list software so that messages on that thread will be held for approval instead going through immediately without approval as they normally do. Not all off-topic threads are created equal: an off-topic thread about boating is not likely to be as disruptive to the list as an off-topic thread about a controversial and provocative topic. So the list manager will exercise judgment as to which threads need to be ended. Please trust that the list manager is choosing which threads to end in a fair and objective manner, based on the potential level of disruptiveness, and not on any personal preferences or viewpoints the list manager may hold.