Posting style

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When a message is replied to in e-mail, Internet forums, or Usenet, the original can often be included, or "quoted", in a variety of different posting styles.

The main options are interleaved posting (also called inline replying, in which the reply is woven into the original post), bottom-posting (in which the reply follows the quote) or top-posting (in which the reply precedes the quoted original message). For each of those options, there is also the issue of whether trimming of the original text is allowed or required. While each online community differs on which styles are appropriate or acceptable, within some communities the use of the "wrong" method risks being seen as a breach of netiquette, and can provoke vehement response from community regulars.[citation needed]

These issues may not be very meaningful for users of some e-mail clients and services, like Gmail, which display entire e-mail threads in logical order and hide previous content.


Quoting previous messages

In an e-mail reply, it is sometimes appropriate to include a full or partial copy of the original message that is being replied to. As opposed to in-person conversations and Internet chats, email responses may be received long after the original message was sent, so the original sender may have forgotten, misplaced or deleted the original. Many email reading programs (mail user agents) encourage this behavior by automatically including a copy of the original message in the reply editing window.

Quoted text from previous messages is usually distinguished in some way from the new (reply) text. At a minimum, the two parts are given different indentation. In the example below, the first line is the original message, the second line is the reply:

    The project meeting will be at 14:00. --Mary
Mary, I cannot attend: my plane leaves at 15:30 --Joe.

Alternatively, special delimiter lines may be used:

Hey Joe, Paris is in France, not England. --Mary

--- original message ---
You just had a call from England, from Paris I think. --Joe
--- end of original message ---

For extra clarity, blank lines may also be inserted between the two parts. When using an email medium that supports text markup (such as HTML or RTF), the previous text may be indicated by a distinctive font and/or color:

  The meeting has been postponed to next Friday. --Mary

Has the deadline for the report been moved too? --Joe 

Quoted text markers

Alternative e-mail quoting styles supported by Microsoft Outlook

A common convention is to prefix each line of the quoted text with some distinctive character or string, usually a greater than sign (">"), or an ASCII vertical bar character ("|"). The greater-than convention originated in Usenet and was meant to indicate "higher level" text.[citation needed] This convention is supported by many popular interfaces, either by default or as a user's settable option (In Microsoft Outlook, for instance, this option is labeled "prefix each line of the original" but only works for text, not HTML, based emails). Often one or more spaces are inserted before or after the quoted text marker, as in the example:

> How is the report coming? --Mary

It will be on your desk by noon. --Joe

Some email interfaces assume that a line starting with a ">" or "|" character is quoted text, and will automatically display it in a distinctive font or color. Some interfaces may recognize various quotation marker characters but change them automatically to their own "standard" character.

Reply level indication

A message often includes text from two or more messages exchanged in previous rounds of a long discussion. If an additional quotation marker is inserted at every round,without removing any existing markers, the number of markers at the beginning of each line will show the "level" of the reply, that is, how many rounds have occurred since that line was written. These accumulated markers are usually sufficient to distinguish the parts that came from each message. Some email interfaces recognize this convention and automatically render each level in a different color. For example:

>>> How is the report coming? --Mary

>> It will be on your desk by noon. --Joe

> Sorry Joe, I need it by 11:00 at the latest. --Mary

OK, but it will be missing this month's figures. --Joe

If the discussion is between two parties only, then an even number of markers (including zero) identifies text written by the sender, while an odd number of markers identifies text by the recipient. (In the above example even numbers are Joe's text and odd number are Mary's.)

No problem. 6pm it is then. --Jim

At 10.01am Wednesday, Danny wrote: 
> Whoa! I need to email a report at 5:30.
> Could you push it back an hour? --Danny
> At 9.40am Wednesday, Jim wrote:
>> I'm going to suspend the mail service for approx. thirty
>> minutes tonight, starting at 5pm. --Jim

Attribution lines

Quoted material is often preceded by an attribution line that identifies its author. These lines are particularly helpful in discussions between multiple parties. For example:

Nancy wrote:</span>
> Peter wrote:
> > When will we have the performance figures?
> The tests will be completed next week. 

Peter wrote:
> Mary wrote:
> > We should meet today to discuss the marketing strategy.
> Better wait, we do not have the West Coast sales data yet.

I agree with Peter.  We need the sales data and also Nancy's 
performance figures.  Let's meet next Friday after lunch.

This reply quotes two messages, one by Nancy (itself a reply to Peter) and one by Peter (itself a reply to Mary).

Many mail agents will add these attribution lines automatically to the top of the quoted material. Note that a newly-added attribution line should not get the quotation marker, since it is not part of the quoted text; so that the level indicator of the attribution line is always one less than the corresponding text. Doing otherwise may confuse the reader and also e-mail interfaces that choose the text color according to the number of leading markers.

Instead of an attribution line, one may indicate the author by a comment in brackets, at the beginning of the quotation:

> > [Peter:] When will we have the performance figures?
> [Nancy:] The tests will be completed next week. 
> > [Mary:] We should meet today to discuss the marketing strategy.
> [Peter:] Better wait, we do not have the West Coast sales data yet.

I agree with Peter.  We need the sales data and Nancy's 
performance figures.  Let's meet next Friday after lunch.

Another alternative, used in Fidonet and some mail user agents, is to place the initials of the author before the quoting marker. This may be used with or without attribution lines:

Nancy wrote:</span>
N> Peter wrote:
P>> When will we have the performance figures?
N> The tests will be completed next week. 

Peter wrote:
P> Mary wrote:
M>> We should meet today to discuss the marketing strategy.
P> Better wait, we do not have the West Coast sales data yet.

I agree with Peter.  We need the sales data and also Nancy's 
performance figures.  Let's meet next Friday after lunch.

Trimming and reformatting

When replying to long discussions, particularly in newsgroup discussions, quoted text from the original message is often trimmed so as to leave only the parts that are relevant to the reply — or only a reminder thereof. This practice is sometimes called "trim-posting" or "edited posting", and is recommended by some manuals of posting etiquette.[1]

Sometimes an indicator of deleted text is given, usually in the form of a square bracketed tag as: "[snipped]", "[trimmed]", or simply "[...]". The text that is retained may be edited to some extent, e.g. by re-folding the lines. For example, if the original message was

 This is a reminder that the project meeting which was canceled
 last week will be held today in the 3rd floor conference room at
 14:30 sharp.  Everybody must attend. --Mary

the reply may be

 > the project meeting [...] will be held today in the 3rd floor
 > conference room 
 Mary, be sure to check the mikes in that room. --Joe

or even just

 > 3rd floor conference room 
 Mary, be sure to check the mikes in that room --Joe

Deleted text may also be replaced by a summary in brackets:

On Thursday, Jim wrote:
> The movie clearly adds a sense of menace to the story
> which is not present in the original book. 
> [...claim that the darker tone weakens the movie...]

I disagree.  The darker tone works well, once one understands 
the two are aimed at different audiences.

Automatically included text (such as signature blocks, free e-mail service ads, and corporate disclaimers) are more likely to be deleted, usually without ellipses, than manually written text. Some posters may delete any parts of the original message that they are not replying to. Some posters delete only parts dealing with issues that they see as "closed", and leave any parts that, in their opinion, deserve further discussion or will be replied to in a later message.[citation needed]

Placement of replies

Inline replying

In the inline reply style (also called "interleaved reply", "point-by-point rebuttal", or, sometimes, "bottom posting"), the original message is broken into two or more sections, each followed by a specific reply or comment. A reply in inline style may also include some top-posted or bottom-posted comments that apply to the whole reply message, rather than to a specific point. For example:

I have been following the discussion about the new product line. Here are my thoughts.

Joe wrote:

> Will out prices be competitive?

That may not be a problem for now, we still have a quality edge.

> We do not have enough trained people on the West Coast. We have many
> new employees but they do not know our products yet.

We can bring them here for a crash training course.

Mary wrote:

> We still do not have a clear marketing plan. 

Peter, would you take charge of that? Let me know if you need help.

On the whole, I am quite optimistic.  It looks like we will be shipping
the basic system before the end of this quarter. 

Inline replying can also be combined with top-posting: selected points are quoted and replied to, as above, and then a full copy of the original message is appended.

> Can you present your report an hour later?

Yes I can. The summary will be sent no later than 5pm.

At 10.01am Wednesday, Danny wrote:
> > 2.00pm: Present report
> Jim, I have a meeting at that time. Can you present your report an hour later?
> > 4.30pm: Send out summary of feedback
> Also if you do the above, this may need to happen later too.
> Danny
> At 9.40am Wednesday, Jim wrote:
> > My schedule for today will be:
> > 10.00am: Gather data for report
> > 2.00pm: Present report to team
> > 4.30pm: Send out summary of feedback
> > Jim

Inline replying was the predominant style that developed in the Usenet discussion lists, years before the existence of the WWW and the spread of e-mail and the Internet outside the academic community.[2]

Inline replying was also originally used in all e-mail (because such users had come from Usenet),[citation needed], but most users and providers have abandoned (or never got used to) this style.[citation needed] One possible reason is the large number of casual e-mail users that entered the scene after the popularization of the internet.[citation needed] Another possible reason is the inadequate support provided by the reply function of some webmail readers, which either do not automatically insert a copy of the original message into the reply, or do so without any quoting prefix level indicators.[citation needed] Finally, most forums, wiki discussion pages, and blogs (such as Slashdot) essentially impose the bottom-post format, by displaying all recent messages in chronological order.

Today, inline replying is still seen on Internet forums.[citation needed]


In top-posting style, the original message is included verbatim, with the reply above it. It is sometimes referred to by the term TOFU, an acronym for "Text Over, Fullquote Under". Example:

No problem.  6pm it is then.

-------- Original Message --------
From: Danny <> 
Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 10:01 AM
To: Jim <>
Subject: RE: Job
Whoa!  Hold on.  I have a job scheduled at 5:30 which mails out 
a report to key tech staff.  Could you push it back an hour?

-------- Original Message --------
From: Jim <> 
Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 9:40 AM
To: Danny <>
Subject: Job
I'm going to suspend the mail service for approx. thirty
minutes tonight, starting at 5pm, to install some updates 
and important fixes.

Top-posting seems to be the most common style in business e-mail correspondence.[3]

Top-posting is a natural consequence of the behavior of the "reply" function in many current e-mail readers, such as Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, and others. By default, these programs insert into the reply message a copy of the original message (without headers and often without any extra indentation or quotation markers), and position the editing cursor above it. Moreover, a bug present on most flavours of Microsoft Outlook caused the quotation markers to be lost when replying in plain text to a message that was originally sent in HTML/RTF. In addition, users of mobile devices, like BlackBerries, are encouraged to use top-posting, because the devices only download the beginning of a message for viewing. The rest of the message is only retrieved when needed, which takes additional download time. Putting the relevant content at the beginning of the message requires less bandwidth, less time, and less scrolling for the Blackberry user.[4][5][6] For these and possibly other reasons, many users seem to accept top-posting as the "standard" reply style.

Partially because of Microsoft's influence, top-posting is very common on mailing lists and in personal e-mail.[7][8][9][10]

Objections to top-posting on newsgroups, as a rule, seem to come from persons who first went online in the earlier days of Usenet, and in communities that date to Usenet's early days. Until the mid-90s, top-posting was unknown and interleaved posting an obvious standard that all net.newcomers had to learn. Among the most vehement communities are those in the Usenet comp.lang hierarchy, especially comp.lang.c and comp.lang.c++. Top-posting is more tolerated on the alt hierarchy. Newer online participants, especially those with limited experience of Usenet, tend to be less sensitive to arguments about posting style.

Top-posting has always been the standard format for forwarding a message to a third party; in which case the comments at the top (if any) are a "cover note" for the recipient.


In the "bottom-posting" style, the reply is appended to a full or partial copy of the original message. The name bottom-posting is sometimes used for inline-style replies, and indeed the two formats are the same when only one point is being replied to.

At 10.01am Wednesday, Danny wrote:
> At 9.40am Wednesday, Jim wrote:
> > I'm going to suspend the mail service for approx. thirty
> > minutes tonight, starting at 5pm, to install some updates 
> > and important fixes.

> Whoa!  Hold on.  I have a job scheduled at 5:30 which mails out 
> a report to key tech staff.  Could you push it back an hour?
> By the way, which systems will be updated? I had some network
> problems after last week's update.  Will I have to reboot?

No problems. 6pm it is then.

Basically, I will update our WWW server and firewall. 
No, you won't have to reboot.

Bottom-posting, like inline replies, encourages posters to trim the original message as much as possible, so that readers are not forced to scroll past irrelevant text, or text that they have already seen in the original message:

At 10.01am Wednesday, Danny wrote:
> Could you push it back an hour?
> [...] which systems will be updated?
> [...] Will I have to reboot?

No problems. 6pm it is then.
Basically, I will update our WWW server and firewall. 
No, you won't have to reboot.

Choosing the proper posting style

The appropriate posting style depends on the forum and on the nature of the message. Some forums (such as personal e-mail) are quite tolerant, in which case the proper style is dictated by taste and effectiveness.

How much to trim

Some style guides recommend that, as a general rule, quoted material in replies should be trimmed or summarized as much as possible, keeping only the parts that are necessary to make the readers understand the replies.[1] That of course depends on how much the readers can be assumed to know about the discussion. For personal e-mail, in particular,the subject line is often sufficient, and no quoting is necessary; unless one is replying to only some points of a long message.[1]

In particular, when replying to a message that already included quoted text, one should consider whether that quoted material is still relevant. For example:

 > > [Mary:] Shall we meet this afternoon to discuss the
 > > marketing strategy?
 > [Peter:] Perhaps, if we can get all the information we need.
 > Do we have the West Coast sales data yet?
 The LA office just sent them in.

The quote from Mary's message is relevant to Peter's reply, but not to Joe's reply. The latter could have been trimmed to

 > [Peter:] Do we have the West Coast sales data yet?
 The LA office just sent them in.

On the other hand, in some situations, any trimming or editing of the original message may be inappropriate. For example, if the reply is being copied to a third person who did not see the original message, it may be advisable to quote it in full; otherwise the trimmed message may be misinterpreted by the new recipient, for lack of context.

Also, when replying to a customer or supplier, it may be advisable to quote the original message in its entirety, in case the other party somehow failed to keep a copy of it.

Top, bottom, and inline replies

Some mail programs may even try to re-word-wrap entire paragraphs and cause quotes and replies to be jumbled together illegibly if they are not cleanly separated.

Quotation markers enable word wrapping without spillover to lines with an incorrect number of level indicators, but are seldom successful unless both respondents are using the same software. A common mistake is to leave "tails" of right angle brackets (or left vertical bars) above or below a quoted block, running into the preceding or following paragraph of new material, instead of creating an entirely blank line as a separator.

The inline reply style keeps the quotes and their replies close to each other and in logical reading order, and encourages trimming of the quoted material to the bare minimum. With proper trimming, this style makes it easier for readers to identify the points of the original message that are being replied to. It also gives the sender freedom to arrange the quoted parts in any order, and to provide a single comment to quotations from two or more separate messages, even if they did not include each other.

The main advantage of top-posting is that, in most e-mail interfaces, it is the most convenient for the sender. Moreover, with top-posting (or with a reply without any quoted text) the reader sees the reply right away, without having to scroll past quoted text. This is an advantage if the reader already knows the topic that is being replied to, but a drawback if it has to read the quoted text to figure it out.

Customer service e-mail practices often require that all points be addressed in a clear manner without quoting, while the original e-mail message may be included as an attachment merely as evidence. If the original message is to be quoted in full, top-posting is usually the most appropriate format.

Another advantage (including over paper letters) is the positioning of each partial reply directly under the paragraph, sentence, or phrase to which it is replying. This reduces the need to remember a large chunk of context, can reduce ambiguity about what prompted a particular reply, and can make it easier to see where a reply misunderstands or ignores the original text.

Inline reply with top-posting of the full message makes it easier to read the replies, while still allowing the recipient to see the quoted points in the original context. However this also results in some portions of the original message being quoted twice, which takes up extra space and might be considered confusing.

Top- and bottom-posting are sometimes compared to traditional written correspondence in that the response is a single continuous text, and the original is appended as only to clarify which letter is being replied to.

Some people claim that top-posting is bad practice because it doesn't follow RFC 1855. However the RFC is only a "request for comments" and it describes itself as a set of recommendations, not an official standard in any sense. However, the IETF may publish some of the RFCs as Internet standards i.e. TCP etc.

One benefit of top-posting is that when a new correspondent is included in an otherwise private discussion (due to forwarding or addition of new recipients), the background of the discussion, or "thread", is also accessible, with the most recent response immediately visible at the top.[11][12] Especially in business correspondence, an entire message thread may need to be forwarded to a third party for handling or discussion. In this case, it is appropriate to "top-post" the handling instructions or handoff discussion above the quoted trail of the entire discussion — as the intention is simply to "approve" or "provide instruction", not to respond in a point by point manner — or to send a copy of all the e-mails comprised by the discussion. (In environments where the entire discussion is public, like newsgroups or online forums, inclusion of past discussion is not necessary, and trim-posting is sufficient.)

In forwarding it is customary to include the entire original message (including all headers) as a MIME attachment, while in top-posed replies these are often trimmed or replaced by an attribution line. An untrimmed quoted message is a weaker form of transcript, as key pieces of meta information are destroyed. (This is why an ISP's Postmaster will typically insist on a forwarded copy of any problematic e-mail, rather than a quote.) These forwarded messages are displayed in the same way as top-posting in some mail clients. Top-posting is viewed as seriously destructive to mailing-list digests, where multiple levels of top-posting are difficult to skip. The worst case would be top-posting while including an entire digest as the original message.

Some believe that "top-posting" is appropriate for interpersonal e-mail, but inline posting should always be applied to threaded discussions such as newsgroups.

This example is occasionally used in mailing lists to mock and discourage top-posting: [13][14][15]

A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
Q: Why is top-posting such a bad thing?
A: Top-posting.
Q: What is the most annoying thing in e-mail?

Bottom-posting preserves the logical order of the replies and is consistent with the Western reading direction from top to bottom.

One argument against bottom-posting is that scrolling down through a post to find a reply is inconvenient, especially for short replies to long messages, and many inexperienced computer users may not know that they need to scroll down to find a reply to their query. When sending an untrimmed bottom posted message, one might indicate inline replies with a notice at the top such as "I have replied below." However, as many modern mail programs are capable of displaying different levels of quotation with different colors (as seen here), this is not so much of an issue any more. Another good method to indicate that there is more reply text still to come is to always end your text with a signature line. Then the reader will know to continue to read until your signature line appears. This method is particularly polite and useful when using the inline reply method, since it tells the reader that your response is complete at the point where your signature line appears.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 S. Hambridge (October 1995), Network Working Group RFC 1855 Netiquette Guidelines
  2. Archives of Usenet posts at Google groups prior to the beginning of the WWW (1993).
  3. Mallon, Rebecca; Charles Oppenheim (February 2002). "Style used in electronic mail". Aslib Proceedings 54 (1): pp. 8–22. doi:10.1108/00012530210697482. ISSN 0001-253X. 
  4. My rapidly growing email habit blog post
  5. Stopping SirCam — mailing list
  6. Top Posting and MobilesJabber mailing list
  7. "reply intelligently to e-mail" (blog post and responses). TechRepublic. January 19, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-11. 
  8. Various authors (March 19, 2004). "Top posting" (Mailing list thread). FreeBSD mailing list. Retrieved 2007-01-11. 
  9. Various authors (October 13, 2002). "Top-posting is so Microsoftish" (Mailing list thread). SuSE Linux english discussion. Retrieved 2007-01-11. 
  10. Kennedy, Angus J.; Peter Buckley, Duncan Clark (October 2003). Andrew Dickson. ed (Google Book Search). The Rough Guide to the Internet 9 (2004 ed.). London: Penguin Books. pp. 241. ISBN 1-84353-101-1. Retrieved 2007-01-11. "It used to be taboo to reply at the top of a message ("top posting") until Microsoft made it the default setting" 
  11. Quoting: Top Posting — Dan's Mail Format Site
  12. Sensible email — Blog post and discussion
  13. ARM Linux — Mailing Lists — Etiquette
  14. Top Posting
  15. What is top-posting

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