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When a Comment Requires the Honest Truth

Maybe it was one of those days. Maybe it was something in the air. Today, I had six comments that required the honest truth as a response. Not the tempered, kinder and gentler response but the hard cold truth.

The kind of truth you have to give knowing that some can’t take it.

Not all types of bloggers can handle delivering the raw truth. And not all have to hand out the truth. However, technical, tip, and educational blogs often confront questions and pleas for help that require a level of honesty that can bring a multitude of responses – not all of them positive.

There are two challenges when it comes to answering an inquiry honestly: how to respond and how to respond to the response.

How to Respond Honestly

I believe that if you are an honest, sincere, and up-front blogger, people will expect the truth when they ask for it. If you aren’t, and you suddenly hand over the hard cold factual truth, expect a reaction – maybe not the one you want.

They have come to you because they have enough evidence to know you are the source for the answer, the one to help them with their problem. Commenters already have an expectation of what your response will be before they even ask the question. If you are a sweet and considerate blogger, they expect a sweet and considerate answer. If you are beligerant and confrontive, they will expect a like response. Don’t disappoint.

In general, I try to blog up-front and honest, without being argumentative or confrontive. I take care not to offend, but sometimes, I just want to bash intelligence into some brains, don’t you?

There are many ways to respond honestly to a question that requires the truth but is unpleasant to hand over. You can couch it in humor, with a lot of smileys 😀 and winks 😉 , softening the blow. Or you can just tell the truth and let it be whatever it is.

Among the six questions that required honest answers was a request for help with a blog design issue. Though I don’t have a lot of time to answer such individual pleas any more, I had a few minutes and took a look – and screamed. I hadn’t seen such an ugly, table-based design in years. Oh, I’ve seen ugly, but this was atrocious. On the surface, it was “pretty” but under the hood it was hideous. A web designer’s nightmare. Out of sheer curiousity, I ran it through The W3C MarkUp Validation Service and it popped up over 250 errors just on the front page. Bad errors, not forgivable errors. This was not a search engine friendly design. Their design issue was the least of their problems.

So what to do. Here are the options that ran through my head for replies:

The Vaguely Specific, Kind Reply: In order to help you determine the problem you had with your web design, I ran it through the W3C Validator and found 267 errors. The problem you are having could be associated with one or more of these issues. I recommend you go through them one by one to resolve each one. That may resolve your issue.

The Pass Off Reply: The problems you are having are far beyond my ability to deal with them on a volunteer basis. I recommend you seek paid web design assistance or request help on the .

Harsh Humor: Have you looked under the hood of your site lately? 😀 This is a coding nightmare. No wonder you are having problems. Burn a virtual path to the emergency room of the or the nearest web design clinic as this site has now been declared a disaster area. Get help now.

Humor Tempered With Truth: I don’t quite know how to give you the bad news, but I’ll do my best. Your website sucks. 😀 Actually, it is based upon pre-1999 design practices which means it is eight years out-of-date. I checked with an design testing service and found more than 250 errors – which would make even the most experienced designer wheeze with shock. 😉 The issue of fixing your one problem is beyond my current workload as it’s going to take some serious time. I recommend that you seek out a professional web designer or look for some guible help on the . 😀

The What-I-Really-Wanted-To-Say Response: Your license for owning a website or blog on the web has been revoked for design stupidity. In order to resolve this issue, call your web designer (your cousin, I’m sure) and fire their ass, telling them they are the most stupid of stupid and that they need to stop brutalizing others on the web. Slap yourself 6 times for having your cousin or friend design your site upon which your reputation and income is dependent upon. Switch to WordPress immediately. Use a free WordPress Theme or hire a professional web consultant and/or designer to covert this abscess on the web to meet web standards. Your site is an embarrassment to the web world. And to you.

There are a hundred ways this could be handled, but these were my first thoughts. The art of responding truthfully is knowing when to respond with emotion and when not. While every part of my being wanted to hand them the last example, I had to temper my natural spirit and keep to the character tone I’ve set on that blog.

So must you, too, examine all the different ways you can respond to such a query, and choose the one that best serves you and your blog’s reputation and style.

Responding to the Reaction to the Response

Once you put your response out there, expect a reaction. It could go any which way, so be ready for anything.

The BEST response I get to such brutal honest replies is “thank you” with gracious style. If you ever ask for brutal honest and get it, you better say thank you because you asked for it. They paid you a great deal of respect by responding acccordingly.

The worst response is a backlash of viciousness. In Mean Spirited Comments and Blogging, I offer a variety of ways to respond to mean comments, of which silence is my best recommendation. Honestly, I adhere to the “f**k ’em if they can’t take a joke” school of thought which means I’ve given you the truth and if you can’t take it, I’m done with you. You asked, you got, can’t handle, not my problem. Next!

Most of the time, the reader responses with silence or somewhere in between. The issue is done or they might have more questions, and you can decide how far you want to take this.

Remember, every potential answer seeker could be a potential client. Not just to hire your services but to show their appreciation for your help by driving traffic your way by word-of-mouth or linking.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, the author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.


  1. Posted May 16, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Brutal replies, but hey, they DID ask for it.
    Lovely post. Keep it up.

  2. Posted May 16, 2008 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Well done—thanks Lorelle.

    I love the, “What-I-Really-Wanted-To-Say” response, but probably would have used the “Vaguely Specific, Kind” reply.

    I think you summed it up well though, and provided an excellent model to follow when you said:

    In general, I try to blog up-front and honest, without being argumentative or confrontive.

    ~ Happy subscriber

  3. Posted May 16, 2008 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Lorelle. My site has 353 errors. Is this a record? No wonder I have been dropped by the search engines. LOL. Can I pull up the errors on the page so I can fix them as I go instead of having to go backwards and forwards from the HTML checker?

  4. Posted May 17, 2008 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    @ Epiphanist:

    I’ve had many sites under development with a lot more errors, so no winner here. 😀

    There are many ways of fixing errors on your page, which I talk about elsewhere on this blog in articles like:

    Validating Multiple Pages on Your Blog
    Conquering Site Validation Errors
    Validating the Code Behind the Page
    10 Steps to Valid HTML

    Almost no matter what, you have to go back and forth to fix the errors, though some FireFox Browser Extensions can help ease the process.

  5. Posted May 17, 2008 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    @ Lorelle: Thanks for the suggestions on how to deal with this kind of situations! It’s very useful since I’m thinking of starting a Q&A series!

    @ Epiphanist:
    Your errors, although they are about 300 of them, are relatively easy to fix. You basically have only 2 errors that generate all the others.

    The image of “Lost at Pentecost” is included with some variables:
    […]/pentecost.gif?w=265&h=265&h=265 <- these “&” break the validation
    When including picture or linking to other documents try using “&” instead of those “&”. That’s it.

    The second has to do with line breaks. You’re probably pasting text from some other sources and using for line breaks. In XHTML, BR is a self-closing tag and you should replace those with . I had to place a space between br and to make it appear in this comment, you don’t!

    Fixing these issues will solve many, if not all of your problems. Good luck.

    Lorelle, hope I did’t disturb by trying to help!

  6. Posted May 17, 2008 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but it seams that Lorelle’s comments won’t show the code example I’ve posted.
    Maybe if Lorelle finds one spare minute to edit it so that it displays the code…

  7. Posted May 17, 2008 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks Lorelle and Alex. The line breaks have been problematic for some time but XHTML and I will click very soon. I have started using . The bad code with the picture is defaulting from somewhere I don’t understand, it doesn’t display in the HTML editor on my blog. Sorry Lorelle, I don’t want to turn your post into a techno chatroom.

  8. Posted May 17, 2008 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    I never check my blog with W3C anymore, I dont know how to say but i am scare with what they shown to me..

  9. Posted May 17, 2008 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle

    As a non-technical user of WordPress, I can assure you that what we want more than anything else is honest feedback from the technical experts. We welcome anyone who points out errors or idiocies on our sites. Most of us are doing our best using books and help screens, but sometimes we make mistakes because we do not understand something fundamental which is obvious to an experienced user.

  10. Posted May 17, 2008 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    There’s a line somewhere between frankness – which can be necessary – and rudeness which usually doesn’t work for me. I was interested, Lorelle, that you felt you had to use the phrase “honest truth”. What other kind of truth is there? What would “dishonest truth” look like? “Honest truth” always rings alarm bells for me. When someone asks if I want the “honest truth”, it usually means that they’re going to be rude. Similarly when someone says “to be frank”.

    Many years ago I took part in a session with a group of people I worked very closely with. We regularly found ourselves tearing each other apart and nobody felt safe in the group’s meetings. So we sat in the fire with a consultant in group processes. He was very good indeed. One of the things he took us through was how to be frank without being destructive. Frankness, he said, requires preparation and not a knee-jerk reaction. If we want people to learn from our frankness, we have to find ways of languaging it that does not trigger the other person’s “steel shutter” reaction. And, of course, we have to be as ready to accept genuine frankness as to give it.

    Two important elements in giving frank feedback to someone:

    1. Motive. Do we really want to help this person learn from their own errors? Or do we want to rip them limb from limb?

    2. Language. There are ways to language frank feedback that helps the person accept that they have things to learn (don’t we all). The language doesn’t have to be saccharine sweet, but love, humour and stories can all help the person move on.

  11. Posted May 17, 2008 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    @ Alex Cristache:

    Thanks for trying to help Epiphanist, which should be given directly to the blogger via their blog contact page. The errors are typical and the answers are found in the list of posts I included in my reply.

    And my apologies that I can’t fix the code as I don’t know what it is. Too much of it was filtered by WordPress automatically. Be sure that you use the techniques in Writing and Publishing Code in Your WordPress Blog Posts for publishing code within posts and comments. These techniques work across all blogs, not just WordPress. I never post code without them. 😀

    @Robert Jones and Barney

    There are all types of truth, including white lies, and the brutal honest truth is a tough one to hand out compared to soft, spongy, politically correct truth. It’s an art form to deliver blunt criticism and honest truth and not everyone can do it well, nor in a way that gets the end goal.

    We want the truth, but we often ask for it and hate the results when we get it. I’ve learned to ask if people want it soft or hard and then temper my response according to theirs. Many say they want the hard, brutally honest truth when in fact they can’t handle it. I tell people you get what you ask for, so be careful what you ask for. 😀

  12. Posted May 18, 2008 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    I like this post for two reasons. First, you shared great solutions to tough questions in comments, and secondly, you reminded me to check my blogs for errors (I hadn’t checked in months). I got most of them fixed, and when time permits will work on the rest of them.

    Thanks again.

  13. Posted May 18, 2008 at 4:36 am | Permalink


    I know how it is to get a few nasty comments b/c a few months ago, out of the blue, a bunch of pilots from Detroit wrote some very nasty comments b/c of a story I wrote about a night flight I navigated that almost had me killed. It was an honest story but something I could have avoided had I made the “right choices” that night.

    Needless to say, I was shocked and hurt at first. Fortunately I did not let my ego get its way and stepped back without responding. Then I decided not to respond at all. Like you said, a one sided fire eventually burns out and it did. But what an experience that was!

    I know that if I had responded with defensive comments or got down to their level, my blog might have gotten a lot more traffic but it would have taken on a lower quality energy that I did not want in the first place. So I simply spammed them out of existence – harsh? Maybe but taking your advice, I asked myself if I would have let them in my own home and the answer was NO.

    Fortunately, my blog does not attract negative energy or negative comments. It’s amazing, really. I heard that if you’re not attracting critics, you’re not doing something right. I don’t know about that. Maybe I ought to stir up the pot and do something really crazy?? LOL. That’ll bring on the critics, I’m sure. But for now, every comment that’s come through lately has been positive, supportive, uplifting and engaging. Amazing, really.

  14. Posted May 18, 2008 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    But Lorelle, the validation site gives this=your site, 132 errors. ???????????

  15. Posted May 18, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    @ Mari-Nanci:

    Yes, thank you. These are the responsibly of and they have been reported. I have no control over the architecture of and their Themes.

    The number of errors, which are minor, my site has is not the point of the post. I hope you got the point.

  16. Posted May 19, 2008 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got the point, Lorelle. Yet … Here is a “humor tempered with truth” version of my responding to your example of responding:

    How your current post, which is about 6 Kb of text, has “landed” on a webpage with HTML source code of 60 Kb, — and the total size over 220 Kb?!!

    Formatting code should NOT exceed main content in such proportions!
    Have you looked under the hood of your lovely 🙂 WordPress (no doubt, – one of the best in the industry)! And you are telling us about possible errors on other websites? 😦
    It’s quite easy to check for misspellings a few paragraphs of these comments (hopefuly, i’ve made less than 250 errors :). But debugging several HUNDREDS Kb of computer code looks a slightly more time consuming task…
    However, I understand that discussing the “honest truth” about popular, yet hugely *bloated* blogging services might be off the topic here. So, for now I would recommend the following.

    Let webpage’s visitors using their own HTML design:
    Distribute Content and Formatting SEPARATELY!
    See my website as a live demo for this idea:

  17. Posted May 19, 2008 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    @ Beloy (Mini-News):

    Actually, 220K in today’s web pages is tiny. What you are adding up is not code, nor is it just text. It is the size of the images, and I have very few images and keep them very small, and the front page with 15 posts displayed, most of them full text pageviews, is not an equal opportunity example, nor relative to every page on my site. It’s just the front page. Proportion is as important as perspective.

    Also, with WordPress sites, if you strip out the content, there is very little code to sift through. Spelling is not checked by HTML validators. 😀

    Of all the blogging services, is the least bloated. I also don’t understand your last paragraph. Anyone can use their own overriding design with IE or FireFox, especially if they have vision issues, which is the mark of a well designed website to permit such abilities in compliance with web standards for accessibility. Content and format (architecture) are required web standards for web design, of which all WordPress Themes should comply with.

  18. Posted May 19, 2008 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Hmm… interesting post. Truth be told, while I’m just as tempted as anyone to lash out to someone who’s been rude to me, I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion it doesn’t make me feel any better in the long run.

    It might sound high and mighty to some — it really isn’t, just the opposite (humility in that I’m not any better than anyone else and haven’t earned the right to put down a fellow human) — but I try to hold myself to a stricter standard. I believe in the Golden Rule both on and offline.

    But the way I see it, someone who genuinely asks for help and doesn’t cop an attitude never deserves to be treated harshly. If I don’t have time to help them, I’ll try to point them in the direction of someone who can — and I’ll do it nicely. Or I won’t do it at all. (There’s that other pesky but entirely correct little rule Mom passed down…)

  19. Posted May 19, 2008 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I probably need to apologize for taking this discussion away from main topic of your post.

    “Anyone can use their own overriding design with IE or FireFox”.
    Your word “overriding” here means ability to CHANGE it a little bit (e.g., font size, color; in short – stylesheet). While I’m talking about opportunity to REPLACE it with anything I want! Including (or not including) your advertising.

    “Actually, 220K in today’s web pages is tiny”.
    Nevertheless, I would prefer to open 6K of your text instead 🙂 ! Although you are not in Ukraine, you used to say you’re on mobile connection. So, you could benefit from faster download too! BTW, my webpages are under 10K.

  20. Posted May 20, 2008 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    It stills puzzles me how many people manage to create non valid html and I’m not talking about xhtml strict. It’s quite simple you have to remember just a few rules:
    – An inline element can’t contain a block element;
    – Always close your tags (most html editors do that for you)
    – Put every inline element into a block element (div).
    – When writing attributes use the format name=”value” and always use lower case if it’s xhtml.
    – Last but not least when you put a size, also put the measure unit.

    OK there are more but these are little bits to remember. To make it even easy, I’m testing my designs in firefox with the Html Validator extension that shows me how valid is the current page and points out the errors.

  21. Posted June 7, 2008 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    Lorelle, why not just point them to the W3C validator and suggest that they, or a competent coder, follow up on that result? You might, for instance, point out one or two specific errors that have quick fixes as a means of getting them to see how the W3C validator is a useful tool.

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