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dEvery community has its rules. Even deep-net chans do. Sometimes these rules are short, some times they are long, long walls of text. This question is inspired by online role-playing communities which frequently use a long list of pretty complicated rules, as there are really a lot of possible mistakes a user can make.

The rules are long, and it is OK if those who have actually read them forget about something, it doesn't take a long time to subtly remind them. But some of the new users do not read rules at all.

Those problem users can be divided in four main categories:

  1. New users who don't know that those rules even exist, or didn't find them. Unless they did something really awful, actually telling them to read the rules normally helps.
  2. New users who lack appropriate language skills to understand the rules. I attempt to have the rules translated when I can, but I cannot cover all of the languages. But it is OK to lose those users most of the time, as role-playing itself requires good language skills, and if they cannot read the rules, they cannot role-play either.
  3. New users who didn't read the rules because they don't bother. They are probably the most problematic.
  4. The users who make me type "probably" in the previous paragraph. Old users who have role-played a lot before, and who don't bother to read the rules because the latter are frequently reprinted without any changes from one community to another, and if your rules are different, those veterans just don't notice. If you punish them, they will most likely just leave, but they are valuable, because if they fit in the community, they can lead by a very important example of good role-play.

So we come to a conclusion. If someone cannot be made to read and learn the rules by any means, this person is not needed in the community.

But what can I use to force make as many users as possible to read the damn rules?

3

There is a way to force people to read rules. It was invented in the education system. Make sure that a user can’t use the site unless the user passed an exam. I suppose that it may have the form of multiple-choice quiz, and it can be graded automatically.

As was pointed in another answer, making rules easy to read helps. I wish to consider the case when rules in different communities are similar. Forcing people to read a text again and again has no excuse.

Old users who have role-played a lot before, and who don't bother to read the rules because the latter are frequently reprinted without any changes from one community to another, and if your rules different, those veterans just don't notice.

Actually, a solution lies on the surface: publish only those rules of your community that are different and a reference to the “standard” set of rules. This may be ugly, but it saves users’ time, hence it makes rules easy to read. Somebody should compose and publish the standard set of rules. Similar solutions would help tremendously not only with rules, but with software licenses, terms of service, privacy policies, etc. However, nobody implemented it, and people read elementary stuff like “no flooding”, “no trolling” in rules of each new site. You can’t blame them for skipping this text. If they were forced to read it for real, they would kill somebody.

3

Apart from the suggestions in other answers:

  • Can you break them apart into smaller sections; present these in a side bar at some location of your screen? Make them context sensitive?
    Give only the most essential ones initially? The rules are long is your #1 enemy here.

  • Following up on the context sensitive: present them as help, not rules.

  • When you really have to frame them as THE RULES, bring them (or at least introduce them) in a personal and humorous fashion. Humor is tricky (one person's humor is another person's mweeh, boring), but you sometimes see websites offering them accompanied with texts like "We know. The rules. We don't like them either, but..."
    (Sorry, I can't point to specific examples from the top of my head)

2

You can't force people to read the rules. All you can do is make them as easy as possible to discover and follow without really trying. So you need to simplify your rules where possible, rather than making them complicated.

Putting up interstitial pages doesn't work, people just click on the "next" or "OK" button as quickly as possible to get to the page they really want to be on. A checkbox that says "yes, I've read the rules" will get checked regardless.

What you could try is putting the relevant rule in a tooltip for the action about to be taken - but obviously this doesn't work for people using touch screens.

If you have the screen space available, then put rule reminders on the pages themselves, particularly if there are some actions that require strict adherence to the rules. For example, if you had a question and answer site like Stack Exchange you might decide to put some text about what makes a good answer next to the answer box.

Another possibility is to have lots of "help" points on the screen that point to the relevant part of the rules so that users can find the exact information they require when they require it. This might be harder (if not impossible) to implement of you don't own the software that your community runs on.

What Stack Exchange has done is to "gamify" reading the rules by awarding a badge (Informed) to those who scroll down to the bottom of the Tour. It doesn't guarantee that they've read the whole thing, but they've probably taken something in and know where to go for a refresher.

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