A Beginner’s Guide to reddit

Photo credit: Antonio Zugaldia, via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo credit: Antonio Zugaldia, via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve gotten quite a few questions recently about reddit, the electronic bulletin board – and self-proclaimed “front page of the internet” – where users share everything from scientific articles to pictures of cats. Some people are interested in using reddit for science communication, and some are just curious, but all of them wanted some basic information about how to use the site. So here’s my imperfect guide for folks who know nothing about reddit. (For starters, I just learned that the “r” in reddit is supposed to be lowercase. See? I’m learning too!)

First off, you shouldn’t think of reddit as a tool that you can use. It’s more of a community, with a very active membership. If you play by the rules of the community, it can be a great place to get and share information. If you don’t play by the rules of the community, they’ll kick you out – removing items you’ve posted, suspending your ability to post or comment, or blocking your account altogether. (Note: I wrote a post on reddit’s partnership with Nature late last year.)

What is reddit?

Reddit is a site where members can post links or ask questions about almost anything, as well as commenting on what other people have posted. Anyone can visit reddit and see what other people have posted or written, but only members can post content or leave comments. Membership is free. In terms of its popularity, as of 9 a.m. (EST) on April 29, reddit reported 114,943,104 unique visitors over the previous month.

What is voting?

Reddit members can also “vote” on links or questions that are posted on the site. An “upvote” denotes approval, while a “downvote” indicates disapproval. The more upvotes a post has, the more likely people are to see it. More on that in a second.

What are subreddits?

Image credit: Open Icon Library, via Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Open Icon Library, via Wikimedia Commons

While reddit does have a home landing page, content and questions are posted to specific subreddits. These are communities within reddit that focus on specific (sometimes very specific) subjects, ranging from “Science” to “Batman.” The number of upvotes a post has affects how visible that post is in a subreddit, depending on how you sort the results.

You can sort results under a subreddit in a number of different ways. I’ll address three: hot (which is normally the default), new, and top. “Hot” posts are determined by an algorithm that highlights posts that are relatively recent and have received a lot of upvotes. These are the posts you see when you first land on a subreddit. You can click to sort subreddit posts by “new,” which highlights, well, new posts. However, if a subreddit is fairly active, new posts can quickly disappear from the top of the “new” page. If you sort by “top,” you’ll see the posts that have received the most upvotes on that subreddit, regardless of when the posts were submitted.

It’s important to post content or questions under the correct subreddit, in part to ensure that you reach the right audience. However, a post could conceivably fit under any of several subreddits. For example, a post about new biodiversity research in the Amazon might fit under the subreddits for Science, “Everything Science,” “Nature,” “Biology,” or “Ecology.” Pick one. Don’t submit the same link multiple times under different subreddits.

It’s also important to remember that any links, questions, or comments you post must comply with both reddit’s rules and the rules for the subreddit you’re posting in.

Reddit’s rules

There are some rules that apply across the entire reddit platform. The list of rules is short, so I’ll include it here in its entirety (though you can link to more information from reddit’s rules page).

  • Don’t spam.
  • Don’t ask for votes or engage in vote manipulation.
  • Don’t post personal information.
  • No child pornography or sexually suggestive content featuring minors.
  • Don’t break the site or do anything that interferes with normal use of the site.

Reddit also has a lengthy list of informal rules about appropriate behavior on the site, called reddiquette. Most of the rules reflect common courtesy and common sense, such as not insulting other people or checking to make sure someone else hasn’t already posted a link to a webpage before you post a link to that webpage. However, some of reddiquette guidelines may be surprising or off-putting to people who plan to use reddit solely to promote their own work.

Can I post links to my own stuff?

Yes. You can post links to your blog posts, artwork, Kickstarter campaign, etc. But reddit has fairly detailed guidelines on how you should (and shouldn’t) promote your work on the site. Basically, it’s okay to share your work as long as you’re an active member of the reddit community, but do not go to reddit solely to self-promote.

If the bulk of the links you post on reddit are by or about you, you will probably get a warning from “redditors” (the de facto site managers, who are predominantly – if not entirely – made up of volunteer community members). If you continue posting only your own stuff, you’ll be viewed as a spammer and your posts can be removed or you could be kicked off the site. According to the reddiquette page, “A widely used rule of thumb is the 9:1 ratio, i.e. only 1 out of every 10 of your submissions should be your own content.”

But remember: even if you follow the reddit rules and reddiquette, you also need to pay attention to each subreddit’s specific set of rules.

Subreddit rules

Every subreddit has its own set of rules and guidelines governing the kind of links, questions and comments that can be submitted to that subreddit. These rules are generally either posted in the right-column of the subreddit, or can be reached via links that are posted in the right-hand column. Any posts that are not consistent with those rules will be removed, and repeat offenders will be banned from the subreddit.

Because my blog focuses on science communication, I’ll talk a little about the rules for the Science and Everything Science subreddits.

Science and Everything Science

The Science subreddit has very specific rules about what users can post, but the two big ones are: users can only post links to peer-reviewed research or summaries of peer-reviewed research; and the relevant research must have been published within the past six months.

Lots of stuff that is clearly relevant to the science community does not qualify for inclusion under the Science subreddit. For example, scuttlebutt about National Science Foundation funding, articles about open access publishing, and news reports about falsified research data should not be posted to the Science subreddit.

This is where the Everything Science subreddit comes into play. Submissions must still focus primarily on scientific issues, but they do not have to be about recent, peer-reviewed research findings. However, biased or editorial submissions are still not acceptable. The rules for Everything Science are clearly posted in the right-hand sidebar of the subreddit.

What did I miss?

In the interest of brevity, I focused on a few core concepts regarding how to use reddit. That means I left lots of things out. Redditors and reddit users – what are some important things I missed? Or what do you feel I got wrong or misrepresented? Please let me know in the comments.

Note: A few readers have contacted me and asked that I mention that some reddit members use the site to post links or comments that are racist, sexist or otherwise objectionable. That’s true. It’s a remarkably large community, and some members of that community act like jerks. That said, I think most members of reddit don’t behave that way. Of course, my experience on reddit may be colored by the fact that I tend to frequent subreddits where that sort of behavior is relatively uncommon. Bad behavior is not entirely absent on the Science or Everything Science subreddits – there are always some people who persist in acting like jerks – but it is the exception rather than the norm.


3 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to reddit

  1. Lisa Feldkamp

    Thank you for a very helpful post!

    One of the things I find hardest when trying to use Reddit is that they will not let you post a lot of things in a short amount of time, you have to space your posts throughout the day or week. With other services, I have a tendency to log-in, do a bunch of stuff and then log-out – that just doesn’t work for Reddit.


  2. Pingback: [BLOCKED BY STBV] A General Overview of reddit’s Science Communities › Communication Breakdown

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