Frequently Asked Questions

Background information

What's this?
Friends of Captain Awkward (FOCA) is a companion website run by fans of the Captain Awkward advice column.

What's Captain Awkward?
Captain Awkward is an internet advice column written by filmmaker and teacher JenniferP. The column has a special focus on providing "scripts" to deal with awkward or uncomfortable situations. The tagline "Use your words" reflects the site's focus: by talking to people, you can clear up misunderstandings, make awkward situations less awkward, and stand up for yourself against people who do not have your best interests in mind. There are plenty of advice columns, but few of them advocate dealing with people in a direct, straightforward way. Captain Awkward's advice tries to resolve situations without resorting to manipulation or generalizations.

So Captain Awkward runs the forums?
No. The folks running these forums are fans of and active participants on the site. Some of the staff have made guest posts on Captain Awkward from time to time, but no one on the forums is an official representative of Captain Awkward. Captain Awkward has a wonderful comment space, but it is sometimes insufficient to contain the depth and breadth of discussion that the participants desire. The forums are designed to accommodate these desires in a more free-ranging format without clogging up the comments section on Captain Awkward.

I keep seeing terms I don't understand. What are they?
Over the years, the folks at Captain Awkward have developed a few terms to describe some common situations. You can review them in the Captain Awkward Glossary by thegirlfrommarz. You might also be seeing terms from a wider social justice context, in which case you can look at the Atheism+ Social Justice Glossary.


I have a forums problem and I need help!
If you need to learn how to use the forums software: the FOCA forums use phpBB. Please refer to the phpBB User's Guide for help with specific forum functions. If you see someone breaking the rules, please report their post to the admin team by using the Report button (it looks like a small exclamation point) at the bottom right of the post in question. For assistance with a technical or rules-related problem, contact one of our moderators or administrators. Be aware that PMs to moderators or administrators may be shared with other members of staff as needed to help you resolve your issue. If you have a problem with a specific moderator, contact an admin. If you have a problem with an admin, contact carbonatedwit. For assistance with a topic-related problem, you can ask about it in the Administrivia forum.

Help! I've accidentally posted in the wrong place!
Don't worry; a mod or admin would be happy to move your topic. Please contact a mod/admin.


Where can I read the forum rules?
Our list of forum rules is available here.


Someone said something offensive/hurtful/etc, what do I do?

  • When you want to call someone out for saying something offensive/hurtful/etc, a brief call-out in the thread is fine. Try to be as explicit as possible about what they said that hurts you; if you can't, because you're too upset/don't have the spoons/have lost the ability to articulate, either say so ("I have no spoons to explain, but ouch. That hurt a lot." - for example) or report it and we'll do our best to work out the issue.

  • A longer explanation of why it hurts you/the social justice issues involved/etc is a derail. Instead, start a new thread. If you want, you can invite the person who made the error to join you there.

  • If someone calls you out, the optimal response is, "I'm sorry; I won't do it again." This is fine to say in-thread. If you don't understand the problem, or you understand but disagree, don't discuss it in-thread - that's a derail. Instead, start a new thread to ask questions/open a debate. If you want, you can invite the person who called you out to join you there.

  • When two users' needs are both equally valid but are in conflict, we probably won't come down on one side or the other, because we value both. If neither user has done so already, we will open a discussion thread about the issue, but take no other action as long as both parties have tried their best to stay civil. (Swearing/general anger/etc are fine. This is not a tone argument. Problems would arise if the discussion included name-calling/slurs/etc.)

  • If we DO come down on one side, it's probably because we've had input from other users that we can't share. Please trust that we've got good reason, even if it seems unfair to you.

  • For a more in-depth discussion on this topic, please see this thread.

I have written a really long post, what should I do?

Paragraphs and spacing

Writing really long posts is absolutely fine However, please break your text into paragraphs with at least one full line of space between them, as a single continuous wall of text can be difficult-to-impossible for some people with disabilities to read (including some people on the admin team).

If you see someone has made a wall-of-text post, please feel free to remind them of this request in-thread so they can edit their post, and/or flag the post so an admin can add spacing. Thanks all!

How do I use Trigger-warnings?

What should I warn for?
There’s no hard and fast rule here, I’m afraid. A few topics should always be warned for: rape, suicide, and the use of slurs being prime examples. As a guide, if you think that the topic is likely to cause upset or trigger someone, please warn. Trigger warnings allow people to take control and to decide for themselves what they do and don’t want to see. Covering up triggering topics makes this a safer space for those with triggers.

While I encourage you to err on the side of caution with your trigger warnings, there are some things you don’t need to warn for. You don’t need to trigger warn for use of a word, and you shouldn’t cover up only one word (unless said word is a slur. But really, do you ABSOLUTELY HAVE to include it then?). You do need to warn for a description, or lengthy discussion. So you don’t need to cover up a mention of fluffy bunnies, but if you’re talking about their adorable tails and how soft their ears are, you do.

How should I warn?
There are four golden rules here:

1) Describe what’s behind the warning. Don’t just cover things up – say what you’re covering.

2) Don’t just cover one or two words. This is rarely useful. Either cover the whole discussion, or, if you’re just mentioning fluffy bunnies, don’t cover it at all.

3) If your whole thread is about a subject, note that in the thread title. This allows people to avoid a thread hopping with fluffy bunnies, and avoids people in the thread having to cover essentially everything.

4) Don’t use abbreviations in your warnings. Not everyone knows FB stands for fluffy bunnies!

5) Bear in mind different threads will have slightly different standards. In the thread about fluffy bunnies, you don’t need to warn for a description of their cute little toes. In a thread about phobias of small fluffy animals, you definitely do. Be sensitive to context.

I'm still not sure how to do this...
That's okay, trigger-warnings can be a little daunting at first! The important thing is to try and be willing to make adjustments as you go along. You are not a terrible person for not getting them right on the first try and we all had to learn how to do this.

More information and more examples of how to use trigger-warnings can be found in this thread. It is also a good place to ask questions about trigger warnings.

I want to change my user name

How do I change my user name?
If you want to change your user name you need to contact someone on the admin team and they will change it for you. People may do this for various reasons and as long as you do not attempt to change your name into something that is against the rules (for example, containing a slur) it is not a problem.
We do ask everyone who changes their name to put their old name in their signature for about a week so that people know you've changed your user name and that you are still you, and not a brand new user.