Academy of Saint Gabriel Members' Guide: Procedures

Academy of Saint Gabriel Members' Guide

How We Do Business and How You Can Help

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Academy etiquette

We want the Academy to a friendly place, but we also want to be able to have vigorous debate. The key word is collegiality. To preserve that environment, we have a few guidelines. None of these is iron-clad, but they should be followed unless there's a good reason not to.

The mailing list is a private discussion. We need a place to talk freely without worrying that a client is going to see our jokes and offhand remarks and misconstrue them. It is fine to extract information from the mailing list and pass it on, but in general you should not forward entire messages to outsiders unless you are sure that they contain nothing that could be taken badly. Even then, it is probably a good idea not to pass on the addresses of other Academy members without permission.

Some of our web sites are also private. Not all: The Academy home page, our library, and the archive of final reports are available to the public. But the client selection page and the archives of our internal discussion are internal documents. They are password protected, so there isn't much danger of someone visiting them without permission, but please keep in mind that they are not for public consumption.

The Academy talks to clients with a single voice. Even if you know the client personally, don't talk about a formal discussion in progress. We take great care in polishing our letters, and we do not want partial information to filter back to the client before we're done synthesizing it into a complete answer. We also want to make sure that client isn't confused by hearing different answers from different people.

For informal questions that you've posted to the mailing list, you can use your best judgement.

Lurkers who ask questions must identify themselves. If you are reading the mailing list and you submit a question to the Academy, it is your responsibility to inform the Academy that you are reading the discussion. This policy will help avoid hurt feelings on one side and uncomfortable surprises on the other.

Interactive conversation should be taken to private mail. Internal questions sometimes turn into conversations between the client and one or two Academy members who are helping the client to refine his ideas. That kind of consulting is great, but it isn't appropriate on the Academy mailing list. If you find yourself in this kind of conversation, please take it to private mail. Once you're done, you can post a summary to the mailing list, if you think it will be useful. You can also save the entire conversation and ask Arval or Aryanhwy to append it to the discussion archive so that it will be available to the letter-writer.

The Academy prefers to work directly with its clients. One of the strengths of the Academy and one of the reasons we created it in the first place is that it allows us to consult with people who are choosing their own names and arms. We got frustrated with the layers of intermediaries in the College of Arms that separated us from the people who really needed information. As a consequence, we prefer to get questions directly from clients, not from their heralds. We won't reject a question if it comes from a clients' herald -- we've answered many that came to us that way -- but we prefer to talk directly with the client, to hear the question in his own words, and to cut out any possibility of mis-interpretation when information is passed through a second party. If your client has web or e-mail access, ask him to submit his question himself.

Academy mail should be US ASCII text. These days, a lot of e-mail programs generate HTML or ISO 8955 text or MIME-packaged letters, which look awful confusing when read with a program that doesn't understand those conventions. We can't assume that our clients or our members have the latest techo-gimmicks, so please try to configure your mail program so that it avoids all these options.

Here are instructions for turning off MIME-encapsulation of mail for many different mail programs

I'm new to the Academy; how can I help?

The Academy always needs more help. However, let me stress that you aren't obliged to work. If you just want to listen in and learn, that's fine: Teaching is one of the two purposes of the Academy.

If you do want to help, here's a general outline of what you might do. If you think of something that's not on this list, let us know: It's probably a good idea!

How questions are submitted

Questions are submitted through our form or by e-mail to Each question generally goes through a few rounds of initial consultation to clarify the client's interests and priorities. If the result is a question which falls within the scope of the Academy, then the questions will be given the full treatment and answered with a carefully composed letter. In general, we prefer to work this way. It gives us the chance to do better research and to present it clearly and accurately. Whenever possible, it is best for the client to submit his own question through the form.

There is no problem with submitting questions directly to the mailing list. If you do, we will assume that you want an informal answer, not a full report like we produce for our formal clients. If you post an informal question for one of your friends or your own clients, you should digest the information that the Academy provides and pass it on; you shouldn't forward Academy mail uneditted.

How a client's question is answered

Here's a description of our basic procedure for answering questions. See the next section, The Subject: Line, for some technical details.

Sometimes during the drafting process something comes up which prevents the assigned letter writer from completing the report. When this happens, the writer is encouraged to ask that someone else take over the report as soon as it is clear that he won't be able to complete it himself. Both writers will then be listed as the authors of the report.

We have found that some letters can be answered quickly, without the full review described above. A senior member of the Academy will occasionally select a client and send the final report without circulating any drafts, or perhaps after circulating only one draft. These Quick Replies have to be written very carefully and only when everyone agrees that the question is simple enough. If there is any doubt, the case is given the full treatment. In any case, the final report should never be sent less than seven days after the initial question arrives.

How to select a letter to write

When you first get started as a letter writer in the Academy, you'll need to write Aryanhwy to request each letter. Once you've written a few letters successfully, Aryanhwy will authorize you to use the client selection webpage.

When you choose a letter to write, you should generally pick the oldest client that hasn't yet been taken. And, in general, you should plan to send out a first draft within a couple days of selecting the client. There are occasionally good reasons for delaying a letter: You may want to write to the client for information, or you may be waiting for some special research. But in general you shouldn't sit on a case for more than a few days without writing the first draft.

There is a great temptation to select all the clients that match your own speciality (and to leave all the Scottish and Irish names to whoever comes next!). It's probably a good idea to resist this temptation: If our letter is written by a non-specialist, then the specialists have to explain all the details well enough for the writer to understand them. I've noticed that our best letters have been written this way. We work out all the unspoken assumptions and give the client a clear, complete explanation.

In any case, don't feel obliged to avoid questions in your own area of specialization; but don't monopolize them either.

A suggestion for new writers: You may want to pick letters on which the Academy has made a relatively large number of comments. It may seem intimidating, but the larger volume of comments will lead to fewer gaps in your first draft. You're also likely to get a good response to the first draft, giving you many perspectives to draw upon.

If you need a copy of the past commentary on your client's question, you can find it from the client selection webpage. If you don't have good web access, ask on the mailing list. Several members keep copies of all the commentary.

What should a letter look like?

We don't insist that all letters look the same, but they should all follow the same basic pattern. Here is a template that you can follow if you like. Comments are shown in italics. (The contents of this letter are nonsense, by the way.)

In order for your letters to be recorded properly in the database, you must make sure that the Subject line of your mail is properly formatted. Failing to do so with create extra work for the people who maintain the database.

We automatically add a disclaimer as a postscript to every report we send to a client. It is shown below in boldface. You don't have to worry about it, but you should be aware of it.


Here are some suggestions to ensure that your letters are easy to read in the wide variety of mail programs that people use, and in various web browsers.

Maintained by Arval; last updated 20 Nov 2005.