When people have arguments on-line, they can grow into gigantic complicated "trees." You start with one trunk argument, which branches off 5 other related arguments. Then your branch arguments sprout out 5 twig arguments. And each of your twig arguments can sprout 5 leaf arguments! The next thing you know, the argument has become an emotional and confusing battlefield. Your eyes glaze over from all the re-reading and letters on the screen. The argument loses all insight, and all fun. People start to get irritated. It just becomes a mechanical process of whack-a-mole, as we bop argument with argument.
How does this happen? The culprit seems to be that- when you argue on-line- there is a perfect record of your argument. Every point and subpoint is preserved in crystal clear detail, ripe for analysis and response. You don't want to be seen as "dodging the issues," so you may feel a strong temptation to respond to each and every point. The important thing to note here is that the reason our arguments explode out, is because we have a perfect record of every point and sub-point.
Off-line, we don't have these problems. People's heads can only hold so much. We don't have automtically growing graphs in our brains, when we argue with people. We may try to hold on to a few essential points, and address those, but we can't possibly keep up with all the sniveling little details.
So, what can we do? The solution, it seems, is to borrow from our successful off-line methods.
Keep exchanges linear. Don't respond to every point. Rather, pick a small collection of your partner's points to respond to.
Pick 1-3 of the partners points to respond to. Pick what seem to be the most important points, to respond to. Ignore all the rest, for now. It's okay! If you've chosen wisely, you're probably indirectly responding to the rest, anyways. If you've ignored something that's actually important, don't worry. It will come up again later. Remember: The argument isn't in the text, the argument is in your heads.
Be receptive, when picking points to respond to. Your partner may want the conversation to go in a particular direction. Continue where you are expected, if that's what the argument merits. Then again, maybe your partner has missed a major point that you feel is more important. Let your partner know why you are defering talk about what he or she is so eager to talk about, and why you think your present point is more important. Of course, be flexible.
In the other direction: When you are closing your response, feel free to suggest where you'd like the conversation to go. Of course, if it's obvious, or your message is very short, there's no need to suggest anything. But if there's something you really want to hear from the other person, name it specificly- at the end of your message. That way, it's fresh in the mind of your partner, when he or she sets down to write a response.
And of course: Always: If the process recommended above gets to be an obstacle for some reason, huck it.