The USENET newsgroup charter is something like a business plan for a newsgroup. It exists to lay out in plain detail the purpose of the group, what is considered to be the topic of the group and to define criteria that sometimes determine what is acceptable behavior on the newsgroup and what is unacceptable behavior on the newsgroup. In some cases, you will find much of the information included in a newsgroup charter mirrored in the FAQ document for that newsgroup.
Whenever you join a new USENET newsgroup, it’s best not to assume that the hierarchal name completely describes the purpose of that newsgroup. Most often, the topics discussed will be a bit more specific than what the names will imply. To make sure that they stay on topic, experienced USENET newsgroup users usually go ahead and read the charter for a group that they join so that they better understand what they are supposed to be talking about on the newsgroup.
This prevents any problems with off-topic posts causing a conflict with the moderators or with any other members of the newsgroup. It’s a great way to make sure that you get on the good side of the people who run the newsgroup that you want to belong to.
You can generally find the charter for any USENET newsgroup archived on the Internet. If you find a newsgroup that you’re interested in joining, you can simply execute an Internet search for the group’s charter and take a look at it and to see whether or not the group is what you’re looking for.
You’ll also find the charter typically archived among the posts on the newsgroup and, if you’re having a hard time finding it, you can usually go ahead and post an article in which you ask to have it sent to you or to have it posted on the newsgroup itself. Most experienced users will appreciate the fact that you took the time to ask.
The USENET thrives when people stay on topic and when they obey the rules that apply to any given group. To make sure that you’re helping the USENET thrive, only post articles that are on topic for the group that you’re posting them in and, if there’s a question you want to ask that isn’t covered by the newsgroup charter, seek out another group and ask about it there.
Generally speaking, if you find a newsgroup that doesn’t have a charter or in FAQ attached to it and it doesn’t have a moderator, it may well be a spam group. Most often, all of the newsgroups within the Big Eight will have both of these types of documents on hand.