How to be polite while you're online (practicing good netiquette)

by Ross McKillop on August 14, 2006

Email

“Netiquette” is slang for “Internet etiquette”. It refers to the accepted behaviors and practices regarding interactive online activity such as discussion forums, chat rooms, and e-mail. Your adherence to these guidelines will help make the online community in which you are participating easier and more enjoyable for everyone to use.

Please note that the points discussed here provide general suggestions; for more specific information, you should read the guidelines for the community in which you want to participate.

Instant Messaging Etiquette

Don’t type in all capital letters
Typing in all capital letters on the Internet is considered rude because it is difficult to read and comes across as very aggressive (LIKE SHOUTING!). If you take away nothing from this ‘how-to’ other than knowing that typing in “caps” is widely despised on the Internet, consider it time well spent.

Try not to “pounce” other users
Pouncing” refers to sending someone an instant message immediately after that person signs on to the service. He or she may wish to perform other tasks while starting the messenger service. The person may need a few minutes to put up an “away” or “do not disturb” message, signifying that he or she doesn’t wish to engage in conversation at the moment. You should always wait a few minutes before sending someone an instant message.

Tell other users when you are away
Most instant messaging services provide a way of notifying other users that you are not responding to messages or have stepped away from the computer. Most make use of “away” or “do not disturb” messages. Another way of telling other users that you cannot answer their messages is to simply let them know in conversation that you must leave. You wouldn’t want someone to wait for your response for more than a few minutes.

Keep it casual
You may not want to use instant messaging to give someone bad news or make a major announcement. While some people may consider instant messaging similar to the telephone as a means of communication, others consider it much less formal.

Use reasonable fonts/colors
It can be very unpleasant to have to look at huge fonts or light colors while conversing on an instant messaging service. Try to stick the standard font size and colors unless you are positive that the other person doesn’t mind.

E-Mail Etiquette

Avoid forwarding junk mail
Many e-mail users repeatedly forward junk mail, such as “virus alerts” and chain letters. Unless someone specifically tells you that he/she enjoys receiving these “forwards”, you shouldn’t send them to anyone.

Consider your audience
Avoid sending e-mails to everyone in your address book unless the information contained is vital for each and every person in it. Otherwise, these “mass e-mails” simply clog other people’s inboxes.

Use threads
When someone sends you an-email and you wish to reply, you should always hit the “reply” button within your e-mail client rather than beginning a new e-mail. This allows users to keep track of the thread of conversation.

Use quotes
Often, when you hit the “reply” button within your e-mail client, your response is simply appended to the initial e-mail. This can create an e-mail that is much larger than necessary. A better method of response is to use quoting, which you can do simply by copying the text you wish to quote and placing a > before each line.

Be appropriate
What is acceptable in a casual e-mail to a friend might not be acceptable in a work-related e-mail. In general, for official communications, you should avoid using online abbreviations and smileys, and pay more attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Use plain text
Some e-mail users may not have HTML-enabled e-mail clients. For this reason, you may want to consider sending e-mails in plain text rather than HTML until you have confirmed which of your contacts are able to view HTML e-mail messages.

Avoid sending large attachments
Unless specifically directed to do so, may not want to send large attachments to your e-mail contacts. Not everyone has a connection that’s as fast as yours, and large attachments can take a long time to download for some people. You can send many items, such as Word documents, in plain text, which eliminates the need for an attachment.

Usenet/Discussion Board Etiquette

Don’t spam
Within the context of Usenet and discussion boards, “spamming” refers to repeatedly posting the same message on a message board. This is considered poor etiquette and will usually result in the spammer’s removal from the forum or Usenet group.

Don’t be a troll
A “troll” refers to someone who repeatedly posts the same message in a forum (spamming) or someone who enters a forum purely to flame other participants. “Trolling” is not acceptable in online communities and can result in one’s being banned from the forum or Usenet group. A “troll” can also refer to someone who has multiple usernames on the same forum.

Stay on topic
When you submit an off-topic post to a thread, it detracts from the discussion at hand. If you wish to discuss a new topic, you must begin a new thread.

Don’t type in all capital letters
Typing in all capital letters on the Internet is considered rude because it is difficult to read and comes across as very aggressive. Turn off your caps lock before posting!

Try to spell correctly and use proper grammar
You should make every effort to spell correctly and use proper grammar within forums and discussion groups. If a post is incoherent, moderators and administrators may delete it.

Don’t get too carried away “flaming”
“Flaming”, within the domain of online communities, refers to heated exchange on a message board or in a chat room. In general, flaming is permissible only when it does not involve ad hominem attacks on other participants in the forum.

Try not to get banned
Being “banned” means that you are barred from posting in a forum or chatting in a chat room. It usually occurs because you have violated the rules of the forum or chat room and an administrator decided to prevent you from being able to do so again.

Chat Room Etiquette

Think before you speak
When entering a chat room, you should wait a few minutes before typing in order to get a feel for the flow of conversation. This way, you won’t say anything that is completely off-topic, which would detract from the conversation.

Refrain from profanity/offensive language
Don’t type anything in a chat room that you wouldn’t ordinarily say in public. Offensive language does nothing to enhance a chat room experience, and is usually strictly moderated.

Don’t type in all capital letters
Typing in all capital letters on the Internet is considered rude because it is difficult to read and comes across as very aggressive. Turn off your caps lock before posting!

What is spamming?
In the context of chat rooms, spamming refers to typing the same thing repeatedly. This annoys other chatters and will usually result in your ejection from the chat room.

Avoid typing long messages
No one wants to have to scroll through more than five lines to get to the comment after yours. If you have something long to say, try to break it up into smaller pieces or send it as a private message.

Try not to get banned
Being “banned” means that you are barred from posting in a forum or chatting in a chat room. It usually occurs because you have violated the rules of the forum or chat room and an administrator decided to prevent you from being able to do so again.