Note: You can read this page as a PDF if you prefer: download the Netiquette PDF.

What is 'netiquette’?

Online conversations are different from those held face-to-face. In a face-to-face conversation, body language and facial expression constantly supplement, support and qualify the words used. Without this physical dimension of communication, words can be more easily misconstrued. It is therefore very important to the maintenance of good working relations with your colleagues and other internet users that the language you use in online exchanges is appropriate and unambiguous.

The internet is a large community of people all using various different methods of communication such as e-mail, blogs, chat rooms and forums. Other people who use the internet are your neighbours in this community. ‘Netiquette’ is a term that is used to describe how you should treat your internet neighbours as well as how you should expect to be treated.

Tip 1: Think before you type

Think about where you are sending your message and who will see the information. Are you able to write in a casual manner or do you need to take a more professional approach? If any of the information is personal to you or others, you may want to use a private e-mail rather than posting it in a public forum.

When posting information on discussion boards related to your course, think about whether the contribution will be a positive one and make sure that it is relevant to the discussion.

Remember: Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone in real life.

Tip 2: Consider your tone of voice

Don’t use capitals too much, it can easily be perceived as aggressive and could be interpreted as shouting, for example: THE USE OF CAPITALS SUGGESTS SHOUTING, ANGER AND IRRITATION. On the other hand, don’t interpret another person’s use of capitals as shouting, as they may not be aware of this idea.

Reread what you have written before you submit it and think about how it will sound to other readers.

Tip 3: Be careful with abbreviations

There are many acceptable abbreviations that can save time once you know how to use them. If you come across one you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask what it means; conversely, other people may not understand the abbreviations that you use, so always explain them when asked. It is always best to err on the side of caution when using abbreviations. If you are not sure that the people you are talking with will understand then don’t use them.

You can see some commonly used abbreviations in the list at the end of this page.

Tip 4: Use punctuation

In longer posts and e-mails, use correct punctuation and grammar. This allows other people to understand your comments more clearly and adds weight to what you are saying.

Remember: Avoid the overuse of punctuation. One exclamation mark is just as effective as four.

Tip 5: Spam or unsolicited e-mail

Spam is best dealt with through deletion and filtering. If you do not know how to set up a spam filter, get in touch with IT Services Customer Support team who will be able to help. In terms of netiquette:

  • Never forward spam.
  • Never provide someone else’s e-mail address without their permission.

To prevent spam, take care where and how you post your e-mail address. Try not to make it publicly available unless absolutely necessary. Basic rules for dealing with spam are:
  • Don’t reply to spam (this confirms your e-mail address);
  • Don’t open spam or any attachments sent with it; and
  • Always delete spam or mark it as ‘junk mail’ to improve your spam filter detection service. Don’t click on unsubscribe links (they may be fake);

Remember: Attachments included with spam email can contain viruses, so never download attachments from people that you do not know. If you think that your computer has been infected by a virus, it is important to run an antivirus scan immediately.

Tip 6: Be patient

Remember how you felt when you first started using the internet? New users are just getting used to all of its quirks and may find it difficult to use. In discussions be patient with new users and make them feel welcome. Some of the conversations that you have on the internet will be asynchronous, meaning that discussions will not be happening in ‘real time’. In the case of forums, you may find that days go by before anyone comments on what you have said. This can be a very frustrating process at first, but soon you will come to understand how it works and the ability it gives you to comment on many different topics (or threads) within one online session.

Remember: The internet is global. Although most of the sites that visit will be written in your first language, this will not be the case for everyone.

Tip 7: Give something back

The internet can be a useful source of information so it’s only fair, where possible, to give some relevant information back. A good example of when this is appropriate is when using a discussion board. This flowing of information is what makes discussion boards a good medium for academic discussion.

Remember: Make sure that you what you post is relevant to the topic under discussion.

Tip 8: Cite references

If you refer to another person’s work, even if it’s just another post on the forum, it’s good practice to cite the reference properly so you cannot be accused of plagiarism.

Tip 9: Trolls and flames

Flames are aggressive messages and e-mails, usually posted by people who have been upset by something that has been said. Flames can be offensive and upsetting to a reader — in fact this is usually their purpose. The best way to deal with flames is to ignore them.

Trolling is a term used to describe a person who deliberately posts messages that are irrelevant to the discussion — these messages are usually extremely controversial or offensive. If you have been offended by a flame, or distracted by a troll on a public site, it is usually possible to report the offending item to the site’s administrators and have it removed. Depending on the site’s policies, the poster can sometimes be banned from the site, although this doesn’t always stop them registering under a different name.

Remember: Do not respond to trolls. It’s better to walk away from a discussion than to flame.

Tip 10: Legal issues

The law applies on the internet and new ways of policing it are being developed regularly. Do not commit illegal acts online and do not discuss or joke about breaking the law.

Remember: Everything you write online is on record. Things you say online may be used as evidence in the same way as things you write in a letter.

Common abbreviations used on social media

Note: LOL can mean either 'lots of love’ or 'laughs out loud’, so be careful: for example, you may intend 'lots of love’ when conveying distressing news, but the reader may understand it to mean 'laughs out loud’.