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The Online Student’s Guide to Netiquette

Etiquette is a set of expectations for social behavior in a society. This manifests itself in a wide range of ways in daily life, from the use of basic manners to how we show respect for others. Following this code of conduct isn’t just important for your real-world interactions, however. In your online courses, you’ll need to embrace the digital version of these rules, often called “netiquette.”

Online etiquette isn’t that much different than the face-to-face version, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind as you participate in discussion boards and send emails. Here, you’ll learn the rules you’ll need to follow to stay polite and professional in your online courses.

Don’t yell. There’s nothing more obnoxious in an email or discussion post than TYPING IN ALL CAPS. This is the digital form of yelling. Keep your caps lock key out of rotation.

Mind your manners. The classic rules of saying please and thank you still apply in the online setting, so make sure to use these standards when they apply in your online class.

Stay on topic. Be respectful of your professor and classmates and keep on topic in your discussion boards–everyone is busy and many may not want to spend time looking through things unrelated to the course. If you have a side topic that you think deserves discussion, start a new thread.

Avoid sarcasm. Because your classmates and instructors will only be reading your written words, it can be very difficult to convey when you’re joking or being sarcastic. These kinds of things may come across as serious and cause others to feel hurt and upset.

Don’t be a troll. You don’t have to agree with everything posted in your course—it’s fine to disagree. But it’s not OK to seek out conflict and say hurtful things to your classmates. Stick to constructive criticism and try to be respectful of others’ opinions.

Check your spelling and grammar. No one wants to try to wade through a post or email that’s loaded with so many spelling and grammar errors that it’s hard to read. Always proofread your posts before hitting submit.

Avoid repetition. Before posting a question or answer, check to see what has already been posted. Just as you wouldn’t want to repeat something that has just been said in real life, you don’t want to do it online either. It not only wastes time, it makes it look like you’re not paying attention.

Do the research. Before you ask a question, answer a classmate, or post your own thoughts, make sure you have done some searching beforehand. It can be frustrating when students ask questions that are answered in the syllabus, potentially bad news for classmates if you give them advice not based in fact, or not so great for you if you don’t check your notes before posting.

Keep it simple. Do not use crazy fonts or colors in your responses or emails, even if the program you’re using allows you to do so. This decreases readability and makes it harder for people to actually pay attention to what you’re saying. Keep it professional by using common fonts and black text.

Avoid oversharing. Your online course is not the place to go in depth into personal issues. Stick to the topic at hand and take personal conversations into another forum.

Be forgiving. Just as you might make mistakes, so will others, especially as there may be some students in your course who are not as adept with using technology. Be forgiving of other’s mistakes and help them out when you can.

Never do anything you wouldn’t do in real life. Perhaps the most important rule of all is this: don’t change how you act just because you’re online. If you have any doubt of the appropriateness of what you’re doing, think before you post. Waiting a day or so will give you time to think about how you will be received and, if you’re emotional, to cool down.

The best part of following the guidelines of netiquette is that it will not only help you not only improve communication in your course, but will also ensure that you build digital communication skills that can benefit you in your personal and professional life outside of the classroom.