Netiquette Guide for Online Learning
WHAT IS “NETTIQUETTE?”
According to the BBC’s WebWise Team (2012), the word netiquette is a combination of ’net’ (from internet) and ’etiquette’. Basically, it means respecting other users’ views and displaying common courtesy when posting your views in online courses and discussion groups.
It is important to recognize that the online classroom is in fact a classroom, and certain behaviors are expected when you communicate with both your peers and your instructors. These guidelines for online behavior and interaction are known are netiquette.
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INTRODUCTION TO PROPER NETTIQUTE
Almost every college/university, social media outlet, or other websites with discussion areas have a page or information for newcomers that describes its rules of good behavior or “netiquette.” For colleges and universities, the information is usually listed in the student handbook or online student handbook. On public websites, netiquette information will appear as the terms and conditions you must agree to when you open your account. However, sites may have additional information. You should read all of it (including this document).
Proper etiquette is nothing new for most people. You grew up with your parents constantly telling you to mind your manners. But for those who grew up without some sort of computer screen inches from their face at all times, proper “netiquette” may seem a bit mystifying. We’re here to help with simple guidelines for how to be on your best behavior in an online classroom.
When communicating online, you should always:
- Be kind. Communicating online is unique in that there tends to be a level on anonymity between the people who are interacting. This sometimes results in individuals being more impolite than they might be in person. In an online class, you might not have the complete anonymity that comes with using a screen name, but you likely won’t see your classmates face-to-face. Make a point to be respectful in your comments—even if you disagree or dislike someone’s stance on a topic.
- Treat others with respect. Treat instructor and fellow students with respect, even in email or in any other online communication.
- Always use your instructor’s proper title. For example, use Dr. or Professor unless you are told otherwise. If you are in doubt, use Mr. or Ms. Never refer to your instructor by their first name unless they invite you to.
- Always use clear and concise language. Keep online messages short and to the point. You don’t need to share your life story to ask for help with a problem—just focus on the essential information. This will ensure your question doesn’t get lost in the noise and saves time for everyone involved. The more direct you can be in your question, the quicker the response you will get. If you have multiple comments or questions, it might help to number or bullet your list in order to make it clear and concise for the reader.
- Remember that all college level communication should have correct spelling and grammar. Always make an effort to use proper punctuation, spelling and grammar. Trying to decipher a string of misspelled words with erratic punctuation frustrates the reader and distracts from the point of your message. Take the time to spell check any message you send and save everyone the headache.
- Avoid slang terms. (For example, avoid things like “wassup?” Also avoid texting abbreviations such as “u” instead of “you.”)
- Always use standard fonts. For example, use fonts such as “Times New Roman” or “Arial.” As a general rule, always keep your fonts to a 12pt. size unless directed otherwise.
- Be mindful of your text colors. While it may be tempting to write all messages in neon green, whoever is reading it may not appreciate it as much as you. Stick to the basic black text color—if you need to emphasize something in your sentence use bold or italicized words. This will help ensure everyone can easily read your message without acquiring a headache.
- Avoid using all caps. Using caps lock CAN BE INTERPRETTED AS YELLING. There’s a time and a place for everything—BUT IN MOST SITUATIONS TYPING IN ALL CAPS IS INAPPROPRIATE. Most readers tend to perceive it as shouting and will have a hard time taking what you say seriously, no matter how intelligent your response may be. If you have vision issues—there are ways to adjust how text displays so you can still see without coming across as “yelling.”
- Avoid emoticons and emoji. It is tempting to use them. However, it is a good rule to avoid or use them sparingly. While it is hard to believe, your instructor might not know what emoticons like J or :) means.
- Avoid sarcasm. Be cautious when using humor or sarcasm as tone is sometimes lost in an email or discussion post and your message might be taken seriously or offensively. You never know who is reading your comment on the other end, so you should never assume the reader will pick up on your sarcasm.
- Attempt to find your own answer. Make an effort to exhaust your search options before asking a question. It never feels good when an instructor responds with, “It’s in the syllabus.” It can be frustrating for instructors and other students when a student asks questions that are clearly answered within the syllabus, assignment instructions, or course materials. For questions related to class structure such as due dates or policies, refer to your syllabus and course FAQ. Attempt to find the answers to any other questions on your own using a search engine like Google or Bing. Relatively simple questions can usually be answered within seconds—which saves everyone time. If your questions remain unanswered after a bit of effort, feel free to bring them up with your instructor.
- Don’t over share. Be careful with personal information (both yours and other’s). Do not send confidential personal information (student, patient – if you’re in a health science field, etc.) via email. Personal information is valuable to identity thieves, so try not to share more than is necessary. We’re not suggesting your classmates are criminals, but it’s good practice in general to be guarded when it comes to personal information. A good rule of thumb to follow is if you’re comfortable standing up in front of a classroom and saying your message, then it’s most likely okay to share.
When you send an email to your instructor or classmates, you should:
- Always identify yourself and which class you’re in. If you’re using your personal email address, your instructor or classmates may not know who is messaging them. It is good practice to sign your message with your name and return e-mail address and/or other important contact information.
- Use a descriptive subject line.
- Be as brief and concise as possible.
- Avoid attachments unless you are sure your recipients can open them. It is safe to assume that both students and instructors can open any Microsoft Office file.
- Think before you send the e-mail to more than one person. Does everyone really need to see your message? Is it really necessary to hit “reply-all?”
DISCUSSION/MESSAGE BOARD NETIQUETTE
When posting on the Discussion Board in your online class, you should:
- Be sure to follow any instructions attached to a discussion forum.
- Make posts that are on topic and within the scope of the course material.
- Take your posts seriously and review and edit your posts before posting.
- Always give proper credit when referencing or quoting another source.
- Be sure to read all messages in a thread before replying.
- Don’t repeat someone else’s post without adding something of your own to it.
- Avoid short, generic replies such as, “I agree.” You should include why you agree or disagree with a previous post or idea. It is also a good idea to add pertinent information to the idea if you’re able to.
- Always be respectful of others’ opinions even when they differ from your own.
- When you disagree with someone, you should express your differing opinion in a respectful, non-critical way.
- Do not make personal or insulting remarks.
- Keep an open mind.
- Finally, it's always wise to see what the discussion group have been talking about for a week or two before you begin to post your messages. Online, as in real life, it can take a long time to get past a bad first impression.
Remember that your password is the only thing protecting you from pranks or more serious harm.
- Don't share your password with anyone.
- Change your password if you think someone else might know or if you think your password may have been stolen.
- Always logout when you are finished using the system; especially if you’re on a public computer.
- Many web browsers will offer to remember your password. Never allow your password to be stored on a computer for public use.
OTHER IMPORTANT RULES OF NETTIQUITE
- Email Listservs. For example, on an email discussion list - where not everyone may have seen past messages - it's considered polite to quote from a message you're replying to, so your response has context. It's also considered polite to keep those quotes short and relevant. On a web-based forum, however, where the original messages are visible to all, quoting is often unnecessary.
- Refrain from personal abuse. This can’t be stressed enough. You may express robust disagreement with what someone says, but don't call them names or threaten them with personal violence.
- Don't spam. That is, don't repeatedly post the same advertisement for products or services. Most sites have strict and specific rules about who is allowed to post ads and what kind of ads they are. If you find that your email or social media accounts have been compromised and is sending spam to your friends, peers, and/or instructors, politely apologize to everyone who has been spammed and change your password immediately.
- Avoid slang. Again, this can’t be stressed enough. At Gadsden State, we have a student population that are non-native English speakers. Additionally, our student and faculty population are made up of various ages and cultural backgrounds. So, it is a good rule to avoid using slang they may not understand.
- Stay on-topic. Always read the instructions of any discussion forum that you’re participating in. For example, as tempting as it may be, don't post about football in a forum dedicated to the discussion of the parts of a cell or Jefferson’s role in the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
- Don't expect other people to do your homework for you. Don’t wait to be the last person to respond to a class discussion so that you can feed off of your classmates’ answers. Do the reading and contribute to the discussion on your own. From a different perspective, if you're looking for technical help, for example, don't ask questions you could easily answer yourself by reading the manual or online help provided with the product. When you do ask for help, include details of what attempts you've made to solve the problem. It will save time and also show people that you are making an effort to help yourself.
- Do not post copyrighted material to which you do not own the rights. Sites vary in how strict they are about this, but as well as facing the possibility of legal action by the rights holder. If you use material from another source other than your own, be sure to cite it correctly.
BBC WebWise Team. (2012, October 10). What is netiquette? Retrieved August 14, 2016, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/guides/about-netiquette
Erstad, W. (2014, September 25). 9 Netiquette Guidelines Online Students Need to Know. Retrieved August 14, 2016, from http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/college-life/netiquette-guidelines-every-online-student-needs-to-know/
University of Florida. (n.d.). NETIQUETTE GUIDE FOR ONLINE COURSES. Retrieved August 14, 2016, from http://teach.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/NetiquetteGuideforOnlineCourses.pdf
For a downloadable/printable version of this information, click here.