Forum Code of Practice

1.1 Communicating effectively online: Netiquette

The word ‘netiquette’ (short for ‘net etiquette’) refers to the rules of good online behaviour. Although the principles of online communication are similar to those for face-to-face conversation, there are differences. For example, other people can’t see the expression on your face or hear your voice, so what you write sets the tone of the conversation.

Good netiquette involves:

  1. Thanking, acknowledging and supporting people. People can’t see you nod, smile or frown as you read their messages. So, if they get no acknowledgement, they may feel ignored and be discouraged from contributing further.

Why not send a short reply to keep the conversation going? If the online group is small, this can make a big difference.

But bear in mind that in a large, busy forum too many messages like this can be a nuisance.

  1. Acknowledging before differing. Before you disagree with someone, try to summarise the other person’s point in your own words. Then they know you are trying to understand them and will be more likely to take your view seriously.

Otherwise, you risk talking at each other rather than to each other.

  1. Making your perspective clear. Try to avoid speaking in an impersonal way, using phrases like:
    • ‘This is the way it is …’
    • ‘It is a fact that …’

That will sound dogmatic and leaves no room for anyone else’s perspective.

Why not start ‘I think …’?

A common abbreviation is IMHO (in my humble opinion) – or even IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion). If you are presenting someone else’s views, say so, perhaps by a quote and acknowledgement.

  1. Clearly showing your emotions. Emotions can be easily misunderstood when you can’t see faces or body language. People may not realise you are joking. And one person’s joke can seem offensive to someone else

Smileys or emoticons such as :-) and :-( can be used to express your feelings (look at these sideways). Other possibilities are punctuation (?! #@*!), <grin< or <joke>. Many online forum systems allow you to use graphic emoticons to express a variety of emotions.

You should also be aware of your audience as people from widely differing cultures and backgrounds may read what you write online. What you find funny may be offensive to them.

AND FINALLY, DON’T WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS – IT WILL LOOK LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING!

  1. Avoiding flaming. If you read something that offends or upsets you, it is very tempting to dash off a reply and hit 'Send' – but don’t! Online discussions seem to be particularly prone to such ‘flames’, often an unwitting breach of netiquette will escalate in a flaming spiral of angry messages. So, if you feel your temperature rising as you write, save your message, take a break or sleep on it – don’t hit 'Send'.

Some final advice …

  • Use ‘threading’ properly. If someone replies to a message, then someone replies to the reply, and so on, then the whole ‘chain’ of messages is called a thread, and the forum software makes is easy to follow a thread. If you are introducing a new topic or issue, start a new thread with a new subject line.
  • Before you write a message, take time to see what is being discussed and how. Lurking (reading messages without posting anything) is quite acceptable online
  • Keep messages short. People don’t want to read large chunks of text onscreen
  • Write a good subject line (title) for your message – people often haven’t time to read messages unless the subject line looks relevant
  • Keep to one subject (one topic of discussion) per message
  • When replying to a message, only quote part of the earlier message, if you need to. Don’t include everything, or messages get longer and longer.

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