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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 important differences too. Some of the principles of good netiquette are outlined below. You may find it useful to make a note of these in your learning journal, especially if you think you might decide to do further online study.

A drawing of a man and a woman meeting and saying ‘How do you do?’
Figure 4 Online you are still talking to people

Good netiquette involves:

  • Thanking, acknowledging and supporting people

    People cannot 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

  • 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.

  • Making your perspective clear

    Try to avoid speaking in a dogmatic and an impersonal way, so avoid phrases like ‘It is a fact that …’ as they leave no room for anyone else’s perspective. So, why not start with ‘I think …’? When you are studying a course, you may want to present someone else’s views; if so, say whose they are, perhaps by a quote and acknowledgement.

  • Clearly showing your emotions

    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, which you may come across if studying online, allow you to use graphic emoticons to express a variety of emotions.

    Emotions can be easily misunderstood when you cannot see faces or body language. People may not realise when you are joking, and one person’s joke may not seem amusing to someone else. You should always be aware of the receiver(s) of your message, particularly as people from widely differing cultures and backgrounds may read what you write online. What you find funny may be offensive to them.

  • 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’, and can escalate into 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’.

A drawing in two parts, showing two people at their computers.
Figure 5 Online communication can be misunderstood

Increasingly, learning includes interactions with other people in an online ‘forum’. So here is some advice for taking part in one:

  • Before you write a message, take time to see what is being discussed and how. It is quite acceptable to read messages without posting any yourself (known as ‘lurking’) – people often do this while they build up the courage to take part.
  • Keep your messages short, and keep to one topic per message.
  • Respect others, and be careful not to post any messages that may cause hurt or offence.
  • Don’t give out any personal information that you would not usually share with people you do not know.
  • And finally, don’t write in capital letters – it looks like you’re SHOUTING!