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Netiquette Definition and Tips

Most students wouldn’t walk into a classroom, scream at their peers, answer the professor in slang or be disrespectful. While that may all seem ridiculous in a classroom environment, in a digital classroom, it can seem the rules are endlessly evolving. Here, we discuss what the proper etiquette is for online students to follow.

What is Netiquette?

Netiquette is a set of social and professional etiquette guidelines practiced in electronic communication such as email, chatting, message boards, blogging and social media. Coming from combining the words  “network” and “etiquette,” the term “netiquette” originated from the early days of network forums in the 1980s, according to Merriam-Webster. It now encompasses a code of all online conduct that’s been generated from advances in technology since then, including the online classroom.

Why is Netiquette Important for Online Students?

In an online program, most of the central communication with classmates and professors is conducted in an online environment. While this may lead students to think they can be casual in their messages, Online Instructor Jarin Eisenberg advises against this:

“Online students should remember to use appropriate style and language for an academic environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an email that isn’t addressed or signed. People, in general, are accustomed to using informal language because texting has become one of the dominant forms of communication. However, your instructors will expect you to communicate with them as if you were in a business environment.”

Being polite and respectful ultimately fosters an engaging learning environment and leads to professional, informative discussions with your professor and fellow students.

6 Netiquette Guidelines

While a simple way to look at netiquette is to show the courtesy and respect to your fellow online classmates that you would in real life, online communication can make it difficult to express emotions and other subtle messages clearly. Here are some netiquette tips for online students.

1. PLEASE, NO ALL CAPS

The equivalent of SHOUTING in text, typing in online caps can make the reader FEEL LIKE THEY’RE BEING YELLED AT. While in rare cases, limited use of all caps is acceptable, in most cases it’s inappropriate to capitalize everything. In addition to making your readers cringe, you may even lose the impact of your message altogether.

2. Avoid Sarcasm, Slang and Texting Language

Incorporating sarcasm into a response is always risky, but even more so in an online environment. Peers and professors don’t have the context of your voice, facial expressions and personality. Avoid having a friendly jest misinterpreted as rudeness, and stick to polite, direct responses.

Similarly, college students should communicate professionally, without slang terms and abbreviations that are inappropriate for a classroom. You probably wouldn’t write an admissions essay using “u” instead of “you,” and you shouldn’t do it in the online classroom, either. That also goes for online abbreviations such as “brb” and “jsyk,” as not everyone will know what these mean. Finally, emoticons should also be avoided, as they can be misunderstood.

3. Do Your Research

Before asking a question when you’re stuck on an assignment, double-check the materials to be sure you haven’t overlooked the answer. MBA grad Jody Thrash suggests students use Florida Tech’s online library for resources. “Knowing how to access, cite and utilize this tool is of the utmost importance,” according to Thrash, who used the library for peer-reviewed journals, magazine articles and books in her time as an online student. Also, be clear when you respond to others if you may not have the correct information, but are offering a best guess.

4. Check Your Grammar and Spelling

As a college student, you should strive to communicate clearly and effectively, which includes the correct use of grammar and spelling. Readers may lose your message to distracting grammar or spelling issues if you don’t verify your writing before submitting it. Online Instructor Jarin Eisenberg says that students should do the following to improve their writing:

  • Utilize the writing lab
  • Print out your work to check for errors
  • Have someone proofread your work
  • Leave some time to step away from your work and see it with fresh eyes

While accurate spelling and grammar are important, check yourself before harassing others about their responses. It’s unnecessary to publicly coach peers on their typos and grammar mishaps.

5. Read, Then Respond

Remember, online discussions are a permanent record, and once you submit your response, it’s embedded in the discussion. By reading the question and answer in full, you ensure your response provides fresh information and perspective, and doesn’t regurgitate comments already provided. Not only does this mean you’ll enrich the conversation, but it also keeps you from posting a repeat comment that makes your peers feel you aren’t listening. Read your post before submitting for clarity as well as grammar and spelling, and clearly correct any misunderstandings.

6. Be Respectful and Professional

Respecting your peers and professors begins with setting a respectful tone in your communication. The classroom isn’t a casual group text; it’s a classroom, and your tone, greetings and signatures should reflect that. Eisenberg says that students should “take the extra minute to send an email that starts off the discussion with a baseline of respect and professionalism. It goes a long way.”

If you disagree with someone, respond with respect and professionalism. You should also regard the privacy and diversity of everyone in the classroom.

Be respectful of your peers’ time by being mindful about whether you should “reply all” or reply directly, and write clear, concise messages.

Finally, limit the research your professor needs to conduct to respond to you by providing appropriate context and information. 

If you’re in doubt about proper netiquette, consider how you would behave in person. If you wouldn’t do something face-to-face, it’s probably not a tone, response or approach you should take online.

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