Adapted from Virginia Shea's book, Netiquette.

Any additions to Ms. Shea's book will be added in blue. Some points have been ommitted, clarified, or modified to better fit online courses. 


Etiquette? What is it?

If you are not familiar with the term, watch the video.

What is Netiquette? Simply stated, it's network etiquette -- that is, the etiquette of cyberspace. And "etiquette" means "the forms required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be required in social or official life." In other words, Netiquette is a set of rules for behaving properly online.

When you enter any new culture -- and cyberspace has its own culture -- you're liable to commit a few social blunders. You might offend people without meaning to. Or you might misunderstand what others say and take offense when it's not intended. To make matters worse, something about cyberspace makes it easy to forget that you're interacting with other real people -- not just characters on a screen, but live human characters.

So, partly as a result of forgetting that people online are still real, and partly because they don't know the conventions, well-meaning cybernauts, especially new ones, make all kinds of mistakes.compscreen.jpg

The book Netiquette has a dual purpose: to help net newbies minimize their mistakes, and to help experienced cyberspace travelers help the newbies. The premise of the book is that most people would rather make friends than enemies, and that if you follow a few basic rules, you're less likely to make the kind of mistakes that will prevent you from making friends.

The list of core rules below, and the explanations that follow, are excerpted from the book. They are offered here as a set of general guidelines for cyberspace behavior. They won't answer all your Netiquette questions. But they should give you some basic principles to use in solving your own Netiquette dilemmas.

The complete text of the book is below. Taken from Albion.




warning.png As you go through the lesson, you will see activities and questions to answer. Make sure to do each one!

Module 1: Remember the human

The golden rule your parents and your kindergarten teacher taught you was pretty simple: Do unto others as you'd have others do unto you. Imagine how you'd feel if you were in the other person's shoes. Stand up for yourself, but try not to hurt people's feelings.

In cyberspace, we state this in an even more basic manner: Remember the human.

When you communicate electronically, all you see is a computer screen. You don't have the opportunity to use facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice to communicate your meaning; words -- lonely written words -- are all you've got. And that goes for your correspondent as well.

When you're holding a conversation online -- whether it's an email exchange or a response to a discussion group posting -- it's easy to misinterpret your correspondent's meaning. And it's frighteningly easy to forget that your correspondent is a person with feelings more or less like your own.

It's ironic, really. Computer networks bring people together who'd otherwise never meet. But the impersonality of the medium changes that meeting to something less -- well, less personal. Humans exchanging email often behave the way some people behind the wheel of a car do: They curse at other drivers, make obscene gestures, and generally behave like savages. Most of them would never act that way at work or at home. But the interposition of the machine seems to make it acceptable.

The message of Netiquette is that it's not acceptable. Yes, use your network connections to express yourself freely, explore strange new worlds, and boldly go where you've never gone before. But remember the Prime Directive of Netiquette: Those are real people out there.

Would you say it to the person's face?

Writer and Macintosh evangelist Guy Kawasaki tells a story about getting email from some fellow he's never met. Online, this fellow tells Guy that he's a bad writer with nothing interesting to say.person.png

Unbelievably rude? Yes, but unfortunately, it happens all the time in cyberspace.

Maybe it's the awesome power of being able to send mail directly to a well-known writer like Guy. Maybe it's the fact that you can't see his face crumple in misery as he reads your cruel words. Whatever the reason, it's incredibly common.

Guy proposes a useful test for anything you're about to post or mail: Ask yourself, "Would I say this to the person's face?" If the answer is no, rewrite and reread. Repeat the process till you feel sure that you'd feel as comfortable saying these words to the live person as you do sending them through cyberspace.

Of course, it's possible that you'd feel great about saying something extremely rude to the person's face. In that case, Netiquette can't help you. Go get a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.


In online courses, it is not acceptable to question a person's credentials, background, or capability or to directly insult a person in any way. And, to be safe, let's define the word:

insult    [v. in-suhlt; n. in-suhlt] 

verb (used with object) treat or speak to insolently or with contemptuous, rudeness; affront.anger.jpg affect as an affront; offend or demean.

3.Archaic . to attack; assault.



To be cruel or unkind to someone: abuse, mistreat, oppress, trample, reject, hit out at


Another reason not to be offensive online

When you communicate through cyberspace -- via email or on discussion groups -- your words are written. And chances are they're stored somewhere where you have no control over them. In other words, there's a good chance they can come back to haunt you.

Never forget the story of famous email user Oliver North. Ollie, you'll remember, was a great devotee of the White House email system, PROFS. He diligently deleted all incriminating notes he sent or received. What he didn't realize was that, somewhere else in the White House, computer room staff were equally diligently backing up the mainframe where his messages were stored. When he went on trial, all those handy backup tapes were readily available as evidence against him.

You don't have to be engaged in criminal activity to want to be careful. Any message you send could be saved or forwarded by its recipient. You have no control over where it goes.




Do the Activity 

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Rule 2: Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life

In real life, most people are fairly law-abiding, either by disposition or because we're afraid of getting caught. In cyberspace, the chances of getting caught sometimes seem slim. And, perhaps because people sometimes forget that there's a human being on the other side of the computer, some people think that a lower standard of ethics or personal behavior is acceptable in cyberspace.

The confusion may be understandable, but these people are mistaken. Standards of behavior may be different in some areas of cyberspace, but they are not lower than in real life.questionmk.png

Be ethical

Don't believe anyone who says, "The only ethics out there are what you can get away with." If you encounter an ethical dilemma in cyberspace, consult the code you follow in real life. Chances are good you'll find the answer.

So, how are ethics evidenced in online communication?


civility.png There is a movement that encourages civil discourse. Check out the Civilnation site.


Look at the chart. Any time, in any environment, if you find yourself moving to the right, you probably need to rethink and consciously take a step left. 

Taken from Promoting and Maintaining Classroom Civility (YouTube)






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Rule 3: Follow communication rules

Remember that there are rules of text formatting and language online.


"This one has been around since the year dot yet it's unbelievable how many people are still guilty of it." All capital letters essentially means you are "shouting." Typing in all caps and adding multiple punctuation marks is considered rude. The message tone can be drastically changed when this is done.

"Best way to avoid disaster is to imagine how your message would sound in person. An email message asking for help written in caps is tantamount to yelling your symptoms in your doctor's ear. It's abrasive and comes off as very rude.

Sure, caps have their place. Headlines or titles can benefit from the look of all caps but in person to person communication it remains a big no-no." Source: MinuteFortyFour

Instead of using capital letters to emphasize a point, use italics, underline, or bold text to draw attention to words, phrases, or points.communications_icon.png


Sorry...No TextSpeak

Yes, texting is ubiquitous; most people use it. The "language" of text speak actually sprang from the limited number of characters allowed in messages in early communication (and that still applies to Twitter, etc.). I prefer to believe that explanation, rather than that people have gotten lazier in communication. In online discussions, it is not all right to use text shortcuts. If you are in a course, you should take the time and invest the energy into writing clear, complete words in responses. Use upper and lower case letters and proper punctuation. Those participating in discussion usually appreciate clear postings like:

"I am for capital punishment for heinous or mortal crimes because the present prison system does not reform or rehabilitate criminals, but only makes them unable to live in society and become a burden to taxpayers."

rather than:

"im 4 cptl pnshmt 4 haynos crms bcz th prsnt prsn sistm duznt re4m or rehblit8 crmnls bt onle mks thm unabl 2 lve n sciety & bcm a brdn 2 txpyrs."


Emoticons and HyperEmotion!!!!?

emoticons.png While emoticons can actually help in online communication because facial expression and gestures are not present, a course is an academic environment. It may be up to the instructor how formal the communication must be. Even if emoticons are allowed, be sparing in their use. A :) or use of a wide range of :( :--> :--/ :-0 on every line can become tiresome.


Swearing or Cursing

It's not okay, ever.



Many people may not be familiar with slang (terms that are accepted in very informal conversation) and idioms (figurative sayings that are generally understood). Try to avoid each, especially if the meaning of the post cannot be ascertained without understanding them.

A post like,

"Your point was sick! I think the article was tight, but the author was a swagger jacker...the point was made first by Jones in 1988"

might confuse readers more than enlighten them.



Do the Activity!


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Rule 4: Respect other people's time and bandwidth

It's a cliché that people today seem to have less time than ever before, even though (or perhaps because) we sleep less and have more labor-saving devices than our grandparents did. When you send email or post to a discussion group, you're taking up other people's time (or hoping to). It's your responsibility to ensure that the time they spend reading your posting isn't wasted.

The word "bandwidth" is sometimes used synonymously with time, but it's really a different thing. Bandwidth is the information-carrying capacity of the wires and channels that connect everyone in cyberspace. There's a limit to the amount of data that any piece of wiring can carry at any given moment -- even a state-of-the-art fiber-optic cable. The word "bandwidth" is also sometimes used to refer to the storage capacity of a host system.

Posting 40 messages that simply say, "I agree," or "You are right" is a waste of storage space and reader time. Every time you respond to a discussion, you need to contribute worth to the group thoughts. Replies should tell why you agree or offer some further insight, not simply be empty praise, which clutters up discussion boards and makes people eventually skip your posts.discussion_select_forum.png

You are not the center of cyberspace

Presumably, this reminder will be superfluous to most readers. But I include it anyway, because when you're working hard on a project and deeply involved in it, it's easy to forget that other people have concerns other than yours. So don't expect instant responses to all your questions, and don't assume that all readers will agree with -- or care about -- your passionate arguments.



 Check My Understanding!

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Rule 5: Make yourself look good online

Take advantage of your anonymity

I don't want to give the impression that the net is a cold, cruel place full of people who just can't wait to insult each other. As in the world at large, most people who communicate online just want to be liked. Networks -- particularly discussion groups -- let you reach out to people you'd otherwise never meet. And none of them can see you. You won't be judged by the color of your skin, eyes, or hair, your weight, your age, or your clothing.

You will, however, be judged by the quality of your writing. For most people who choose to communicate online, this is an advantage; if they didn't enjoy using the written word, they wouldn't be there. So spelling and grammar do count.

Type your postings in a word editor, which can help check spelling and grammar. After proofreading and correcting, copy the text to the discussion post. Use paragraph breaks, bullet points, and whatever else can make your writing clear and correct.

Know what you're talking about and make sense

Pay attention to the content of your writing. Be sure you know what you're talking about -- when you see yourself writing "it's my understanding that" or "I believe it's the case," ask yourself whether you really want to post this note before checking your facts. Bad information propagates like wildfire on the net. And once it's been through two or three iterations, you get the same distortion effect as in the party game "Operator": Whatever you originally said may be unrecognizable. (Of course, you could take this as a reason not to worry about the accuracy of your postings. But you're only responsible for what you post yourself, not for what anyone else does with it.)word-logo.png

In addition, make sure your notes are clear and logical. It's perfectly possible to write a paragraph that contains no errors in grammar or spelling, but still makes no sense whatsoever. This is most likely to happen when you're trying to impress someone by using a lot of long words that you don't really understand yourself. Trust me -- no one worth impressing will be impressed. It's better to keep it simple.



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Rule 6: Avoid Sarcasm and Subtleties

"Hearing spoken words, seeing people's faces and bodies while they talk, and reading dialogue on your computer screen can convey substantially different impressions. Keeping this in mind may help you realize that it's sometimes easier to sound insensitive and hurt someone's feelings or have them miss the poitn when you're communicating through text only. To counter this, be clear and straightforward with your language." Source: Northern Arizona University.


Everyone's sense of humor is different. You may think that an innocent statement is funny, but it could be construed as an insult or a criticism.sarcasm.jpg


"I am so surewe all agree with whatever some smart person says!"

"We just can't wait for the next wonderful assignment."

"Does your point have a moral, or is it a neverending story?"

"Well, it that was wit, you got it half right!"

"Thanks, I needed five people telling me I'm wrong!"



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Rule 7: Help keep flame wars under control

"Flaming" is what people do when they express a strongly held opinion without holding back any emotion. It's the kind of message that makes people respond, "Oh come on, tell us how you really feel." Tact is not its objective.

Does Netiquette forbid flaming? Not at all. Flaming is a long-standing network tradition (and Netiquette never messes with tradition). Flames can be lots of fun, both to write and to read. And the recipients of flames sometimes deserve the heat.

But Netiquette does forbid the perpetuation of flame wars -- series of angry letters, most of them from two or three people directed toward each other, that can dominate the tone and destroy the camaraderie of a discussion group. It's unfair to the other members of the group. And while flame wars can initially be amusing, they get boring very quickly to people who aren't involved in them. They're an unfair monopolization of bandwidth.FlameWarExit.jpg


Argument for Argument's Sake

And, let's face it. Some people love argument. There is nothing wrong with argument unless it becomes insulting, vicious, and attacks anyone personally. Then, it is not acceptable. Expressing your viewpoint is not the same as demeaning someone else's viewpoint.

One site calls people "trolls" who "love to disperse strife and begin conflicts" in discussions and forums. Posting comments and questions with the intention of stirring up negative emotions and responses is not okay online. Posting questions that challenge people to defend their beliefs or examine their thinking is acceptable; doing it in an offensive or confrontational way is not acceptable.

If someone attacks you or makes a disagreement personal, the best thing is to ignore (and report) the post. Do not reply if you feel attacked. You allow the issue to stop without rising to the bait.

However, in a private e-mail, make sure the instructor is aware of the post.



See What I Know!

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Rule 8: Respect other people's privacy

The amount of privacy a course user retains is up to the individual. If someone is reluctant to share deep, dark secrets or divulge names in a story, don't push.

Be aware of people's right to privacy when you ask questions or respond. Some people may feel uncomfortable when reading a reply like,

"I know the feeling. It sounds like you have personal experience in getting hurt by the system. Have you, like me, been on welfare and had people attack you because you couldn't work?"

While one person might feel free to share that information, another won't. And, some people might be "put off" by having what they think is too much personal information shared with them.privacy.jpg

"How many people bombed that last test?" in an informal discussion might be allowed. However, polling people and demanding information isn't acceptable. "You didn't respond, Mary, we are waiting for an answer."



 Test Your Knowledge!

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Rule 9: Be a team player

While some environments may be competitive, most online courses are collaborative. The group is trying to construct and share knowledge for the good of everyone. Even if you are very informed about a topic, be careful that you don't "talk down to" anyone or diminish another person's contribution.

Be supportive of other group members' positions along the learning scale. Don't automatically jump in to correct a small mistake or point out every error in someone's post.team_thumb.jpg

You can be a leader and model without being overpowering. Posts that are obviously meant to show off, preach, or boast are usually not well received. Remember the reader...include some questions and some room for the important contributions that may be out there, waiting. Remain friendly, even if you are knowledgeable. Don't try to compete with other members in post length or complexity.

And, most of the time, if you try to make someone else look bad, you are the one who is tainted. In many courses, there are group projects or collaborative activities. Blasting team members or trying to set others against them usually backfires. A calm e-mail to the instructor, backed up with rational examples and data, can address the problem of a team member not carrying his or her weight much better than a critical public post.

Be Forgiving

When someone makes a mistake -- whether it's a spelling error or a spelling flame, a stupid question or an unnecessarily long answer -- be kind about it. If it's a minor error, you may not need to say anything. Even if you feel strongly about it, think twice before reacting. Having good manners yourself doesn't give you license to correct everyone else.

If you do decide to inform someone of a mistake, point it out politely, and preferably by private email rather than in public. Give people the benefit of the doubt; assume they just don't know any better. And never be arrogant or self-righteous about it.



Match Them!


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Now, to review

There was a lot of material to read through and understand! But, most of you have read, seen, and used these "rules" before. Most of it is common sense.

In the environment of an online course, the instructor gives students some information of communication expectations. Some allow emoticons; some don't. Some want more formal writing; some are fine with informal writing. Some post rubrics and guidelines; others expect you to know how to behave online.

Whatever the case, you are responsible for your own actions and reactions. Remember that you are part of a group of learners who are people, all going through their own stresses and personal issues. Giving the benefit of the doubt is always a good move.

Now, you will take the final quiz on Netiquette as preparation for the course ahead.

Be a polite and considerate cyber-communicator!


I Know This!

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 Thank You For Completing the Netiquette Unit!

email.png Remember that you are now responsible for following all Netiquette protocol mentioned in this lesson.