by Robert Bramucci
Netiquette is Internet etiquette, the suggested rules for online
behavior that have evolved over the Internet's short life span.
A Couple of General Principles
ē Even though you are staring
at a machine, you are talking to a person. Ever notice
how some people become terrors behind the wheel of a car? That is, when
driving theyíll engage in rude behaviors (e.g., cutting you off, obscene
gestures) that they might never perform at home or work? Experts think
thatís because the isolation of a steel cocoon makes people feel more
anonymous and less connected to other people. Well, for some people, the
Internet is similar to that isolation. When youíre staring at words on
a screen, itís easy to forget thereís a real person, with feelings, on
the other end.
ē You are not the center
of the Internet universe. The Internet is worldwide, and itís huge---it
consists of millions of sites with billions of pages, all visited by millions
of people who might not believe as you do or share your concerns. Take
care that your posts donít come across to people from other countries
or cultures as examples of narrow-minded intolerance.
SUGGESTIONS FOR COMMUNICATION
∑ Don't criticize people's
sspellingg. Typos are more accepted on the Internet, so sending
a message pointing out all the spelling errors or grammatical mistakes
in someone's messages is considered gauche.
∑ Even so, spell-check
your own messages and quickly review them for punctuation and grammar.
∑ DON'T USE ALL CAPITAL
LETTERS! Occasional capitals are OK for emphasis, but typing
in all caps is the Internet equivalent of shouting (plus
messages in all caps are hard to read).
∑ don't use all lowercase
letters, either. it's viewed as mumbling.
∑ If possible, donít use
fancy text features like boldface, italics, underlining, or diacritical
marks, because many online systems won't display them. Instead:
o _Underscored Text_
indicates underline or italic.
o *asterisks* are used
in place of bold text.
∑ Realize that typed
messages lack vocal and nonverbal cues, the kinds of cues that normally
carry a lot of meaning in a face-to-face conversation. Without this
supporting context, itís easy to be misinterpreted---for example, satire
or sarcasm can come across as pure meanness. Try using "emoticons"
(also called "Smileys) to make your emotional intent more obvious
(e.g., make it clear when you're joking ;-).
∑ Define terms that
may be unfamiliar to most other people.
∑ Be brief and to the
point. People expect brevity online and won't read lengthy
messages. Plus, it's harder to read words on a computer monitor than
∑ Don't have an only
copy of important files. Computers crash and things get
lost in cyberspace, so have backup copies of files and email messages.
∑ Don't say anything
over the Internet you wouldn't say to someone's face. Someone once
said, "When you send a message over the Internet, pretend you're
sending a copy to your boss, your minister, and your worst enemy".
Think of email and bulletin board messages as postcards rather than
letters---theyíre not private and other persons can keep them
for a long time.
∑ Keep subject lines
short. Otherwise, they could scroll off peopleís screens.
∑ Make subject lines
informative (e.g., don't title messages "FYI", "Important",
or anything else that doesn't indicate the content of the message).
∑ Make subject lines
clear and unambiguous, and don't use misleading subject lines
or titles. Clear subject lines aid in prioritizing, filing, cataloging,
cross-referencing, and retrieval.
∑ Keep your message
focused. If a new topic is introduced it should be under a separate
message with a new subject heading. Similarly, don't post replies
dealing with multiple subjects in one message.
∑ When you reply, use
relevant quotes from the original message. It may not be
apparent to everyone else who you're replying to or what you're replying
about. Hereís how to indicate quotes:
∑ > Lines of text
> preceding them are used to denote a
> quote from a previous message.
∑ Don't overquote:
Don't quote long messages in their entirety---quote only the relevant
portions of the message.
SUGGESTIONS FOR EMAIL
∑ Be careful when addressing
emails. One character out of place, or a ".com"
suffix when the person's email really ends with ".edu",
and your message won't be delivered
∑ Keep your emails
brief. People cherish lengthy "snail mail"
letters but are accustomed to short emails and are less likely to
read your email messages if theyíre long.
∑ Say hello at
the start of your message and goodbye at the end.
∑ Don't cry "wolf!":
that is, donít mark messages "Urgent" unless they really
∑ Don't publicly post
email that was sent to you in private unless you are explicitly
given permission by the messageís author.
∑ Don't use "HTML"
code in your messages unless you are sure that the recipients'
email programs can understand "HTML" correctly.
∑ Realize that email
does not guarantee an instant response. Don't "dun"
people for responses before an acceptable amount of time has elapsed.
∑ It is not necessary
to reply to every email message. Avoid trivial responses.
∑ If it is going to
take considerable time to reply fully, try to acknowledge receipt
of a message promptly and let the sender know that you will answer
more fully at a later time.
∑ Pay attention to
whether material is copyrighted (copyright laws apply to email,
∑ Compose several drafts
of important messages. Email can be archived for a long time,
so if a message is particularly important, you might want to compose
several drafts of it in a word processor and spell-check it.
∑ Compose long emails
in a word processor and then "cut and paste" them into
your email program. This can prevent you from losing long or important
emails in the event of a technical problem.
∑ Don't leave your
email account open when you leave your computer. Anyone could
sit down at your keyboard and send out embarrassing, offensive, or
even libelous messages under your name.
∑ Don't send huge attachments.
Many peopleís email systems have a maximum account size, and your
large attachment could fail to be received (or worse, cause their
email account to be temporarily shut off).
∑ When you're replying
to a message that has an attachment, don't include the attachment
∑ If you're forwarding
a message with an attachment, consider whether the attachment
is really necessary.
∑ Don't send attached
files that lack filename extensions (that's because some computers
won't be able to open them).
∑ Don't send attached
files that other people don't have the software to open.
∑ If you're not sure whether
your audience has the correct software to open an attachment, try
converting it to an HTML document so it can be opened in a browser.
If the document is large, you could post large the document on the
Web in HTML format and email the URL instead of the file.
∑ Refrain from adding
too many attachments.
The Bane of Email: "Spam"
∑ Donít "spam"
(send unsolicited generic email).
∑ Don't reply to spam,
even to demand that they stop emailing you.
∑ Don't open email
chain letters, and don't forward them to other people.
∑ Don't indiscriminately
forward jokes, petitions for "good causes", or other
similar material to multiple persons unless youíre sure they want
to receive them.
∑ Don't advertise,
at least in places where advertising is not appropriate.
∑ Never forward rumors
unless you know them to be true (especially rumors about viruses).
∑ Use "BCC".
If you really must distribute a message to a lot of people, don't
paste all the names into the "CC" field of your email program
(where people can see everyone else's email addresses). Instead, use
"BCC" (blind carbon copy), where each recipient sees only
his/her name in the address field.
∑ If you're replying
to an email that was sent to dozens or hundreds of people, make sure
you're not replying to all those people!
SUGGESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
∑ Lurk before you leap.
Lurking is visiting without participating. While it's rude to make
a habit of lurking, a little lurking can acquaint you with rules and
procedures, help you get the "lay of the land," and prevent
∑ Don't post non-informative
messages on bulletin boards. Chat is more like a telephone,
so saying "Me, too!" or "I don't know" is accepted.
But on bulletin boards, people don't like to read postings that aren't
∑ Read the FAQS.
FAQ stands for "frequently-asked-questions". People generally
have little patience for answering the same "newbie" (new
user) questions again and again, so FAQs were created as a place where
you can receive answers to common questions. So before you post a
question, check the FAQs.
∑ Pay attention to
context. Remarks that are celebrated as the height of wit in one
context might get you ostracized in another.
∑ Respect thy elders.
Not in the "chronological age" sense, but recognize that
in many groups there are experienced persons who have earned the respect
of the group through their knowledge or service. Respect them, and
set about earning your own respect.
∑ Don't evangelize
(and we're not just referring to religion). If you love a particular
topic so much, find like-minded souls instead of going on the Microsoft
Office bulletin board and blathering about how great WordPerfect is.
∑ Consider modifying
the way you list your email address in discussions. Thatís because
spammers use automated programs to comb discussions, harvesting email
addresses. If you list your email address as something like *firstname.lastname@example.org,
humans will still figure out how to reach you, but youíll foil the
∑ Don't post anything
that you won't want other people to see for years to come.
Don't let your posts come back to haunt you.
The Bane of Discussion
∑ Don't flame!
Flaming refers to derogatory, abusive, threatening, sarcastic, rude,
or otherwise mean-spirited messages directed at people.
∑ Be cautious when
using sarcasm and humor. Without facial expressions and tone of
voice, they do not translate easily through discussion boards and
may be perceived as flaming.
∑ Don't post when you're
angry. When you've calmed down, you'll wish you hadn't written
that response, and you probably won't be able to delete it.
∑ Don't write anything
that you won't want other people to be able to see for a long time
(posts can be archived for years).
∑ Avoid misinterpretation.
If a message provokes a negative emotional response, put it away for
a while, then reread it and see if you're misinterpreting it.
If you don't understand a particular item, ask the sender for clarification
before replying to an incorrect conclusion.
∑ Don't respond to
people who are deliberately trying provoke you. If
the bully gets a flood of angry responses, the real conversation gets
sidetracked and the bully wins.
∑ Don't consider your
messages to be secure. Remember, it's very easy for someone
else to forward messages you thought were confidential. Think
of email and bulletin board messages as postcards rather than letters.
∑ Don't "rant"
without warning. If you feel so passionate about something
that you can't refrain from an emotional diatribe, at least bracket
your rant with something like *WARNING: RANT*" and
ē Apologize. If there's
been a misunderstanding or miscommunication, you can often nip bad feelings
in the bud by a brief apology.
∑ Remember that direct
person-to-person contact is best for handling sensitive, complex
or highly emotional issues.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CHAT
∑ Remember that many
chat rooms are "logged" (i.e., a record is kept of conversations).
∑ Donít disrupt chat
rooms by pasting large blocks of text into the input box (thus
causing the screen to scroll faster than other users are able to type
) or otherwise act in a manner that negatively affects other users'
abilities to engage in real time exchanges.
∑ Move to another chat
room if you are having a conversation that is off the main topic.
∑ Fast typists should
occasionally pause to let slower typists contribute to the discussion.