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Online etiquette

Because the Internet lets you communicate in ways that are different from face-to-face interaction, different standards of behavior are emerging to guide the way that people communicate online. The word netiquette (from Internet and etiquette) is often used to describe these standards. Although no one authority can provide all the guidelines for behavior on the Internet, here are some basics.

Common Netiquette Rules

Below are some of the most common netiquette rules to follow.

When composing a message, be brief and to the point. Remember that other people will spend time reading the messages you send.

Include a meaningful description of the message in the subject line.
Not everyone uses an e-mail program that allows them to see bold, italicized, underlined, colored text, or images. That's because their e-mail program only supports plain text. When you send e-mail messages, try to avoid using excessive formatting when you know you're sending the message to someone that can only see plain text.

Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation to reduce the possibility of confusion and help others read the message more quickly. However, remember that e-mail can be very informal at times, so sometimes people won't always follow this rule.

  • Don't forward messages that the originator might consider private.
  • Consider carefully what you forward to your friends and family, it may be a hoax. You can find out if a message is a hoax by checking with a reputable source, such as http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/ and www.snopes.com.
  • When joining online discussion groups, newsgroups, and chat rooms, take some time to observe the group before joining the discussion. This is called lurking. You should also locate and read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) article for the group; this article usually provides guidelines of behavior for the newsgroup.
  • Don't send SPAM, or unsolicited advertisements, to people. Just as you probably dislike receiving junk mail in your postal mailbox and answering telephone calls from solicitors, most people do not like to receive SPAM in their e-mail Inbox.
  • Avoid offensive language and arguing solely for the sake of confrontation.
  • Avoid typing sentences in all capital letters. This is the online equivalent of shouting and it is generally very offensive.
  • Signatures should be concise, and no more than 4-5 lines. Usually a signature consists of your name, e-mail address, and other contact information. If you place a quote in your signature line, make sure it’s something that’s appropriate and resembles you. Try to avoid inserting images into your signature line.
  • Online discussion groups and chat rooms are self-governing communities in which users regulate themselves. The consequence of breaking etiquette is a flame. A flame occurs when you've sent a message that has caused others to respond with very harsh criticism. You can avoid flames by learning the accepted guidelines of behavior for each group that you participate in.

Finally, after you become familiar with online etiquette, remember that every person was new to these standards once. Be considerate of people that appear to be new, and, if you feel the need to correct an error, make sure you do so privately and in a friendly, helpful manner.

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