‘Netiquette’ Is Vital in an Online Course

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October 13th, 2010

Online students should know that there are right and wrong ways to communicate online. When it comes to e-mails to your professors and conversations on online discussion boards, there are certain rules that should be observed to help you put your best foot forward in class, communicate effectively, and get your point across in an intelligent way. The rules of online etiquette are sometimes referred to simply as "netiquette."

Netiquette involves small little details, like being sure to include a relevant subject line in all communications with your professor so he or she will know the gist of what your e-mail is about. It also involves large details like not resorting to personal attacks in a discussion board thread when a fellow student expresses an opinion with which you disagree.

Online students should get in the habit of reading through all of their e-mail communications slowly and carefully before hitting the send button. This is an important part of netiquette because vocal tone and other vocal clues are lost when you write e-mails and can easily be misinterpreted by your instructor or fellow students. Attempts at humor and sarcasm are very frequently misinterpreted when you are communicating online, so try to avoid them as much as possible in favor of communicating in a clear and straightforward manner, according to the University of Wisconsin's tips for online etiquette. When it comes to e-mail, it is best to follow the classic advice of writer Robert Louis Stevenson who was quoted as saying, "Do not write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood."

While a certain amount of online shorthand is acceptable in class, try to avoid using excessive amounts of "text-speak" in your online communications. Remember that you are enrolled in a college-level course, and most professors will expect you to express yourself in discussion boards clearly in complete words, rather than clever abbreviations that you might use with your friends on social networks. If your contributions to discussion boards are littered with smiley faces, "OMGs" and "LOLs," you may come across as immature and may not be taken as seriously in your class, depending on the subject matter.

Finally, be sure to respond in a timely manner when your professor or fellow students send you e-mails. If you're not immediately sure how to respond, at least write back something like, "I'm thinking about what you wrote me. Let me sleep on it and get back to you tomorrow." Remember that delayed e-mail responses leave your professor and classmates hanging, and even a brief reply and a promise of an upcoming response is better than no response at all.

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