Netiquette: e-mail and forum etiquette

by Crucible Multimedia

E-mail is a fairly new form of communication, but it has already developed a set of informal rules defining proper behaviour on-line. Knowing a few of the rules will stop you making social blunders, and perhaps more importantly will also ensure that the flow of e-mail does not impede your work by becoming an unnecessary torrent.

The conventions of netiquette, or network etiquette, have evolved over time and help to make the Internet work. But Internet culture is still developing, and so are the rules - there are no real hard and fast dos or don'ts.

Remember you are dealing with real people

You may only see a computer screen when you communicate on-line, but it is important to remember that there is a person at the other end. Body language and tone of voice have no part to play, and misunderstandings can easily occur - consider whether what you are about to express on-line would be the same if you were face to face. Do not get involved in "flame wars" by reacting in the heat of the moment to messages that offend you.

Express your thoughts clearly

E-mail is often quite conversational and informal in style; for example, a salutation consisting of just the recipient's name is quite acceptable, as is signing off with your name and "signature", consisting of your name, title, contact details and website address. Keep it brief and to the point, and use an informative subject line.  Don't overuse "emoticons" (also known as smileys - ;-) ) or abbreviations, and NEVER SHOUT! 

Respect other people - their time and their resources

Unlike many other forms of communication, the cost of e-mail communications is shared almost equally between the sender and the recipient. When you send people information they did not request or might not find useful, they are still paying for it - in both time and money. And for smaller businesses, remember that information can clog up the channels that connect people on the Internet.

Don't duplicate message

Don't overuse the "cc" function - copying in co-workers on e-mail messages which are of little relevance to their own tasks disrupts workflow and adds yet another message to be screened to the inbox. And don't send the same message by fax and mail just to make sure  - and then phone the recipients to check if they have received your message.

Keep it legal - behave on-line as you would off-line

Be polite and ethical - and be legal. Your words are written and hence stored in places you don't control, from where they can be forwarded by recipients and come back to haunt you in time. Even though the law as it applies to the Internet is still developing, discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated on-line. Equally, infringements of copyright and intellectual property law, and breaches of the Data Protection Act, will be liable to prosecution.

As Internet law develops it is safe to assume that behaviour and actions that are unacceptable in the real world will be equally so in the virtual one.

Using e-mail in your business

You may need to establish rules of engagement for your business and the people it communicates with, so you know how and when to communicate and by which tool. Let colleagues now how you prefer to communicate and at what times, and find out the preferred messaging method of others - this will help to prevent repeated and "chasing" messages, or the need to check various tools every hour in case something has been sent unexpectedly.

For more on netiquette and a netiquette quiz visit the Netiquette Home Page, and for detailed tips on e-mail writing style visit E-mail etiquette.

Reviewed January 2011

last updated : 21/01/2011

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